As I reflect upon the just completed high school sports season, it’s not the games, the championships or the remarkable individual performances that first come to mind.
It’s the tears. It’s always the tears.
There are a lot of things wrong with high school sports. Parents have lost their minds. Coaches have lost their bearings. Student-athletes have abandoned their loyalties. But amid the chaos, there are moments of purity, moments when I am reminded of how deeply a 17-year-old feels, how the passion, exuberance and pain of high school athletes is simpler and yet greater than any other athletes I’ve covered.
I think back to a February Saturday and the girls state basketball championships. With 34.2 seconds left in Scottsdale Saguaro’s 49-38 victory over Tucson Flowing Wells, senior Kaitlyn Quinn limped onto the court.
Quinn had dislocated her right kneecap in mid-January. She hadn’t played or put on a uniform since the injury. But she dressed out for the state championship game and with the victory secure, coach Chris Young turned to her and said, “Get ready. You’re going in. You can stand near the sideline, but you’re going into the game.”
Quinn was still crying 15 minutes later.
“I’m so glad I could be here, even though I’m hurt,” she said. “I’ll remember it forever.”
Unfortunately, so will Phoenix Pinnacle guard Sydney Wiese. The moment Phoenix St. Mary’s 49-37 victory over Pinnacle was complete, Wiese knelt in front of her bench, sobbing. She led Pinnacle to the state title game her freshman, sophomore and senior seasons. Pinnacle lost all three games and, with her high school career over, Wiese was inconsolable.
I waited outside Pinnacle’s locker room for nearly 30 minutes. Finally, Wiese, her eyes swollen and red, walked out. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine an athlete, any athlete, suffering more from a defeat.
Say what you want about the excesses and abuses in high school sports, but know this: The kids care — deeply.
Other memories from a year gone by:
The decision by Phoenix Brophy Prep boys soccer coach Marc Kelly to bench four of his starters for the first half of the state title game against Phoenix Desert Vista. The players, after previously being warned about their antics, had celebrated a goal against Tolleson in the semifinal game by, as Kelly put it, “creating a toilet and taking a crap on the field.”
With a championship at stake, Kelly could have sacrificed his convictions. Instead, he demonstrated that character and sportsmanship still matter. Bravo.
Hundreds of Morenci High fans waiting outside the gates of the Walkup Skydome more than two hours before their beloved Wildcats would play in the Division V state title game. Twenty-one years had passed since Morenci last played for a state championship — its lone title came in 1976 — and the football team’s unexpected success had turned the small town into one giant cheering section.
Morenci lost, 21-7, to Phoenix Northwest Christian, and afterwards the players ignored the orders of coach Frank Ogas to gather in the north end zone. Instead, they walked toward the sideline to salute their fans.
“It brought us all together,” Ogas said. “That’s what high school athletics is all about, the effect it has on us all. Not just these guys who play the game, but all the people who go to Morenci High School, the kids who attend our elementary schools, the administration, faculty, the staff, the mining families. It’s everything.”
Long philosophical debates with colorful Phoenix Mountain Pointe football coach Norris Vaughan; the tilt-a-whirl Division I championship boys basketball game between Pinnacle and Tempe Corona del Sol; the return to health of Channel 12’s Bruce Cooper, the ambassador of Arizona high school sports; Chandler Seton Catholic improbably beating Show Low and Lakeside Blue Ridge to win the Division IV football title; the idiocy of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council not passing a more stringent transfer rule; and, finally, Tempe Marcos de Niza team manager Dakota Barnes. Look him up on YouTube. He’ll put a smile on your face.
With that, the 2012-13 athletic year has come to an end. But don’t despair. The football season begins in 98 days.
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow