Prep Boys Basketball

Power of sports is strong

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 24, 2020 12:01 am

The ping of another text message coming into my phone echoed through our house, an all-too-common occurrence these days.

Interviews, discussions and planning are not taking place face-to-face, so our phones have become our lifeline. Yet, this message had nothing to do with the day's events, outside of generating a thought-provoking response and a widespread discussion on social media.

The message read, "What do you miss most about sports?"

It came from a college friend who happened to be watching highlights of the Mizzou men's basketball team's undefeated run through the Big Eight Conference in 1994. He wondered how I was coping without sports to watch, listen to or write about.

My answer is two-fold.

From a professional standpoint, I miss the interaction. Sitting behind home plate at QU Stadium, chatting with parents, friends and fans of the Quincy University baseball players, is where I yearn to be. It's where I belong.

The opportunity to develop a relationship with the players, tell their stories on and off the field and watch them develop into a regional contender each spring is not work. It's a joy. I miss that.

As a fan, it's different. I miss the highs and lows of tracking a team day in and day out. Fans ride the emotional roller coaster of late-inning comebacks, early-inning meltdowns, individual slumps and I-hope-it-never-ends winning streaks.

I've been doing that for nearly 40 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, and I hope to do again before the calendar turns to 2021.

It was the 1982 Cardinals -- the World Series championship team -- partially responsible for stoking my love of sports, of the drama it produces and the ecstasy or agony every fan feels.

The 1981 Quincy High School boys basketball team did that first. The incredible journey to Champaign where the Blue Devils capped a 33-0 season with the Class AA state championship and a No. 1 national ranking made a 7-year-old with a head full of curly red hair believe in the power of sports.

It turns out a lot of sports junkies have had that happen, too.

Monday, I threw this question on Twitter, "What team made you fall in love with sports?" The responses were widespread and illuminating, but there were two central themes. Baseball had major allure, and high school sports fostered strong sentiment.

Kids growing up in this area throughout the 1980s pointed to the St. Louis Cardinals, particularly the 1982 and '87 teams, as influential. A number of fans who grew up in the 1960s pointed to the New York Yankees and the M&M boys -- Mantle and Maris -- for turning them into lifelong fans of the game.

The memories tied to the team you fell in love with are strong.

Sitting through a snowfall on Opening Day at Tiger Stadium in 1984 is unforgettable, just ask Ben Marth. The all-star infield of the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals pulled in Larry Barringer. Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and so many other great Yankees captivated Mike Pitchard.

The community support of high school basketball has equal magnetism.

Jim Short saw it in Hamilton, watching the rivalry between the Warsaw and Hamilton play out in 1980s. Jeff Bottorff felt it as the 1977 Crescent-Iroquois Eagles became the smallest Class A school at the time to reach the state quarterfinals. Brian Rea lived it with the Fowlerville (Mich.) Gladiators, who won a Class B district championship in 1987 when he was a third grader serving as the team manager for a group coached by his dad.

There is more to it than championships as well. Herm Senor II became passionate by going to his sister's games, tagging along when his dad, Herman Senor, refereed games and attending the Springfield City Tournament.

It isn't just basketball that does it. The 2012 Central football team inspired a new generation of sports junkies throughout Adams County. Right, Bryce Flesner? The U.S. women's soccer team did that same when it won the 1999 World Cup. Right, Katie Awerkamp? The 1980 U.S. hockey team made us all feel chills. Right, Ray Weast?

Everyone has a team they treasure or a moment when they believed sports can lift your spirits and make you soar.

That's what I miss most of all right now.

We need those moments. We need these teams. We need the magic only sports can provide.