The next chapter awaits the champions, the graduating seniors specifically. A mission is accomplished, yes. But it’s only the beginning.
This message is for the Harman cousins and the four other seniors at Walnut Grove as well as El Dorado Springs’ Schaaf sisters, Ash Grove’s nine seniors, Riley Israel and Co. at Crane High School and all others.
Can’t remember which coach once said this, but go on into the world now and do your parents and your town proud, and don’t allow winning a state championship to define you.
But, more importantly, don’t forget about your school or the basketball program. No, don’t be only a faceless name on the banner hanging proudly on the gym wall.
“A lot of the younger girls kind of look up to us and they tell us,” said state champion Walnut Grove senior Madisyn Freeze, who saw my point Saturday before the question was ever fired her way.
“They see what we feel right now,” Walnut Grove senior Lexi Harman said, crying tears of joy and unable to hold back her emotions, “and they want to feel what we feel right now.”
Exactly. As those of us from small towns know, successful high school student-athletes — and especially state champs — hold a special place in the hearts of the youngin’s.
Those down in the grade schools and middle schools see them through a different prism. They see the varsity players as the immortals. No, the kiddos may not quite understand that you’ve put their town on the sports map, but your names will forever be remembered in their minds.
Names such as Heather and Lexi Harman, or Alex and Kameron Schaaf or even Jacob Wade from Class 3’s third-place Strafford boys basketball team won’t be forgotten anytime soon. That is, they’ll think back to their hard work when they’re one day running laps and doing sit-ups as they try to crack the varsity roster and win over the demanding coach.
It’s always enjoyable to see talented teams win state championships and raise the bar for the next group.
However, keeping that legacy alive is another matter. It’s not always easy. Players eventually move away, go their separate ways.
Yet, there is a way. In essence, don’t become a ghost.
Long after the tears of joy are wiped away and you’re making it in this world years from now, make it a point to drive back to the school and talk to those varsity players who once idolized you.
The younger teams may not quite have all the talent, and sometimes they’ve run face-first into long, losing stretches that seem to have no way out.
Stop by. Share old stories. Talk about what it took to win. Tell them it was about putting aside differences and putting a town, a team and dream on your collective shoulders.
For Walnut Grove, tell them coach Rory Henry’s simple but important edict: “Give yourself up to something bigger than yourself.”
That was true for Strafford and Ash Grove, too. Strafford dedicated its season to coach Mike Wilson’s wife, Lori, who battled breast cancer. The Indians wore “#4Lori” on the back of their pink warm-up shirts. For Ash Grove?
“It was good for us. Our town has gone through a lot. We’ve experienced tragedy with the death of one of our students,” Ash Grove senior Madilyn Johnson said. “And for something good like this to happen was really pulling us together as a community.”
And that’s the thing. Each of the state teams this weekend rallied their communities. Sports have a great way of doing it.
But sometimes those communities need the old stars to show up again. You know, so the stars can high-five the new ones.
Kary Booher, Sunday Sports Editor of the News-Leader, can be reached at 836-1180 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @karybooherNL.