Remembering a really golden year in sports

I realize that a lot of newspapers don’t deal with sports on the opinion page very often and when they do, it’s usually some big issue like Title IX or steroids or some societal ill like parents who can’t behave on the sidelines or some political development like the University of Oregon’s decision to cut its wrestling program.

I think, though, that in a community like Sweet Home, there is room for sports on the opinion page on occasion because sports are a big part of the lives of more folks than us journalists. Even if we don’t go to the games, we care about how our athletes do because they represent us.

I think that’s particularly true this season, when we saw an unusual number of Sweet Home teams come out of nowhere, or at least out of the dark-horse lane, to do great things. It was a very satisfying season for a lot of Husky fans.

So it is with a great deal of pride that we can look back this year and remember some of the high points of Sweet Home athletics. It’s also intriguing to think about how things might be next year, given the fact that a lot of the great performances we saw came from youngsters who have more time in school ahead of them.

Football, of course, is of very high interest to most Husky fans and last year’s team wasn’t boring. Despite the fact that they had no real burners, the Huskies played tough, smash-mouth football and lost to teams that had the speed they didn’t. They never quit, even when they were getting blown out by Sisters and some other squads that simply ran away from them.

One team that had speed last fall was the girls cross-country squad, led by rookie harrier Amanda Basham, a senior who switched over from volleyball. Basham spent the summer running five miles a day on hilly roads and by the second or third race of the season she was clearly the class of the Val-Co League. The good news was that she had enough support from the underclassmen on the team, enough to lead them to Sweet Home’s first girls district title in 14 years.

The swimming and wrestling teams at Sweet Home are regular players on the state level and this year was no different. The wrestling team, half of them freshmen or sophomores, finished third in state, one point behind the second-place team, as Kris Newport became the first Sweet Home freshman to win a state title.

In the swimming pool at Mt. Hood Community College, sophomore Jayce Calhoon set school records in the 500 freestyle and the 100 backstroke as he led the Huskies to a second-place team finish, behind Cottage Grove with state championships in both events. Fellow soph Kieran Schaefer set school records en route to second-place medals in four events.

The competitive cheer squad also had another good year, tying for the state title this time around after winning it outright last year. The fact that the field was a little depleted this year doesn’t diminish their achievements.

The boys basketball team wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was still nice to see them make a return trip to the playoffs, even if they did have to endure a long road trip to Hidden Valley to face a team in the first round that hadn’t lost at home in, what was it, four years?

The good news is that I think the Huskies are going to be even more fun to watch this next season, but that’s partly because I’m partial to high-energy offense and suffocating defense, which is what new Coach Kostanty Knurowski prefers to run. Given that we know our players have some speed on the court, it could be another satisfying season, particularly if some of the young Huskies bring lessons they’ve learned in other sports to the court.

On that note, we can celebrate the grandest moment of them all, at least in my opinion – the boys track team’s run from somewhere back in the pack to Sweet Home’s first state track title ever.

Many readers know I happen to really enjoy track, so this is going to sound biased. But I would be just as excited if any other Sweet Home team pulled off something like this, like the wrestlers did last year.

That’s because this was a case of athletes who combined talent with raw determination and it paid off. At the beginning of the season we all knew there was the possibility for a good year. We knew one particular athlete, sophomore Dakotah Keys, was destined for greatness if all went well. It did go pretty well – he ended up setting school records in five events and helping a relay team to another.

But it was the also-rans who made the real difference this season. Without recounting the whole glorious story of the state track meet, let me just say they turned in a performance that should be remembered for years.

Our local boys took it to the next level in nearly every event, culminating in a one-point win capped by a 4×400 (mile) relay team that refused to lose. The boys won because they did what it takes to win. They put in the hard work and they showed the grit and determination necessary to make it happen. And the good news is a lot of them are coming back.

Not to be forgotten in all this is freshman sprinter Maria Kropf, who also had a special year. She started off badly by injuring her hamstring in the opening meet of the season, which kept her on the sidelines for a month in her first season of high school track. But she came back, overcame her fears by running the 200 meters, the race in which she was injured, and won district titles in the 100 and the long jump. When she got to her first state meet, she set a school record (and a massive personal best) to place second in the long jump and took third in the 100, a hair behind two seniors.

The girls track team was sorely lacking in some events, but the good news is that a lot of freshmen and sophomores began to blossom this year and there’s a crop of talented eighth-graders who could make a real difference next year.

Also not to be forgotten in the track team’s success was the Husky softball team, which was made up largely of freshmen and which managed to win a berth in the state tournament. Sure, they got blown out in the first game, but the very fact they made it was a tribute to their talent and dedication too.

Last, but certainly not least, was the historic performance of the boys golf team, which won its first-ever district title and team trip to state behind some stellar play from the entire team. Earlier in the season, the Huskies showed what they were made of when, led by Taylor Huschka, they posted the lowest golf scores by a Sweet Home team and individual since 1993.

The boys didn’t do quite as well as they’d hoped at state, but they had a great year and Coach Tom Horn has reason to hope for more good things down the road.

I’ve covered sports off and on for almost 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of great performances from kids – epic ones, even. But I really don’t remember too many years in which I saw so many teams from one school suck it up and lay it on the line like these Huskies did. And that’s why we need to remember these achievements and take pride in them because they put Sweet Home on the map.

* * * * *

If all this talk about athletic achievement is getting your competitive juices flowing, let me remind you about the upcoming Sportsman’s Holiday Mile, to be run at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 12, immediately before the Sportsman’s Holiday Parade.

This is the third time the race has been held and it’s been fun, which is what fun runs are supposed to be, It’s low-key, but we’ve had some quality runners as well, including last year’s winner, Caleb Goins of Scio, who went on to take third for East Linn Christian at the state cross-country meet and second in the 1500 and 3000 at the state track championships.

For this year’s event, organizers (which include me, by way of full disclosure), are emphasizing family participation. Face it: Anybody who is in any kind of shape can make it through a mile, maybe even run it. So we’re encouraging parents to get out there and bring their kids and go for it.

There’s a significant discount for kids (under 18) who sign up with a participating parent and everybody has a chance to win prizes from Figaro’s, Subway, local gyms and more. All the proceeds benefit Sweet Home High School’s cross-country and track programs.

Don’t be shy. You’ve got 2 1/2 weeks to get in shape to run, jog or walk a mile. You can do it. You can register at The New Era, 1313 Main St., or at Steelhead Strength and Fitness, 1295 Main St.