The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

August 13, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Take the stage... while you can

The 2013-14 high school sports season has just tipped off, with golf starting last week and the other fall sports following suit soon.

And as is the case without exception, some whispers are making the rounds about this player or that player not playing this sport or that sport.

The reasons given are an all-too-familiar refrain:

n “I don’t like the coach.”

n “I’m going to concentrate on (insert sport here).”

Well, to be blunt, in regards to both supposed reasons — bullfeathers.

Truth is, kids, if you decide to sacrifice not playing a sport because you blame the coach for some slight, perceived or accurate, you are the one making the mistake.

And if you truly believe not playing a sport to concentrate on one will get your college education paid for, you’re making another.

Both worn out “reasons” aren’t that.

They’re excuses.

And they’re still mistakes.

Big ones.

I can tell you from personal experience, you may not realize it now or in a few months, but you will later.

And you will never forget it.

And you will regret it.

I played basketball at Jefferson and all through our years on the hardwood (or the godawful tile in the Multi-Purpose Room during our junior-high seasons at the old high school building), my class enjoyed a lot of success.

While I was just a kid with average abilities, I at least played a role in helping my buddies get their points and our team get its share of wins.

In my four years of high school, Jefferson’s boys teams won a total of 53 games, not that yours truly had much to do with it. But those 53 wins represent 10 more than the Falcons have won in any four-season period since.

My freshman year, we won a conference championship, the first in 15 seasons at the school.

My sophomore year, Jefferson won its first boys basketball sectional championship in 32 years.

My junior year, we won another conference championship.

My senior year?

Well, we finished second in the league to a fine Pymatuning Valley team that featured the likes of Maurice McDonald, Jack Thompson, Marlin Moschell, Dan Lautanen, Eric Van Court and Brian Squibbs, losing on our home floor when our last-second shot rimmed out and in the rematch at PV a month later in a dogfight. That contest had Lakers PA announcer Beth Helfer pleading with the overflow crowd to squeeze closer to accommodate the line of people outside the gymnasium looking for a spot to sit... or stand.

We lost in the Class AA sectional to the tournament’s second seed, heavily favored Newton Falls, by two points, in a game that featured our star, Rick Berrier, scoring 15 points... in the first quarter, including a dunk on a steal and pass by yours truly.

That season, we lost seven games by six points or less, games I’ve never forgotten.

(On a related note, is it just me, or do we remember the heartbreaking losses more than the thrilling victories?)

We ground our way through that season, defeating the likes of mighty Southington — a regional-qualifying Class A powerhouse program at the time which featured players such as 6-foot-4 point guard Dave Pearson and Fred Paulenich — twice, a very talented Harvey squad that sported studs like Herb Cunningham and Ray Singleton and a much bigger Chardon team.

But we lost more down-to-the-wire games than I really want to document here. All the while, a guy who had started alongside me in the backcourt since the seventh grade, watched.

From the stands.

He didn’t come out for the team in our senior year, despite pretty much all of us begging and pleading with him.

He had an issue with our coach and couldn’t find a way to let it go.

So he didn’t play.

But he showed up at every game and the expression on his face said it all.

It broke his heart and, as the rest of us saw him sitting in the bleachers, it broke ours, too.

We weren’t whole.

We weren’t what we could have been... should have been.

And all these years later, that hasn’t changed. We can’t go back, though pretty much everyone I know would love that opportunity for just one or two “do overs” in regards to decisions we made years, even decades, previous.

LeBron James has all the money in the world. Life is his oyster.

But even he has one regret, at least one he’s admitted to us mortals.

He regrets he didn’t play his senior season of football at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

“I’ve give anything I have to go back and change that decision I made,” he said. “It’s the one great regret I have in my life.”

Geneva’s Brian Anderson, who pitched in the majors for the Angels, the Indians, the Diamondbacks and the Royals, played three sports during his days as an Eagle.

Jefferson’s Matt Hatchette, who played in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Vikings and the Jets and will enter the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 9, played football and basketball during his days as a Falcon.

And both have told me how glad they are now they made those decisions then.

For all of James’ hundreds of millions of dollars, he can’t buy back the opportunity he passed up.

So kids, trust me on this, please. Get out there and do it while you can.

Because before you know it, these opportunities go by the wayside, never to come along again.

Coaches will come and go. Some are better and easier to play for than others, true.

Think about the name on the front of your uniform.

As the saying goes, you’ll remember many of the times during your four years in high school for the next 40 years.

And please, don’t let your feelings toward one or two particular coaches sway you enough to miss out on memories, times shared with your friends at not only practices and games, but in things such as bus rides, dinners, sleepovers and the many countless activities any collective forms.

Those are times you can never get back.

And memories you will never have.

But you will have one thing — regret.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.

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