Best of spring sports awards
     2012-05-31      By Terry Gaston   
My spring awards list is a little more limited than the fall and certainly winter awards lists, largely in part because I didn’t see as much action as I wished I had.

But really, not as many opportunities for such awards turns the focus to the achievements the local and area student-athletes earned during a spring that was rewarding mostly with beautiful weather for competitions.

For the best uniforms, I am combining all sports into the draw and picking just one uniform for girls and one for boys. Spring uniforms are usually simple, especially for track, when they really need to be as lightweight as possible. The same goes for tennis, golf and soccer. But two uniforms really jumped out.

Ladies first, the Bayard Tigers’ track uniforms go above and beyond the usual simply designed track uniform. On an orange front, three tiger stripes run diagonally to the upper left strap, with BAYARD across the stripes, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ tiger head – Bengals, please change those ugly striped helmets to the tiger head! — on the lower left front.

Best boys’ uniform goes out to the Scottsbluff boys’ soccer team. A really European-style shield is on the left top, with a diagonal red stripe underneath. It’s very, very classy.

Best Athletes: It’s hard to pick against Scottsbluff senior Isaiah Castellaw, who not only won the Class B state 300-meter intermediate hurdles after having to step out of stride at the fourth hurdle, but he set a personal best time of 39.06 seconds in the process.
A solid runner-up finish goes to Gering’s Danny O’Boyle, who finished second in the 400-meter dash and did the same as anchor on the Bulldogs’ 4x400 relay team.

For the girls, I choose two honors: the best individual and best team performers. The latter was Gering junior Josie Thompson, who netted 16 goals — including three in the Bulldogs’ two district tournament victories and the first Gering goal at state in three trips — and seven assists, both team highs.
The best individual performance of the spring goes to a trio of Gering Bulldogs, seniors Stephanie Coley, Morgan Greene and Chelsea Wickard.

Coley was a consistent force in the shot put all season long, finishing with a second-place mark at state. Greene was likewise strong and consistent, clearing 5-2 early in the year and again at state, which left her in a tie for fourth place.
Greene was also a key performer on Gering relays. Wickard finished a solid season in the hurdles with a third-place finish at state, and she too was key on relays.

Coach of the spring: For the girls, it’s Lisa Sweeney of the Gering girls’ soccer program. Sweeney, in her third year as head coach, got the Bulldogs to state, where they lost 5-1 to eventual state runner-up Omaha Skutt Catholic — which had its three-year championship streak snapped by Gretna. The Bulldogs were the only other team to score on Skutt, and they return all but three graduating seniors from their 16-7 season for next year.

For the boys, it’s Scottsbluff track coach Jim Barker. He did exactly what the best of track and field coaches did in leading the Bearcats to a third state title during this school year: He brought a group of great individually talented students together in the right disciplines, got some unexpected points at state in some events and brought home the Bearcats’ first state title in track since 1968 and seventh in school history.

Team of the season: The easy pick would be the Scottsbluff boys’ track team; after all, the Bearcats won state, the third state championship for Scottsbluff this year – how often does that happen anywhere? – and clinched the school’s first state track title since 1968 with a championship-clinching performance in the 4x400 relay.
But I also think the Gering girls’ soccer team is just as worthy of the award, just because it takes 11 players to work together against 11 other players, and the Bulldogs were rewarded by making state for the first time since 2007 and, in Gering’s third state tournament appearance, scored its first goal in state competition.

Inspiration Award: This goes to anyone who follows the creed offered by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, who wrote in the Olympic Creed, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.

The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
My youngest son Chris, a Scottsbluff Bearcat freshman, never won a medal this season, but in most meets he improved his times or marks in competing in several events. That is the type of student-athlete, much like I was, who just goes out and enjoys competing.

So for anyone — player, coach, official, administrator, volunteer — who took part and fought well this spring, no matter your sport or even in your classroom efforts, this honor goes to you.
But Chris shared a story upon his return from the Okie Blanchard Invitational in Cheyenne that really reflects what sports should exemplify.

While waiting for his heat in the 100-meter dash, Chris noticed a young competitor from Laramie who was confined to a wheelchair. He said he wasn’t too sure of what to make of the circumstances, but he said the boy received applause from fans and other meet participants as he rolled across the finish line.

Chris befriended Sam, a junior, in their warm-ups for the 200 and said they talked about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the NBA and NASCAR. Finally, Chris asked Sam, who was accompanied by his dad pushing the wheelchair to the start, “Why are you in a wheelchair?”
Sam meekly deferred the question to his dad, who told Chris that Sam had a bone disorder that left his frame brittle and unable to walk or perform activities very well.

Chris said that Sam added, “I don’t let that hold me back. I just do the stuff I enjoy.” Good for him!
At the conclusion of their heat, Chris said, “I crossed the finish line and looked back wondering, where is Sam?” He was coming, much farther back than the other competitors, but again he was greeted with a standing ovation from fans and participants.

And his new friend from Scottsbluff was waiting at the finish line. “I gave him a high five,” Chris said. “He’s just an amazing kid.”
The spirit of competition and the triumph of the human spirit at their finest, exhibited on an appropriately named Good Friday.
A life well lived: Finally, I dedicate this column to the best subject about whom I have not only written just in Final Point, but during a writing career that reaches back to my high school days, almost 29 years ago. Interviewing my grandmother, Ruth Bolinger of Hays, Kan., in November proved to be the most important interview and subsequently the best story I have ever written.

In saluting her 100th birthday in early November, I interviewed her primarily on her basketball playing days in the 1920s, a session that turned into a column published in the Citizen on Nov. 17. Other memories from her steel-trap mind were captured on that recording as well.

Six months to the day after the column’s publication, my grandma got her ultimate wish: her ticket to eternal glory, and to finally be reunited with my granddad, who died in November 1982. Her death was not one to mourn but to celebrate, which we did in Hays last Friday. Burial will be in her longtime home of Wichita, Kan., at a later date.

That weekend of her 100th birthday will be a benchmark of our family’s history for as long as those of us there will remember all our lives. Grandma was our matriarch and family hero, and all I could say while viewing her body on Friday was, “Thank you for sharing your life with me.”

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