Unadilla Valley’s wrestling team recently honored longtime pee wee coach and volunteer, Keith Wilcox. Wilcox suffered a stroke in 2010 while umpiring a Little League baseball league. UV varsity wrestling coach Jim DuVall said that Wilcox is mostly recovered from the stroke, but is still unable to coach wrestling. In honor of Wilcox’s volunteer service to Unadilla Valley’s youth, Unadilla renamed its club in Wilcox’s honor, and are now called Wilcox’s Wolverines. In addition to his volunteer duties with wrestling, Wilcox also ran the UV youth outdoor soccer and Little League programs. “He is truly an adult who was in it for the kids,” DuVall said Thursday. Following the renaming of the pee wee team, Wilcox was presented a t-shirt reflecting the new name.
We don’t talk about Otselic Valley girls basketball that often. It had been a number of years since the Lady Vikings qualified for the postseason – until last year’s club – and it’s been too long since the Vikes had a winning season. In the last 10 days, the Vikes have won three of their last four games – the club’s first three wins under first-year coach Carl Hills – and are playing repeat opponents much tougher the second time around. In its first game against Cincinnatus nearly three weeks ago, OV was blown out, 49-18. Two weeks later, that loss was avenged by a 41-35 count. That is a 37-point turnaround, perhaps the largest I have ever seen (particularly in such a short time frame) in nearly 18 years of covering high school basketball. It doesn’t appear OV has any path to a postseason berth this year, but the Vikings seem to be heading down the right road. “Being a first year coach, it has taken some time to for the team break some bad habits and accept some new concepts,” Hills wrote in an email earlier this week. ” We have improved on the defensive end, and that has helped us to be in position to win games. We have much to work on as we still have our weaknesses. The most important thing is the girls are believing in themselves.”
B-G girls basketball coach, Bob Conway, has not had a losing season in my 18 seasons covering local basketball. I thought that streak would finally come to an end after watching his club lose to Sherburne-Earlville by 41 points on Dec. 7. The Bobcats started the season with five losses in their opening six games, but have since run off eight straight victories. In those opening six games, B-G topped 35 points just once, and Conway often lamented his team’s offensive struggles. In compiling the win streak, points have come a little easier. I told Conway at Sherburne-Earlville six weeks ago that I expect his team will get better as the season progresses and become more competitive. Did I expect eight wins in a row? Heck no! B-G is now tied for third in the Midstate Athletic Conference, and with another win, will assure at least another .500 season. What else should I have expected from a guy who now has 452 career victories?
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Do you believe Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is telling the truth? Was he duped in this “fishhook” scam? Drawing upon the experience of someone close to me, I believe Te’o's story. My issue is the length of time he let the farcical relationship continue. He says he wondered if it was a hoax, but chose not to believe it – or follow his gut. This close-to-home connection that I mentioned was similar in that the person on the other end of the phone rebuffed any efforts at meeting in person, and also refused to participate in a video chat. This person I know was trusting of the “unseen caller” until a fallout a few months into the online/telephone relationship. It was all a sham, and knowing my friend’s reaction, I can understand how embarrassed Te’o must be. Still, he allowed this dubious relationship to go on for three years? In the age of webcams and Skype, that’s a difficult one to explain.
Warning: If you know Greene junior Zach Wentlent or you’re a family member, don’t let him read this portion of the blog. I don’t want to responsible for planting any seeds of doubt. How many times have we heard a TV announcer say something great about an athlete, and then see said athlete immediately blow it? Wentlent’s free throw shooting warms this old-school basketball advocate’s heart. I’m sure Wentlent is an excellent student in school, but it’s a pretty good bet his free throw percentage is higher than his school average. How many basketball players can say that? Wentlent is on a phenomenal five-week run for the 9-2 Trojans. He hasn’t missed a free throw since Greene’s second game of the season on Dec. 8 and that miss is his only miscue all season. He has run off 29 straight free throws and is 33-for-34 for the season or an out-of-this-world 97.1 percent!
