Mar 18, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
So you want to know – after all these years spent jotting illegible things down in notebooks, doing hundreds of interviews, writing thousands of stories, covering untold numbers of contests both mundane and meaningful, and then hammering it out in front of an inanimate computer screen, why keep doing it?
Mainly because things like what took place in a span of less than seven hours Saturday afternoon and evening, in two separate arenas – one in Troy, the other in Glens Falls – bring me back. No matter what I’ve seen before, something amazing, or a few amazing things, could take place and remind me why I fell in love with sports in the first place.
Sticking to it is not the way to wealth or fortune. Maybe it grants some attention, but that can work both ways, as people know your name, but then can go attack you for any sin, real or imagined, small or large.
And as the sports landscape grows ever more negative, personal and invasive, it’s so easy to turn completely cynical, bitter and angry, turning the smallest controversy into a raging wildfire where all within its path are consumed and destroyed, and for what purpose?
Some of that has trickled into high school sports, but not all. There still remains the wonder of accomplishment, the sense of possibility and potential, and a chance, every so often, to transfix us, even though we feel like that can’t happen anymore.
Each of the five Section III basketball teams that played for state championships on Saturday had a wonderful story to tell, no matter the result.
It began with Utica-Notre Dame’s girls, rising to the top of the state Class B ranks with a 71-36 romp over Bishop Kearney, but the real story was Emily Durr, the Iowa State-bound senior who has led the Jugglers since eighth grade.
Grabbing 29 points, Durr surpassed the great Breanna Stewart as Section III’s all-time leader in points, with 2,389. Surpassing Stewart in anything is special, given what she’s doing at Connecticut, and to do it in this setting, playing for a coach (Mike Plonisch) who’s lost both of his parents in recent months, made it even sweeter and more satisfying.
Right after that, another great senior went out on top. Nick Comenale, from New York Mills’ boys team, overcame a rough night to carry the Marauders to a 57-50 overtime win over Coleman Catholic at Glens Falls to earn the Marauders’ second state championship in four years.
Not many programs, in any class, can match Mills, nor can many of them top the coaching acumen of Mike Adey. He’s first-class, all around, and in Comenale he had a player who delivered night after night, never more so than on that final evening with the big prize on the line.
Even the stories of teams that came up short were great ones. Almost no one thought that Jamesville-DeWitt’s girls, with just one senior in the main rotation and eighth-graders (Meg Hair and Kasey Vaughan) in key roles, would get to the state Class A final for the first time.
Yet the Red Rams pulled it off, leaning on a stifling defense to finally clear the regional hurdle against Averill Park and stop Harborfields, too. Pittsford Sutherland proved too much, 57-41, but no J-D partisan – players, coaches or fans – felt too bad. It was already an historic season.
The same was true with Cicero-North Syracuse’s girls, who fell in the Class AA final to Ossining 74-59. Tough and resilient, the Northstars have long proved that life after Stewart is not just possible, but can prove quite rewarding.
From a sixth consecutive sectional title to a dramatic regional win over Shenendehowa won on a last-second basket to the 18 free throws it made in the state semifinals against Baldwin, C-NS won lots of hearts along the way.
But the best was saved for last. Westhill won a third state Class B boys basketball title, yes, but it was the way they did it that will remain in my memory for a long, long time.
We knew Jordan Roland was good, and could score lots of baskets in a short amount of time. But 32 points in a half? And doing it in a state final? This was preposterous, absurd, incredible and magical, all at the same time.
Watching that unfold, and seeing the disbelief from everyone – including the opponent, Olean – as Roland seemed to make everything he threw up there, suddenly I was 10 years old again, out of my chair, screaming at times, laughing other times.
In short, I was pulled back into that wonderful narrative world where things often don’t turn out great, but when they do, it can transform and inspire. Thus, I’ll still write that narrative as long as it remains fresh, vibrant and needed to be told.