With the release of our inaugural All-Area team this week, I had originally planned on taking this chance to explain a bit about the team. I do hope that you enjoy the team and congratulate all those who made the cut. It was not the easiest task I’ve set forth on since I began this position, but it was certainly a blast. There were many great players and performances this year in each sport and it was fun to relive some of those moments from the players.
However, over the weekend, a couple things happened that got me thinking. I get asked quite often why I do what I do. To some people, to think as highly of sports as I do is a bit childish, something you have to let go of when you graduate high school. Obviously, I am inclined to disagree. I cover sports because I love sports.
I’m certainly not the only one that enjoys sports. Some people are casual sports fans, some are die-hard armchair coaches, some enjoy the sport enough to get involved as a coach, staff member, player or media member. I chose the latter two.
The point I’m slowly getting to is why we love sports. As I said earlier, two things happened that made me think about this. The first was Jack Johnson of Norfolk walking out with the team as an honorary scholarship player. The second, was a 55-year-old man in South Carolina playing in a college football game.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Jack Johnson is an eight-year-old boy from Norfolk. Jack has a genetic disorder called Menkes disease, a disease that affects his skeletal and muscular development. This disease prevents him from doing the one thing he wants to do more than anything, play football for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mike Riley and crew got wind of Jack’s issue and in turn decided to make his dream come true. They offered him an honorary scholarship for the team and gave him the full celebrity treatment. He had his own press conference, spoke with just about every media in the area and then became part of the team. He got his own jersey and pads, led the team in the pre-game prayer and then led the team out of the tunnel before joining the captains at midfield for the coin toss.
As for the 55-year-old man in South Carolina, his name is Joe Thomas, Sr. He is the father of a Green Bay Packers’ linebacker of the same name. On Saturday, he became the oldest known player to take a snap in an NCAA D1 football game.
Thomas, Sr. was a promising football player growing up, despite being partially deaf until he was 17, but was unable to play any further in his career. When he lost his job during the recession a few years back, he decided to pursue his degree. His son earned a spot on South Carolina State’s football team and they thought it would be fun to play together. Thomas, Sr., enrolled at the school and practiced on-and-off with the team over the next four years as a running back.
Finally, on senior day, Thomas, Sr. got his chance to make his dream of playing college football a reality, despite it being a year after his son leaving for the National Football League. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff inserted the 55-year-old man at running back and gave him the ball up the middle. He plowed forward for three yards.
Stories like Jack Johnson’s, Joe Thomas, Senior’s and the well-known story of Jack Hoffman’s among many, many others are a big part of the reason I love sports. Sports are fun to play, they are great entertainment and they give us something to talk about on Mondays, but most importantly, they give us memories. The memories Jack and Joe, Sr. made this weekend are ones that will stay with them forever. They are moments that fans and non-fans alike can always appreciate and the families of everyone involved will cherish forever.
That’s why I do what I do.
With volleyball season now in the books and football season wrapping up next week, many athletes are looking toward winter sports. Some athletes, however, may have decided not to do a winter sport or are unsure whether they should.
I’m here with a public service announcement. Do every sport you can.
There are a few reasons to consider doing multiple sports. First and foremost, it simply keeps you active and healthier. Your body is up and moving and you are getting plenty of exercise during practice. I know right now, going to town on a cheeseburger and soda doesn’t seem to affect you all that much, but trust me, exercising every day is a good habit to get in to for when you aren’t able to practice anymore.
Now, moving away from the old man speech, another important reason is the fact that sports compliment each other. In football, explosiveness, power and hand- eye coordination are important athletic components. Basketball and wrestling are the two perfect sports to improve those components.
For example, in basketball, there is likely no attribute more important to a player than hand- eye coordination. Oddly enough, the same can be said for a receiver in football. If a football player is unable to see where the ball is going to be or is unable to get his hands to that proper spot, he’s probably not going to see the field too often. For a basketball player, coordination is so important as the athlete needs to be able to work his or her way through defenders while controlling the ball and finding the open man for a shot.
