This Thanksgiving, I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I’m thankful for in the world of local sports.
First of all, let me say how I’m thankful to have this job. As you probably know, there have been tremendous amounts of upheaval in the newspaper industry over the past few years, and The Bee hasn’t been immune to any of it. Nevertheless, I find myself with a job I thoroughly enjoy – can you imagine getting paid to watch high school football games? – and I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of people.
Professionally, I couldn’t ask for a whole lot more.
On the field of play, among the athletes that I cover, I’m thankful for running backs Ja’Quan Gardner of Central Valley, and Andrew Brown of Ripon Christian.
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I had been out of the writing game for more than a decade and my “swing” needed a little work. These senior standouts served up a “room-service fastball,” so to speak, with their pursuit of the Stanislaus District’s career and single-season rushing records.
It was a tailor-made story, and one that I enjoyed following as a fan, not just as a reporter.
Two weeks ago, after rushing for 378 yards in the final game of his career against Manteca, Gardner held both records (6,019 and 2,467). Since then, Brown has wrested away the single-season mark (2,626) and needs 261 to break Gardner’s all-time mark. It’s a story that still hasn’t played itself out.
Moving from the field to the sideline, I’m thankful that I got the chance to watch Escalon football coach Mark Loureiro at work.
For years, I’d heard about Escalon’s program, but this year marked the first time I’ve gotten to see the Cougars play in person (I did get to watch their state championship game on TV in 2010). I saw Escalon twice this season – once at home and once on the road. Each time, Escalon was prepared, focused and intense – a credit to “Coach Lou.”
Another thing for which I’m thankful is this weekend’s assignment to cover the state cross country meet in Fresno.
Reporting on cross country meets can be difficult. Unlike other sports, where the event is contested right in front of you, cross country runners disappear into the distance, then reemerge at the finish line 15 or 20 minutes later. It’s tough for a writer to describe events that can’t be seen.
But more than any other athlete I’ve encountered, runners couldn’t care less about newspaper coverage. They’re just wired differently.
If you want to watch athletes who absolutely love to compete for nothing more than the beauty of competition, take in a cross country meet.
I’m also thankful for the people I’ve gotten to meet this year.
Oakdale High football coach Trent Merzon and Johansen water polo coach Brent Bohlender are two that stand out.
Merzon is a talented coach who runs a first-class program. But he’s also the best quote in the area. A lot of coaches dip deep into their bag of canned quotes when talking with the press. Not Merzon. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he tells you how he feels in an informative and entertaining manner.
Bohlender, the most successful coach in the history of the Stanislaus District if the not the entire state when you consider he guided his teams to nearly 1,700 victories in water polo and swimming competitions, is a pro’s pro when dealing with the media. He always has his statistics for the newspaper hours before our deadline. And, when called upon, he’s eager to dig up a phone number or find some long-forgotten stat. He makes our job easier.
I’m also glad I got to know water polo coaches Andrea Mazza of Davis and Sally Roberts of Central Catholic. These two coaches absolutely love what they’re doing and it’s evident with every phone call or text message I shared with them this season. The love they have for their work is contagious. Just like I hope my love for prep sports is contagious. If it is ... I’m truly thankful.