Local basketball games, on average, are producing less points per game than I can remember. Only one team of the 16 that I cover average 60 points per game. Bainbridge-Guilford’s boys top the sweet 16 with a 60.5 points per game average. Greene’s boys are less than one point per game behind, while a pair of girls teams – Unadilla Valley and Sherburne-Earlville – are third and fourth respectively. UV puts up 58.8 points per game and S-E totals 58.6. I haven’t had a local girls team lead the area in scoring in 17 years, but this season, two local clubs are within striking range of accomplishing that feat.
So, why are points per game down? I’ll give you one reason: Mid-range shooting is dwindling about as fast as America’s middle class. The open jumper from three feet inside the three-point arc does not possess the pizzazz of a driving basket or the sizzle and excitement of a trifecta. I can’t tell you how many times this year I have seen a player pass up an open jump shot from the foul line area, and subsequently drive into a crowd of defenders in the paint, only to kick it back outside to a teammate beyond the three-point arc. I was so frustrated one night I asked a spectator next to me: “Do they have to run laps if they take that (open) 15-footer?” Every basketball offense I ever played in from the time I was in fifth grade was designed to create a high percentage shot; or at least a high-quality look at the basket. Please young cagers, if you get an open look that is inside the three-point arc, take the dang shot.
You know it’s time to set your expectations low for the game officials when they take their glasses “off” before the game starts. Yes, that really happened at a game I attended last week.
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I feel for my good friend Stephen Del Vecchio, a 1988 Notre Dame grad. Yes, the same Notre Dame that was squashed by Alabama Monday night in the BCS championship game. The writing was on the wall early for the Irish, and perhaps Stephen had an inkling beforehand about how this game would shake out. After watching any 10- or 15-minute segment of that game, does anyone believe Notre Dame was one of the top two teams in the nation? What about the top five? Upon further review, Notre Dame may not have been among the top three or four teams in the SEC this year. Don’t blame the Irish, though, blame the BCS system.
What this year’s national championship game revealed was more damning evidence against the illogical one-versus-two title game with the winner take all. Next year, we’ll have the long-awaited mini-playoff, but even the four-team playoff is flawed. Under next year’s new-and-improved college football playoff format, Texas A & M would have been excluded. The Aggies beat Alabama late in the regular season, and were playing as good as anyone at the end of the year. Is there anyone who would NOT want to see a rematch between the Tide and Texas A&M? It won’t be long before pundits will clamor for an expansion of the four-team playoff. Here’s a novel thought: Why not get it right the first time and create an eight-team playoff? That would be too easy.
A few local teams are embracing the technology for summing up basketball statistics, and a program on the IPad compiles nearly every statistic imaginable. Armed with a fast-fingered person entering data in real time, coaches can look at shot charts and rapidly assess individual performance at a moment’s notice. The final results can also be shared by email immediately after the completion of a game. Wednesday, I received the game report from a team that will remain nameless. I looked up and down the statistical lines looking for anything of note. On the last line, I noticed the most revealing statistic – perhaps the most shocking number I have every witnessed. The last line summed up the total turnovers. In this game – 32 minutes in length – the team in question committed 53 turnovers! I contacted the person who sent the email, and verified the total. Surely this was a typo? No, the total was correct. This team still took 44 shots in the game, and lost by just eight points. Those turnovers equate to 53 missed opportunities at shooting and scoring. Take away half of those turnovers – still a large total – and the team wins the game shooting just 20 percent from the field. Former G-MU coach Bill Hartman often used the phrase,in relation to turnovers, “treasure the basketball.” Giving a team 53 additional possessions is simply unacceptable, and a recipe for a coach’s hair loss or premature graying. Treasure the basketball, people.