In wrestling, explosiveness and power go hand-in-hand. If a wrestler is unable to explode into a takedown, they’ll struggle to find any success. If they don’t have the power to overmatch their opponent on that takedown, they’ll end up on the wrong side of the match.
Another reason to be a multi- sport athlete is for the athlete’s health. A recent study done by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that athletes that specialize in a single sport are nearly twice as likely to sustain a lower-body injury while participating in sports than multi- sport athletes. The most common injuries were to the joints of the leg, the ankle and knee.
While they did find that a good number of the injuries happened in season, the part that stood out about this study to me the most was that specialized athletes were twice as likely to sustain gradual onset and repetitive use injuries than multi-sport athletes. That means that athletes that choose not to participate in sports throughout the year actually are at a higher risk to have lingering injuries to the knees and ankles, the two types of injuries that seem to end more careers than any other.
While I can understand the argument for playing in a single sport, at least in the case of an athlete with college or professional potential, it is important for athletes to keep themselves active throughout the year. Playing in multiple sports gives them an opportunity to work various attributes for their favorite sport at a high rate throughout the year. It also helps them avoid debilitating injuries to the knees and ankles that can harm them well into their adult lives.
Bottom line: Kids, play basketball or go out for wrestling. Your body will appreciate it.
If you are like me and really can’t do either Winter sport, at least do yourself a favor and hit the weights. Don’t let your body get lazy for a full season. It not only puts you behind when the next season comes around, but its a missed opportunity. The area is full of excellent facilities at the schools and in the communities. If you choose not to use them, you are hurting your development and your chances at playing time.
Then there were four.
After a long and exciting volleyball season, we are now to the final week of competition. In my coverage area, we have four squads that earned the trip to Lincoln to continue their quest for a state title.
Crofton, Elgin Public/Pope John, St. Mary’s and Chambers/Wheeler Central proved themselves each and every week this year as some of the top teams in the state. These four teams have combined for 98 wins on the season. They have all dominated the competition on a regular basis and have rebounded from unexpected upsets. Now, they take on the best the state has to offer.
Crofton was one team that surprised no one by their performance throughout the year after having qualified for state the past three years. They boast one of the most well-rounded teams in C2. Senior Monica Arens led the Warriors’ attack at the net throughout the year, racking up 343 kills. Fellow senior Kelsey Sanger was not only second on the team with 288 kills, put she proved herself as one of the top servers in the tournament after recording 72 aces on the year. Madison Johnson helped the offense run smoothly each and every week, recording 732 assists. Josie Sanger, the team’s libero, was all over the court all season, pulling up 425 digs. Those four will lead a confident Crofton squad into a first-round showdown with Hasting St. Cecilia on Thursday.
EPPJ had one of the best regular seasons of any team in Nebraska, finishing at 24-1 before stumbling to a 2-3 combined record in the conference and district tournaments. They proved each night that few teams had as much power as the Wolfpack, as they had four girls that would be any other team’s top hitter. Liz Selting and Amy Nelson regularly showed their strength at the net, putting down 324 and 203 kills, respectively. Grace Henn and Paige Meis worked as compliments to their senior companions all year, combining for another 312 kills. With so many strong hitters, it took a combination of Baylee and Allyson Wemhoff along with Nicki Payne to distribute the wealth, totaling 789 assists between the three. This deep Wolfpack team has a great chance to be playing on the final day of the tournament, but they must first get back to their winning ways in a first-round game with Ansley-Litchfield.
