Final Point: A fall season filled with heroes of all kinds
     2011-12-01      By Terry Gaston   
A fall season filled with heroes of all kinds
This has been a column in the making for three months.
Although it was intended for publication last week, delayed by an early November illness, I feel better that it was postponed until this week after last Friday’s first designated Heroes Game between Nebraska and Iowa.

After kicking around several possibilities along the way this two-part column finally has a name: the Heroes Awards, a chance to honor those who take care of those important elements that make their students look good on the field or court, athletically or in great-looking uniforms.

School personnel, oftentimes coaches but others as well, take care of their teams’ fields and gyms, they decided among many designs on how their teams will look best, and they instill values among their young athletes that will serve as life’s building blocks.

While most of these awards will go to football teams, volleyball, cross country and softball programs will be represented along the way.

For starters, the eligible schools for Heroes Awards are those in our coverage area: Gering, Scottsbluff, Mitchell, Minatare, Morrill, Bayard and Banner County. For some honors, mostly in next week’s column, opponents also qualify.

Part I this week honors some of the best of the best in the people who represent our area well and provide me with story content to make this one of the best jobs one could perform. These are our young heroes, both while playing and in the classroom.

Best Team of the Year — We were blessed to have several state-qualifying teams from the immediate area, including both cross country teams from Gering, the Bulldog volleyball team and the Scottsbluff softball team.

And for winning the Class B boys’ cross country title and with a young team, the Scottsbluff Bearcats and Coach Jim Barker take this honor. With sophomore Anthony Parra finishing third, freshman District B-4 champion Matthew Barraza taking fourth, junior Justin Pritchard placing seventh and sophomore Brendan Taedter coming in 16th, the Bearcats posted a team score of 27 points for an 18-point victory. The Bearcats’ two other state runners, sophomore Ben Willis Teff and junior Lucas Parsley, along with several other talented young runners have Scottsbluff in strong position for a repeat in 2012 and an exciting spring on the track.

Honorable mention to the Scottsbluff girls’ golf team, which in a rebuilding season claimed third place at state following the Bearcats’ three straight state tournament team victories. Not only did the SHS girls take third, led by junior Ashlee Pilkington’s eighth-place finish with the other four Bearcats — three sophomores and a freshman — all in the top 20, they did it without having head coach Mike Klein available for the first two tournaments and for districts and state. So kudos to assistant coach Julia Baucum for watching over the Bearcats’ performances in Klein’s absences. And let’s see if the Bearcats can make their state title total four in five years next fall.

These girls put in a lot of extra effort during the offseason. So does our...

Athlete of the Year — Gering junior Kaitlyn Krzyzanowski, who played on the past two of Scottsbluff’s three consecutive state championship teams then made a decision to transfer to Gering, where she became the very young Bulldogs’ instant leader.

Krzyzanowski not only embraced that role as a junior, but she almost got the ever-improving Bulldogs into the state tournament. At state on her own, Krzyzanowski had a late lead but still brought home a second-place finish, following her third-place performance as a sophomore. And she is not done in this column.

Coach of the Year — Scottsbluff’s Cross Country coach Jim Barker is an obvious choice here for his training programs that led the Bearcats to the state title. But also I want to recognize Scottsbluff softball coach Kendall Vogel for leading the Bearcats to state for the first time and with a school-best winning percentage of .743 by finishing 26-7.

Best Interviewees — Among coaches, first-year Gering head football coach Jimmie Rhodes rose from his seven-year role as an assistant, got the Bulldogs to believe in his change in systems, started 3-0 and finished the year in the Class B playoffs and a 5-5 season. And for postgame or Sunday afternoon interviews, he was always energetic and full of vigor, win or lose. This is one excited and exciting coach that Gering is blessed to have.

Gering volleyball coach Craig Schadwinkel, in his 27th year at GHS, is also such a joy to interview because he is a wealth of knowledge when making his team’s critiques and analyses. He learned the game as a college student, honed his skills as an official and then knows how to get his players to work together. He has a tough chore next season after losing a very solid core group of eight seniors this year.

When a reporter interviews a student, it can sometimes be risky. However, many parents of Gering and Scottsbluff students have much to be proud for teaching their children to be so articulate and upstanding young men and women all while being excited to play their sports.

Krzyzanowski wins here because for a 17-year-old, I felt like I was talking to someone in college, and her demeanor on the course supported her maturity . Her technical focus and mental toughness on her golf game, all while being a great sport with her playing partners, offer an outstanding example for her peers and opponents.
Spirit Award — This goes to a team that gave its best shot against adversity from the beginning of the season and, well, it unfortunately saw its season ended early with the students’ best interests in mind. Morrill football coach Chad Libsack feared that preseason injuries and low numbers might take its toll on the Lions, who had not won during the previous two seasons. Sadly, Morrill’s numbers dwindled that school officials opted to end the Lions’ season early and forfeit their final three games.

Safety first, and at least they gave it a shot before they were shut out in their final three games and called it a season. Maybe those guys can have some success this winter and spring to make their year more memorable.

Sportsmanship Award — I never saw Banner County play, but I didn’t have to for the Wildcats to earn this award. In a season-ending game between the winless Wildcats and Creek Valley, the home Storm — already suffering from a serious injury to its quarterback — had another injured player in the finale. Banner County broke its 20-game losing streak with a 46-0 win, but instead of celebrating in Chappell, the Wildcat players and coaches walked across the field to check on the injured player. Banner County coaches and administrators were excited to tell their story, and I was glad to share it with readers.

Indeed, the life’s lessons learned from participating in activities outweigh the wins and losses. These who best learn these lessons are our heroes. Here’s to anyone who contributed to a school’s activities, from players, coaches, administrators, band members, cheerleaders and fans.

Next week we’re going to hand out some off-beat awards. Want to know which teams I think looked best when it took to the best field or court this fall? Stay tuned for those and to see if this weekend provides that column with its own name.

In the meantime, let’s tip the basketballs starting Thursday night, while area wrestlers and the Scottsbluff/Gering Seacat swimmers respectively take to the mats and pool this weekend.

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