Some other basketball notes…since losing to Sidney 48-34 four weeks ago, Greene’s boys basketball team has won six straight games to improve to 7-2 on the season. The Trojans are averaging over 63 points a game during the streak and have won by at least 12 points in every game. The team is well rounded under head coach Rick Smith, who preaches an up-tempo, fast-breaking style that lends itself to plenty of offense. “I feel we have the capability to beat the best teams in our league. When we are shooting well from the three-point area we are tough,” Smith said. “We need to complement that with a good inside game. We also have to match an opponents intensity better when things are tough. And as always, we need to protect the basketball and rebound better against our toughest opponents. The next couple of weeks will tell a lot about our team.” Next week the Trojans host defending league champion Unatego, and play at B-G Friday, who have won seven out of eight games…Speaking of Bainbridge-Guilford, a pair of forwards – Austin Bauerle for the boys and Morgan Bullis for the girls – have put up back-to-back monster double-doubles. In the last two games, Bauerle has 41 total points and 39 rebounds. He’s also stepped behind the three-point arc hitting six total trifectas. Bullis, just a sophomore, has 35 points and 28 total rebounds in wins over Marathon and Deposit.*
For those who love wrestling, check online later this weekend for results from the Eastern States Classic, hosted by Sullivan Community College. Other than the New York State championships, you won’t find a New York high school tournament with a better assemblage of grapplers. Norwich’s Tristan Rifanburg and Greene’s Dan Dickman are Chenango County’s top-seeded entries receiving two seeds at 132 and 152 pounds respectively.
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You may have heard of the Sports Illustrated jinx. It’s an urban legend that foretells bad luck for the person who graces the cover. The same jinx, quite often, has applied to our Athlete of the Week. That feature has run intermittently the past three decades While bad luck does not always befall our star athlete, I would estimate close to one-third of the time, said athlete either has a subpar game or his team loses. Has that jinx now extended to my blogging? Using last week’s entry as an example, the answer would be an emphatic yes! My top item of interest last Friday was the undefeated starts of the Bainbridge-Guilford and Norwich basketball teams. What happened that evening? Both clubs lost. I also lauded the incredible start of Oxford senior Andrew Golden. Golden subsequently scored his season-low point total – 17 – in a loss to Delhi. Still, Golden is averaging 26.2 points per game, and his “low” scoring total is the average the next-best scorer in the area, and 11 1/2 points more than the third leading scorer.
Speaking of unbeaten, I have compiled a list of wrestlers who have maintained unblemished records through the first month of the season. While there are some wrestlers with two, three or four matches who have not lost, my one caveat to qualify is that the wrestler must have competed in at least one tournament and two dual meets. Right now, five wrestlers qualify with all sporting at least a 6-0 record or more. Making the grade are Jesse Griswold, B-G/Afton; Mike Beckwith and Joel Roselle of Greene; Tristan Rifanburg of Norwich; and Joe Nelson of Oxford. Griswold and Rifanburg are both competing in the same weight class at the Windsor Tournament this week, so one of the two will lose their perfect mark by week’s end.
Treacherous road conditions claimed the life of Norwich graduate and former athlete, Casey Decker, Thursday. Decker was part of a standout group of NHS gymnasts in the late 1990s, who set numerous records under longtime head coach Gloria “Scotty” Decker, Casey’s mother. Staff photographer Frank Speziale took dozens of photos of Decker and her teammates, and we regularly featured Casey in our sports section. As tiny as Casey was, I will always remember her explosiveness combined with her grace.
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State rankings at this time of the year mean little to coaches. We’re not even one-third of the way through a 2 1/2-month season, and most mentors will point out the most important ranking is the last one when all the games are completed. Still talking up the rankings makes for good watercooler fodder, and the ranking demonstrates that pundits in my line of work appreciate what a team has done through the first three weeks of the season. As of last week, Norwich’s boys basketball team was ranked number 12 in the Class B poll, while Bainbridge-Guilford’s lads are number 14 among Class C schools. Both clubs recently improved to 5-0 on the season, the best basketball records of any team we cover in Chenango County. In reaching it’s 5-0 mark, Norwich is allowing less than 40 points per game. Head coach Tom Collier will be the first to say he hasn’t beaten a murderer’s row of opponents, but holding teams to 37.8 points per game — with a 30-second shot clock and an inviting three-point line – is impressive. In those five games, Norwich is scoring 55 points per game, or about 5 1/2 points less per game than last year’s Class B sectional champion. In the end, does it really matter how many you score as long as it is more than the opponent?
