This is the last time I’ll be writing in this space for awhile.
Kind of like the periodic cicadas, I’m appearing once again on a near daily basis on the News Advertiser sports pages. (Although, it seems to be happening more frequently than every 13 years.)
We’re operating a person short in the sports corner of the newsroom with the recent departure of Kaleb Carter. Carter Eckl has been promoted to sports editor, and the search is on for his assistant.
Carter is a good guy and easy to work with. As much as I’d love to stay semi-retired and write the occasional feature story, I wouldn’t leave a colleague in an impossible situation of covering all that we need to get to for the Creston News Advertiser, Osceola Sentinel-Tribune and our papers in Adair County.
So, starting with last Friday’s football game in Lenox and Tuesday’s Class 1A volleyball regional openers, my old Saturn Aura with 206,000 miles on it (mostly from CNA trips) is back on the road several times a week.
Of course, once I’m out and about it’s a blast to reconnect with so many familiar faces from my years on the beat. I followed Lenox statistician Bart Cline along the sideline Friday, just like in the mid-2000s during the Tigers’ state championship run. The coaches were different, but the friendly vibe at Tiger Field was as welcoming as I remembered it.
And, of course it’s always fun to cover the Creston kids that I coached during their middle school years. So, that will be an added benefit. And, ever since entering semi-retirement I always asked to cover SWCC when I could, and that will be even more regular now. I just think we’re lucky to have collegiate-level athletics in a town this size, and nothing makes a better statement for that than the national-tourney runs by the Spartan basketball team the past two years.
The only disruption of my usual routine that I feel bad about is that in my part-time role I took on the job of trying to cover as many collegiate athletes as possible who have local ties, so the full-time guys could concentrate on all the stuff going on around here. Some of those plans to get to multiple Saturday football games may be pushed aside, but I will still try to make it work. It’s honestly been the most fun part about my part-time role.
One of the events I’m covering this week is Creston/O-M’s final home football game. It’s senior night, and I can tell you as a two-time Panther football parent, it really is an emotional night.
As Mount Ayr co-coach Delwyn Showalter said Tuesday on KSIB, for a vast majority of high school senior football players, if their team is not in the playoffs, this Friday is the last time they put on the uniform and play the sport. You just don’t see a lot of adult pickup football games, or things like the park and rec basketball or volleyball leagues for the sport of football.
As a middle school coach, I’ve often raved about the potential of a certain group of kids, and left them with a message about my hopes for them to continue to improve and to take the Creston program back to the state tourney level that was here just before I arrived in 1984. I would be the first car in the caravan to Des Moines, it would make me so excited.
But, inevitably some important pieces of that special core of kids find that basketball isn’t a primary part of their life anymore. Whenever I lament those things or agonize what I could have done differently to fuel their passion, my wife reminds me I have no control over the interest level of a kid about a sport, or the other things in that person’s life affecting that decision.
So, I’ve tried to be less heavy-handed in lecturing kids to stay with it for my own selfish reasons. It took me awhile to get to that point.
But, I will leave it at this. My own story of regret.
Midway through my senior year, the rumor got around the hallways of Fort Dodge Senior High that I wasn’t going to go out for baseball the next spring. Coach Ed McNeil was disappointed, and had a word with me.
Now, by no means was I going to be a key part of that 1975 team. They had returning all-conference infielders at shortstop and second base, and the guy ahead of me at my natural position, third base, was a much better power hitter and certainly as adept in the field. We were good friends.
I had no illusions that I was better than any of those guys, nor did I have an overbearing parent trying to make that case to the coach, fortunately. (I honestly think I liked it better that my parents didn’t know much about sports, because I never had to worry about what they would yell from the stands.)
My view at the time, without the benefit of maturity and perspective gained in adulthood, was that I would be better off working full-time in the summer before starting college, than to devote all of that time toward a sport in which I was relegated to part-time duty, and too old for JV games.
Here’s the part I didn’t give enough thought to at the time. When you think about all of the time you gave to the sport in youth leagues, weekend tournaments, high school afternoon practices after a full day of farm work, and then you just drop it before your senior year?
I missed the camaraderie of the bus trips to Waterloo and Mason City. And getting those McDonald’s burgers delivered to the dingy Dodger Stadium dressing room after games. The little things.
The one moment you should have the chance to experience is senior day, standing in front of the home crowd with your parents, feeling the warmth of the applause and their appreciation for your dedication to that sport, and the school.
I didn’t get to experience that moment. I thought making a few bucks and having my summer nights free was more important.
Now, 43 years later, I’m still kicking myself for making that decision.
So, when the Panther senior football players and cheerleaders are introduced Friday night, I will give them my attention with a sincere gesture of appreciation. They stayed with it, and they won’t regret it.
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