St. Mary’s is as decorated as anyone in this year’s field, having won two state championships and one runner-up in the past four years. They intend to add to that list in their fifth-straight appearance. They are led by an outstanding and experienced senior class. Logan Connot and Hattie Blumenstock recorded 229 and 228 kills, respectively, this season. Hailey Eiler and Breanna Hedstrom each recorded at least 130 kills as well. Fellow senior Taylor Colman was an expert at distributing the ball to her talented hitters, recording 845 assists. Sophomore Brianna Bauer leads the team with 50 aces. The Cardinals start their journey to another title Thursday when they take on Wynot in a rematch of the district finals. St. Mary’s won that match in straight sets, by the way.
Chambers/Wheeler Central may have been St. Mary’s biggest thorn all season, taking on the Cardinals in three separate thrilling matches, winning one and sending the other two to five sets. They are led by a senior who, in my opinion, is the best all-around player in the area. Jacie Laetsch is not an overwhelming presence, being listed at 5’7”, but she plays at the net like a six-footer and scores with authority. She leads the team in kills (409), aces (69) and digs (245). However, she is far from the only talent on a strong Renegade squad. Regan Dierks recorded 239 kills this year. Daneecia Thorin accounted for 50 aces. Jordan Laetsch, Jacie’s younger sister, recorded 176 digs. Freshman Taylor Peter was fantastic in her first season, recording 571 assists. The Renegades use their players all over the floor and will need to be at their best as they start their journey to their first state title as the Renegades when they take on 31-1 Potter-Dix in the opening round.
Whether we like it or not, football season is slowly nearing the end. However, the silver lining behind that cloud is that means that it is now time for the National Basketball Association to get back in to the spotlight.
I admittedly am not a very dedicated viewer, as I usually just try to pay attention to the game scores and playoff races. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good game though.
The thing I love most about basketball is that you can find arguably the best athletes in the world on the court in any given night. While football, volleyball and baseball players are all great athletes in their own rite, basketball players are the embodiment of what a truly gifted athlete is. They combine speed, explosiveness, hand-eye coordination and vision to score at an incredible rate.
Take Lebron James for example. I know most people are probably sick of hearing about him, but the truth is, he is the best all-around player since Michael Jordan retired for the last time.
The man is every bit of 6’8” and weighs in at around 250 pounds. That is five inches and 10 pounds heavier than the average NFL tight end. Yet, even at the immense size, he has been rumored to run a 4.6 second forty-yard dash. That is an average of .17 seconds faster than that average NFL tight end. Combine that with his 40-plus inch vertical leap and an uncanny passing ability, he is the best-of-the-best when it comes to these great athletes.
Not a LeBron fan? How about we take a look at the likable Tim Duncan. Duncan recently retired as one of the best players in San Antonio Spurs history and is a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. He also was a swimming champion with aspirations of making the United States Olympic squad. At 6’11”. If it weren’t for a hurricane taking out the only Olympic-sized pool he had access to, he likely would have completed his goal and never become the great basketball player he is now known for. He was so great of an athlete, he could have been world-class in either sport.
Even less popular players such as John Wall, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook and even Nate Robinson can all stake claims to being among the most explosive and strongest athletes in the world.
They also show incredible endurance, playing at a pace much greater than football for 66 more regular season games than the NFL players do. Granted, the NFL has much harder physical collisions that make it necessary for the league to limit the season to just 16 games, but playing 82 games over five months can take a toll on a player as well.
I know I said earlier that I don’t watch games religiously like I do with the NFL, but I still have my team. Growing up in the Michael Jordan era with a best friend that was a Chicago native, the Chicago Bulls had no trouble finding my heart. Now they have one of my favorite players, Dwayne Wade, and are looking as good - so far - as they’ve been since Derrick Rose’s early years. The key to their season will be whether or not Wade can make it through a season without knee trouble and if Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler can coexist for 82 games.
However, I think you still have to accept that the likely finals match up will be a rematch of last year’s Cleveland - Golden State showdown. The Warriors don’t have the same strong bench play as they did last year, but when you have a starting lineup that is averaging a combined 83 points per game for their career, you may not need a great scorer off the bench. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, made very few changes after last year’s championship season. They will be in the thick of it until the end.
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