Over at Bainbridge-Guilford, the club is guided by B-G alum Greg Warren. Warren returned to the school district about five years ago to assume the director of athletics position. Last year he took over for Ben Nelson as head basketball coach, and the momentum last year’s club had in the second half of last year has carried over to this year. The Bobcats started 2-4, but finished 11-7 in the regular season before losing its first-round sectional playoff game. B-G’s best record over the past 17 years was a 17-5 mark during the 2003-2004 season, and that winning percentage may be eclipsed. How is this year’s B-G club getting the job done? Offensive and defensive balance. The Bobcats have four players scoring in double figures – Corbin Palmer, Austin Bauerle, Brooks Harmon, and Lucas Butcher. Bauerle leads the team in rebounding, but everyone contributes to the rebounding numbers. Warren is typically low-key and understated in his post-game comments, and his team is flying under the radar – so far. Friday, we’ll see where the Bobcats stack up in the Midstate Athletic Conference when they host last year’s league champion, Unatego.
A few years ago I was researching Chenango County’s all-time basketball scoring leaders. Studying the men, I came across Sherburne-Earlville’s Bob White, who amassed over 1,600 points in three varsity seasons for the Marauders. White’s junior season was particularly impressive as he maintained a 30 points per game average over 20-plus games. A jump shooter with incredible range, White had the green light to shoot once he crossed halfcourt. It’s impossible to calculate what he may have averaged with the benefit of the three-point line, but our guess is that you could probably raise his career points by at least 25 to 30 percent. I was reminded of White after looking at this year’s early-season scoring leaders. Oxford senior Andrew Golden is off to the fastest start we’ve seen in two decades. Through four games, Golden is averaging 28.5 points per game. If that holds, it would be the second highest single season scoring average since White’s 30.0 average 40 years ago. As a measure of comparison, the area’s second leading scorer this year, Dan Treadwell of Greene, is putting up 17.0 per game, or nearly a dozen less per game than Golden.
Back to Collier, who was able to find some humor following Tuesday’s win over Windsor. Collier had an 11-man roster at the end of last week. That number dwindled to six, temporarily, after a series of unfortunate events. In one fell swoop, Collier lost one player to eligibility, three to injury, and another fell ill on the bus ride home from Windsor. Collier expects one or two of those kids back for Friday’s game at Johnson City, and has added some junior varsity players to the roster to give him at least 10 for practices. Regarding the injuries: “I knew I was in trouble after the Windsor game when I went to fill out the accident report sheets, and I had to make extra copies because I didn’t have enough,” the NHS coach said.
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Ever watch a player continually get the job done in the face of steep odds? The best teams all have a guy (or girl) like that – an overachiever. Norwich has such a player, senior Grant Brightman. A fullback/linebacker on the varsity football team, Brightman is a backup forward/center for Norwich’s unbeaten basketball. He’s all of 5-foot-11, and typically giving up several inches in height to whomever he defends. Watch Brightman for a few possessions, and no doubt he’ll hit the floor a time or two diving or scrambling for a loose ball. He leads Norwich in floor burns, and probably offensive rebounds. In the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s Tom Schwan Memorial Tournament championship game, Brightman pulled down at least four offensive rebounds. Out of a pack of taller young men, ultimately Brightman secured the offensive rebound creating another possession for his team. As a junior varsity player, Brightman earned recognition for the number of defensive charges he drew. Again, he created additional possessions for his team. “We do a rebounding drill, and there are pretty much no rules,” said Norwich coach Tom Collier. The toughest guy comes down with the ball, and ultimately, it’s Grant and Michael (Oralls) fighting for it. In the end, Grant gets all of the rebounds. He’s a warrior and an instinctive player with a will to win. He just figures out a way to get the job done, and he’s always done that.”
