“Jeff DiVeronica!” the teenager from Fairport yelled as I scurried down the bleachers during the second half Tuesday night to gain a better vantage point to shoot video. I raise my right arm in the air, raising my thumb as I go by, so the kid knows I heard him.
I want him to know. Not because of any ego trip for me, but because I want him to know that I understand how important these matches are to him and his friends and their parents. And that’s why I was there.
Over an eight-night stretch I covered 10 matches on six of those nights. The first couple were frigid and brutal and I was amazed at the toughness of those kids and parents who brave the conditions, bundled up in the bleachers. Saturday and Tuesday were warm and pleasant and how wonderful it was to feel the stands shake from cheering, not collective shivering.
This is when the games matter the most. This is when one season goes on and another ends, and those players go home and wait to hear when they need to turn in their uniforms. This time of the year, and in high school sports it happens three times annually — when the fall season ends, then winter and then spring — the games are where the action is and where the fans are, too.
I was wholly impressed on three of those six nights with the huge crowds to watch local high school soccer at Hilton, Webster Schroeder and Spencerport. The first was Friday night at Hilton, where a so-so gathering for the Honeoye Falls-Lima vs. Wilson boys championship match (Class A2) swelled into a crowd of more than 2,200 fans for the nightcap, a classic rivalry between Greece Athena and Greece Arcadia.
Man, those fans were into it. You could hear the excitement, their reactions reverberating with every big tackle or close chance to score. I was also impressed Saturday at Webster Schroeder, where the Spencerport girls completed an unbeaten run to capture their first sectional crown since 2007. The best team doesn’t always win in soccer. This time, it did. I noticed a ton of Rangers parents as I waded through them to the press box and I actually think there were more fans for that match than the nightcap, the Class AA girls title match between Victor and Penfield (Victor won). Still, the bleachers were full and buzzing for both.
Spencerport girls finally finish atop Class A soccer
Finally, there was Tuesday night at Spencerport High, where more than 1,800 fans showed up for a doubleheader. The venue is amazing. Always has been and I prefer the turf field (sorry purists) to the muddy slop that the field used to deteriorate into at this time of year. The setting, though, that soccer stadium on a field with only soccer lines, is something to see. The whole scene is so picturesque, a field surrounded by towering trees whose leaves make it look like you’re inside a painting with vibrant yellow and orange colors.
If you’ve ever been connected to Section V soccer, chances are you’ve been to Spencerport to watch a big match there. If you’re a fan locally who loves soccer and has never been there, do yourself a favor next fall and go.
The HF-L boys took on Athena for the third straight year in the qualifying match for the Class A state tournament. Athena won despite a great effort from the Cougars who after a slow start realized they not only could hang with Athena but they could take the play to the Trojans, too. Then came the Section V Class AA title match, as top-seeded Fairport faced upstart and No. 7 seed, Webster Thomas. It was fast and physical and included a few more hard fouls than I like to see, but it was quite a show and the fans let you know that. The bleachers were rollicking and other fans lined up two deep around the fence.
The Fairport student section kept singing, including one catchy “Pump It Up” chant, and the teens who root for the Titans tried to match them. But, like on the field, the Red Raiders were the better group. Fairport won 2-1, turning aside a stubborn Thomas team as a big save by goalkeeper Jake Horst in the final seconds preserved the win. What an edge-of-your-seat ending!
There was great play and great drama and memories made, which is really what high school sports are all about. No offense, U.S. Soccer, but you can take your academy program and stuff it in a sack. My kid, if she’s good enough to even play, will never give up her high school team to chase a scholarship. If she’s good enough, college recruiters will find her, and that’s something I’ve always believed.
So to the young man who noticed I was there Tuesday night, thank you. I wasn’t part of the action, trust me, I know that, but after two decades of covering high school sports I still appreciate the moment and the passion on the field and in the stands, and I’m happy to be able to share that all with our readers via words and videos.