Spring is in the air.
There are certain signs: The robins are back. Kids are riding bikes and playing in the park across the street from my house. The light and the breeze have a certain flavor about them that says that now, maybe, hopefully, winter is over and spring is finally here.
And, oh yeah, basketball season is over.
You might think I had written enough about the game already, but there is, for me, a little more to say.
This season was kind of a long haul at times, punctuated by wintry, cross-country drives; desperate searches for wi-fi hotspots in out-of-the-way places; and fast, post-game runs to the office to write quick stories and hastily upload pictures in time for our often too-early deadline.
But, I liked it. In fact, I loved it, at times.
I loved watching the way our kids and coaches sometimes displayed a level of skill and intensity that even amazed themselves.
I loved it when, in the heat of the moment, they suddenly found themselves having a good time just playing a game in front of their friends, fans and families.
There are a lot of great memories that go with this basketball season and the teams I covered. The Annawan boys’ run to the state finals is one, of course, along with the wonderful, historic season the Bravettes posted. The Boilermakers played an intense, uptempo brand of basketball that was enormously entertaining to watch and enjoy, while the Boiler Girls surprised a lot of teams with good, steady fundamentals and some inspired shooting and rebounding. The Flying Geese and Lady Geese, both led by record-setting individuals, coalesced into teams, with other players stepping up and making a difference, especially as seen in the boys’ marvelous undefeated Lincoln Trail season. Down Stark County way, there’s a pair of programs that showed some real talent, and should have opposing coaches and players worried, as both the boys and girls teams displayed a combination of youth and athleticism that will doubtless bear even more fruit in seasons to come. Galva, my alma mater, had its ups and downs this year, but has a youth moment of its own that gave valuable experience to underclassmen, who now have the opportunity to establish themselves in future leadership roles.
But the most important game-day memory, and the thing I loved most of all, was seeing the ways some of those kids developed as players and people over the course of the season.
Annawan coach Ryan Brown probably said it best when referring to his three senior captains: “They’ve become better basketball players and better men.”
Because, sports fans, that’s what games like basketball should be all about. Playing high school sports exposes our kids to so many of the events and emotions they’ll face as adults. Like success and failure. Like winning gracefully and losing well. And, most importantly, being a part of a thing that is bigger than any individual, whether he or she is a superstar or the kid way down at the end of the bench.
I loved seeing the players who, win or lose, kept their heads up and their eyes on the prize. Who learned to respect the game, their coaches, their teammates and, most importantly, themselves.
No matter what the record books say, they are surely the winners.