* Norwich’s guard version of Brightman is senior Danny Carson. Carson possesses much more quickness than Brightman, but what he does is not always pretty – particularly for the opponent. He is a smothering on-the-ball defender, the effects of which contributed to Oneonta’s 27 turnovers in Thursday night’s loss to the Tornado. Carson had seven steals and scored a varsity-high 12 points. He’s perhaps second to Brightman in times that he hits the floor, and his scrappy play has proven vital to Norwich’s early success. “Danny is another warrior, and his defense on the ball is tremendous,” Collier said. “Oneonta not only had trouble bringing the ball up against him, but just getting into its offense.” With Carson among Norwich’s defensive leaders, the Tornado are giving up just 36.7 points per game.
* Oneonta State has a pair of freshmen, both from Norwich, playing on the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Seth Thomsen, who played four years for the Tornado, has played in all six games this season through this past Tuesday, and is averaging just under 11 minutes of playing time per game. Bryn Loomis, a four-year player for Norwich’s girls hoops team, averages better than 22 minutes per game and scored a season-high 12 points in a win over Wheaton College…Oxford Academy graduate, Alyshia Crawford, a teammate of Loomis’ has also played in every game for the Lady Dragons with five starts and 21 minutes of playing time per tilt. Crawford, a junior, is averaging 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
* Today marks the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawai’i. Along with Sept. 11, 2001, it stands as one of the most significant – and tragic – days in American history. Those who lived through those times will never forget, and descendants veterans should always remember.
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* For some if not most of the senior football players in Section IV, the Ernie Davis Football Classic is the last opportunity to don full pads and helmet in a competitive game. Chenango County had its fair share of representatives, as noted in our previous blog entry. One of those players, Dan Treadwell of Greene, turned in a standout performance, and was subsequently named the game’s most valuable defensive player. Playing for the East team, Treadwell had three interceptions in his club’s 21-6 victory Wednesday at Union-Endicott High School. Treadwell also appears on today’s sports pages as one of our two-dozen Chenango County all-stars. Treadwell had his best season as a running back, but for three years running, he has led the Trojans in interceptions. He had 15 picks over the past three seasons including a team-high five this season. Greene head varsity football coach Tim Paske said that Treadwell’s 15 career interceptions are the most of any Greene player in his decade-plus stint coaching varsity and junior football.
* The move to Class C this season paid off for Greene’s field hockey team. Always a Class C school in size, the Trojans, for over 20 years, have always played “up” in the Class B and A ranks, and the championship results – six state titles, and numerous finals and state semifinals appearances – prove that the Trojans were not in over their head. At no point had Greene embarrassed itself in any loss – at least in my 17 years at the newspaper – but head coach Sue Carlin felt her team deserved the opportunity to play with like-sized schools. From the first stroke of playoff competition, the Trojans were head and shoulders over the competition. The closest game in six wins was 4-0, and the Trojans won those half-dozen games by a combined score of 30-1. The championship victory over Southhampton was a mismatch, and the lopsided score provoked some thoughts (for me at least). What would have happened if Greene decided to stay in Class A. Or, what if it dropped to Class B instead of C? Carlin didn’t address that possibility in her post-championship comments, but after a quarterfinals win over Cazenovia two weekends ago, did offer some insight. “I think if you look at the top teams (in Class A, B, and C), you won’t see much difference,” Carlin said. Playing the hypothetical scenarios, it is definitely plausible to conclude that Greene would have been among the favorites to win in Class A and Class B as well. Sachem East repeated as Class A state champion this year, and Lakeland captured the Class B state title. Greene fans surely remember last year’s heart-breaking penalty strokes loss to Sachem East a season ago in the state semifinals. Last year’s game was as evenly matched as it gets, and there is no reason to doubt another potential barnburner. Lakeland, in winning its state title, narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory over Maine-Endwell in the semifinals. An avid field hockey and Section IV official told me that M-E had the better of the offensive play in that game, but failed to capitalize. The Spartans gave Greene its most difficult time this season, but still lost a pair of games by shutout. The inference, based on a common opponent, is that the Trojans would again be more than competitive in a clash with Lakeland. All the hypotheticals aside, this Greene team may or may not rank among the school’s best all-time. Carlin said you really cannot compare season to season, but one thing is certain: No Greene state champion has won a championship in so dominant a fashion.
We don’t cover Pop Warner football the way we cover high school sports since it is a private athletics organization — not unlike Little League. Still, we receive reliable game reports, and the Norwich Cyclones have been diligent with their record-keeping, while also doing a fantastic job of teaching young kids the fundamentals of football. Tomorrow, one of those Cyclones teams, the unbeaten C squad, has an opportunity to claim a championship as it plays New City in the Empire Classic finals. The game is at 11 a.m. at Sauquoit Valley High School in Sauquoit. It’s a relatively easy drive — no more than an hour — so if you’re free, get out your GPS or go online for directions and make the hour drive to support our local kids. Best of luck to the C Cyclones.
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* Wednesday’s sports section featured a story on the 50th anniversary of the Clyde Cole Wrestling Tournament. The narrative was mostly informational, but in the process of gathering information, Terry Stark, passed on some history of the tournament that I was unable to fit into the article. Stark is an Oxford Rotarian, and is the organization’s lead organizer in its co-sponsorship of the tourney. The tourney is named for Oxford’s wrestling coach in the 1930s and 1940s. Under Cole’s tutelage, Oxford wrestling was well regarded throughout New York. For a variety of reasons, Oxford’s athletics department dropped wrestling in 1947. For years, talk of restoring the wrestling program was bandied about, but the sport did not return until 1962. During the summer of ‘62, a 36-foot by 36-foot wrestling mat was purchased, and at the end of the fall sports season, a call was put out to any boys interested in joining the wrestling team. A total of 23 wrestlers came out for wrestling under head coach and Oxford AD, Al Doyle. Doyle was assisted by Don Hackett and Clyde Cole disciple, Edwin Winner. Oxford wrestling was on its way back.
The following year, the idea of a holiday wrestling tournament was born. It would begin a long tradition of early-season wrestling that features Chenango County teams and invited schools from around New York State. As was stated in Wednesday’s story, over 7,000 wrestlers have competed in the tourney over the previous 49 incarnations. From that group, dozens of sectional champions have been crowned, nearly 50 New York State champions, and three NCAA Division One champions including Oxford’s own, J.P. O’Connor.
Wrestling regained its rightful place in the Oxford sports program a half century ago, and its signature tournament is now the second oldest continuous running high school wrestling tournament in New York.
* As is usual, the last fall team standing this time of year is the Greene field hockey team. At 17-0 this season, the Trojans have outscored the opposition by a combined 80-3. That includes a 4-0 shellacking last weekend of two-time defending Class C state champion Cazenovia to reach the state semifinals a fifth straight year. Since the 2009 season, Greene’s only losses have come in penalty stroke shootouts, a skills competition equivalent to hockey’s penalty shots or soccer’s penalty kicks. The last time Greene lost in regulation or overtime? The 2008 state semifinals to eventual state champion Ward-Melville. Four players, all seniors, have been constants since the 2009 state title: Jahna Driscoll, Emily Conroe, Colleen Dietrich, and Emma Anderson. For Conroe, it is actually her fifth year of varsity service. Conroe and Anderson are among the team’s scoring leaders behind Driscoll, who leads the team in goals for the third straight year. Driscoll has 22 goals and 17 assists this year, and for her career has 90 goals and 38 assists. We don’t have Greene’s career scoring records at our disposal, but presumably, she must be among the all-time leaders. The Trojans will play Section II champion Greenwich Saturday morning at Cicero-North Syracuse. Look for a preview of that game in Friday’s Evening Sun.
* A couple notes on former Chenango County athletes who are doing well. First, G-MU graduate Tonya Barnes, who scored over 1,000 points during her basketball career with the Raiders. A sophomore for Delhi Tech’s women’s team, Barnes had 16 points, three steals, four rebounds, and three assists as the Broncos evened their record at 3-3 with a 61-43 over Broome Community College earlier this week. Barnes’ high school teamate, Bri Lambert had a fine all-around floor game scoring six points to go with six steals, five assists, and five rebounds. The Delhi roster has a strong Chenango County flavor with Bainbridge-Guilford graduate Shania Vandermark and Sherburne-Earlville grad Cassie Beaver also on the roster…Remember Andy Gates? Gates played soccer and basketball for Oxford around a decade ago. Gates has paid it forward and is imparting the lessons he learned from Oxford’s coaches as the head varsity soccer coach for Walton. Gates was recognized for his coaching this past season sharing Midstate Athletic Conference coach of the year honors with Greene head coach Rick Tallman.
* Seven area seniors were selected to play in the Ernie Davis Football Classic next week. It is my no means a sure thing to earn a spot on the roster, and coaches typically nominate multiple players for the team with the hope of one or two earning spots. Expected to play in the contest are Jake Mazzarella, Bainbridge-Guilford; Dan Treadwell and Trevor Flohr, Greene; Grant Brightman and Kyle Edwards, Norwich; Paul Wonka, Oxford; and Kody Homann, Unadilla Valley.
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About 12 1/2 years ago, in early 2000, I decided to renounce my sedentary home and work lifestyle, and get back in shape. At first I tried the stationary bike, then I moved on to an elliptical cross trainer, and finally, my albatross, running.
All through high school, except my freshman year, I cagily avoided the dreaded “one-mile” run during our track and field unit in gym class. From the time I graduated from high school until my early 30s, I could probably count on my hands the number of times I went for a run – just for exercise. For me, running was only useful as a means to chase a ball, and nothing else.
It took an eye-opening moment to change my view on exercise.
My third child, Arielle, was due in about two months, and I resolved to drop some weight. I was aghast the last time I stepped on a doctor’s scale, and I kept pushing the sliding weight farther to the right than ever before. When it comes to weighing yourself, right is definitely wrong.
Back in 2000, my sister Kate was the fitness director at the Norwich YMCA, and she gave me the nickel tour of the Nautilus center. In over 20 years as a Y member, I had never set foot in the hallowed Nautilus room. That was another level up on the membership purchase, and my lone interest at the Y, to that point, was honing my marginal basketball skills.
Kate took me through the nautilus lifting stations, and the rest was up to me and my motivation. After a week on the bike, I decided I needed something else. I didn’t have music to listen to at that point (I really could have used Internet radio), so my workout was me, my machine, and my meandering thoughts. Getting me to stay in one spot for more than 20 minutes at a time is difficult enough, especially when I am willingly doling out sweat in buckets. Sweaty shirts? What the heck were those?
Sitting on a bike was boring, and the elliptical kept my interest for only 20 minutes at a time. I sure as heck wasn’t getting on the Nordic skiing track, so my logical move was my bane for years.
I remember clear as day my first run outdoors. I had pre-measured a one-mile loop from my house on Francis Ave., and made my trek mid-evening in February. With the temperature approximately in the high 20s, I equipped myself with sweatpants, two undershirts, and a sweatshirt. Not familiar with how much the body heats up during a run, I made darn sure I wasn’t freezing my hind end.
That one mile was the longest 5,280 feet I ever covered on my own. Despite running at a musical pace best defined as “largo,” I was starched by run’s end. I think I coughed up every bit of mucus my body had produced the last 10 years, then I wheezed and hacked myself into the belief that running was actually beneficial to my health.
Just like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. I gradually added tenths of miles to my runs. Literally, I progressed from 1.0, to 1.2, to 1.4 miles, and eventually up to nearly two miles. Did I ever get the running bug? Heck no! I still would rather chase a ball, but with age, you have to make some concessions. Within a few years, I was running five-kilometer races, and to my surprise, I didn’t embarrass myself.
I recount my foray into running as a segue into our selections this week as Athlete of the Week, Norwich juniors Robert Jeffrey and Matt Murray.
As a some-time runner – and competitively a few times – I have great admiration for those who attain times I can only dream about. Matt and Robert are standouts on the NHS cross country team, and neither ran distance races competitively as recently as two years ago. Matt has long been known as an outstanding sprinter and middle distance runner, and Robert was still on the soccer team at the start of fall practices this August. Matt has a leg up on Robert – by one year – and the two are setting a brisk pace that should take them to the state cross country meet next month.
As talented as these young men are, I can safely assume neither one has worn three layers of clothes while running or nearly died after the first mile.
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* In the glow of his team’s 42-0 victory over Roscoe/Downsville last Saturday, UV head coach Daryl Decker looked across the field and saw slumping heads and shoulders as the Blue Devils met with their coach. Decker walked over to R/D head coach Fred Ahart and asked if he could say a few words to the Blue Devils. Decker had seen that look before – on the UV sidelines – three years ago. “I told them to not hang their heads. The team they played against was exactly in their shoes three years ago,” Decker said. “We didn’t finish games and got blown out 60-0. This group (of UV players) has stuck together, listened to their coaches, and they’ve become a decent team. I told them they have the potential to be a decent team. They have to stick it out through the rough times and listen to their coaches.” Decker also remembered the feeling when you’re on the short end of a blowout. He told his team that once they met their team goal for the day, they were done (scoring) and would switch it up. “My kids understood that because they know how it feels to get blown out,” Decker said. “We didn’t set out to embarrass them.” More from Decker…All season he has played the numbers game, and on game day he is never sure if he’ll have enough players to field a regulation team – 16 players. “I know I harp on it week after week, but every day I am counting guys in practice,” Decker said. “We’ve had practices where we only had 13 kids show up. You can’t do much in practice with 13 guys, and you certainly can play games. It’s a constant battle. There are probably eight guys walking around the school who used to play and could have helped us. We think by winning games and the potential of a winning season, that will help build the program and get more kids out.”
* Oxford assistant football coach Norm Kaufman is finishing up another season on the sidelines serving under head coach Ray Dayton. It’s a sure betg that Kaufman will transition to Oneonta State’s women’s basketball team this winter where he has served as an assistant coach the past few years. Kaufman was a head football coach at Norwich in the early 1970s, and has worked as an assistant almost continuously the last 40 years. I knew Kaufman had been around for at least 40 years, but I was surprised to learn that this year is actually his 51st year of coaching. Before he came to Norwich, he was an assistant coach in the New York City area for many years. “I love it,” Kaufman recently said at an Oxford football game. “It’s like a hobby to me.” Dayton had lofty praise for his venerable assistant who has probably forgotten more football than this writer will ever know. “I love the guy,” Dayton said. “He has great ideas, he loves football, and he loves working with the kids. He has no vested interest in any of the kids, but I can tell you he would do almost anything for them. Norm really loves the game, and he understands the life lessons you can gain from playing the game. He has been a great assistant, and he is even a better guy.”
* For the second time in as many weeks, we recognize a Greene soccer player as athlete of the week. Paige Wilcox has set the soccer pitch on fire since her ascension to the varsity level two years ago. For her career, she is averaging almost two goals a game, and through last week had 103 career goals. She is three shy of tying Greene’s all-time school mark, set last year by Alex Driscoll. With at least one game left this year and full season left to play, the junior striker may threaten the 150-goal mark. Without verifying statistics, I can safely conclude Wilcox will be Chenango County’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat