All sports is local.

Is that true? How do I know? What am I even talking about?

In all honesty, I was initially just attracted to the turn of phrase and kind of reverse-engineered it to fit my needs (not the first time), but in my mind it relates to the Corner Conference basketball tournament.

So, like a faithful adherent to my generation’s most notable trait, I had been slacking through the first few weeks of 2016. Not all around, entirely, but certainly in the arena of making it out to sporting events, I caught some of the wrestling tournament in Rock Port and a few fine showings by Southwest Iowa grapplers, but until boys’ semifinal night in Stanton a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t seen anything else.

I made a point to hit the last three nights of the conference spectacular, though, and man did I happen upon some great games showcasing the top tier of our talented teams. On Thursday, the Fremont-Mills and Stanton boys steamrolled into the championship game on strong defense and a stunning variety of offensive weapons. Friday night in Tabor, the Lady Blue Devils put it all together to top the Lady Knights in the third-place game and avenge a frustrating early-season defeat. Madi Moores played half-a-foot taller than her actual height and in a gear no one else on the floor could match, while her teammates exhibited the never-say-die Nishnabotna ethos I’ve always admired.

In the marquee matchup of the night, undefeated Essex and the surging Sidney Cowgirls produced an instant classic reminiscent of the back-and-forth F-M/Stanton battle a couple of years back. While Lexy Larsen, Mac Daffer, Kenzie Hulsing, et al, certainly pulled out their utmost to lead Sidney to a first-ever tournament title, it was Maryn Phillips – a Nish transfer just unleashed from the mandatory waiting period – that made the difference.

Full disclosure, I missed most of the boys’ third-place game Saturday night, but it would QuikStats appear that Weston Copperstone, Noah Richter and junior Jordan Childers off the bench did their utmost to ensure past the first quarter that the Wolverines firmly solidified their rightful position. In the championship game, though the baseline bulk of Brady Johnson and Alex Bechtold had brought the Vikings thus far, the sniper skills of senior David Sorenson and freshman Drake Johnson took them over the top to a hard-fought 48-44 hardware-hauling victory.

As with the girls’ tourney crescendo, it was a masterpiece of two teams using all their tools to try and eke out an all-important win.

But, ultimately, one that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. At least not the beans the bean-counters are counting.

A week ago tonight, many of us were heading out to those same high schools and assorted public meeting places to participate in the Iowa caucuses, the first actual voting events of an already overlong presidential campaign season. The media run-up to Iowa’s moment in the political spotlight had been a mixture of hyperbole and hyper bowl-of-Grape Nuts, swaying violently between how important the first-in-the-nation contest is and how quaint, mundane, arcane and an electoral oddity the process might be.

I think I get it. The coasts and large metropolitan areas love to flex their earthiness every now and throw the corn-bound country folk a bone, but are essentially more eager to move forward to events of greater perceived import. Cynical I am, but in the last week coin flips, miscounts and leaderless precincts have become media mocking points on the weird, hokey happenings of the Hawkeye State’s electoral initiative.

If you’ve come this far, stick with me a bit more because here comes the admittedly long-armed allusion…

This little conference of ours, with its antiquated addiction to tradition in an age of increasingly big picture athletic philosophy (Camps! Clubs! State! Scholarships!) is kinda the same. Sure, we embrace those elements of planning and preparing for success, but unlike the sophisticated, single goal-oriented big schools, we cling to what seems an illogical, unnecessary, anti-intuitive week of fierce competition among ourselves.

It just doesn’t make sense, they would say. Why risk injury, fatigue of the physical, psychological or emotional sense, and a potential, inconsequential blow to the collective ego that these non-regular-season-counting contests bring? Also in the last week (or so), the Trojanettes rebounded from their tournament title game loss to overcome the Cowgirls on a last-seconds layup from Elevatin’ Daiton Martin and cinch the Corner season championship and the F-M boys figured out a full-game formula to solve the Stanton equation in a 60-54 third-time charmer.

It’s hard to say exactly what role the tournament losses played in the ensuing avengings, but it’s safe to assume passion was a big part of the pre-game planning for both the Essex girls and the Knights. What coach worth his or her salt wouldn’t esprit up the corps by invoking the unfortunate results of a night when every one of your friends, family and community members were on-site, in-seat but had to settle for consolation instead of jubilation? No matter that it didn’t matter in the greater athletisphere, it matters and has for generations in the place you call home and among the people you call neighbors.

The Iowa caucuses might not, in the final, general analysis, matter. Particularly on the Republican side, the last three have produced “winners” that went on to dejection rather than election. Among the Democrats, some have seemingly gained a bit of momentum from the opening night “W,” but it’s impossible to say if the same wouldn’t have been achieved from New Hampshire’s more typical primary a week later or from larger states slightly down the road that are certainly more demographically similar to the country as a whole.

Still, the process and the passion are what lingers in the hearts of those who participated and that, to my way of thinking, is what truly matters most in the long run. Standing in the presence of, and often aligned against, your neighbors, fiercely competing issues of real, daily significance, but doing so with respect, dignity and attention to the rules - even as you sometimes learn them on the fly – is high expression of not only democracy but an elevated sense of humanity. This is not just walking into a booth to anonymously, silently select a few circled to scribble in, this is advanced citizenry and it is A) exhilarating and B) deeply satisfying.

I hope the kids who come away from the Corner Conference tournaments, winners or not, feel half as good and take away half as much from a similar something that seemingly shouldn’t matter but, to me, means everything in the world.

 

     

    Ringing it in

     

    New year, new rules.

    At least that’s the effort underway in the Glenn household. Like a two-headed Hammurabi, the wife and I convened over the weekend to codify and chisel into visible granite the laws that will govern our people. Perhaps, as in civilizations prior to that of the pioneering 17th century B.C. Babylonian king, there has been confusion among the subject population of this small, Fremont County farmhouse-state as to what behavior and responsibilities are expected and what the immutable consequences might be for those who don’t conform.

    Not no more.

    There, in vibrant magic marker on a poster board prominently displayed in our version of a high-traffic public space – the kitchen – are boldly proclaimed the legal bases for a more peaceful, unified and constructive society, such as “No Whining”, “Be Nice” and “ Go Potty in the Potty.” Now all we need, also as with those ancient Mesopotamians, is for the governed to very quickly learn how to read.

    The rules, actually, aren’t all that new. While continuously evolving to meet the needs of our ever more complex and sophisticated little community inside these four walls, they are well established, I feel, by regular, mind-numbing repetition on what seems like a quarter-hourly required regimen. Dystopian visions of the future frequently feature the Grand Leader’s pre-recorded “reminders” being blared from loudspeakers littered throughout the land…What a timesaver!

    Veering slightly, I should note that I’ve never been a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I understand the compulsion a big calendar flip brings to make big plans for big, positive changes and I feel that same pull myself with the approach of every January the First. Heck, I even use the odd, impending first-of-any-month as a theoretical springboard for starting thing I want to start and stopping things I should have stopped a long time ago.

    But, no news flash here, the anticipation and excitement of that first day past my worst last ways has an uncanny habit of habitually waning by the second morning (mourning?) of familiar old practices. Gym memberships skyrocket in early January and so does my unrealistic notion of self-control. Surely, some of you can relate…

    Perhaps this is because I’ve never created simple, strong visual cues to help stay the corrected course. College athletic facilities – as well as many of the area high schools I’ve frequented over the years – have placards pasted all over the place that remind players to “Play Like a Champion Today,” “Finish,” “Train Hard” and, for good straightforward measure, “WIN!” Typically, they aren’t poetic, particularly prophetic or enlightening as to how one should strategically ensure said positive outcome, but they are designed to inspire the desire to do so.

    I imagine the swirling, swelled subconscious of a high school or college athlete – Exam! Essay! Girlfriend! Party! Car Payment! Ramen! – needing an aesthetic anchor in all-caps to bring focus to the task at hand. However intense a pre-game ritual has taken place, any tunnel walk is a relatively long one and somewhere along that purposeful strut the mind is vulnerable to a’wandrin’…thusly, “WIN!” snaps it all back into resolution at the last possible moment.

    Back to the lesson at hand, my young G’s (Glenn, you know) are not exactly storming into battle – or even the athletic metaphor thereof – and a colorful wall chart of my wife’s terse, economical verse is not precisely a rallying cry, but there is a similar psychological directive going on. The world is a complex, confusing place with a million things occurring simultaneously and an infinite arrangement of thoughts on their significance. In the dervish vortex of teenage analysis, or the sponge-hunger of an elementary school brain imbibing every little bit of information it encounters, a posted note or two reinforcing the basics can be a necessary thing.

    Even if you have to read it to them…no?

    Mea Culpa, Me a Jerka

    I don’t know if you’re within the sound of my voice, dear gentleman I passive aggressively wronged at the entrance to the Shenandoah WalMart last Monday morning, but let this stand as my public apology to you. I’m sorry.

    You were entering the store, I was the guy in the blue flannel shirt, exiting with a half-full cart of groceries, sundry items and my youngest daughter, Jojo, in the kiddie seat. We met midway through the interior automatic sliding door and I incorrectly commented that you and another gentleman right in front of you (not sure if you guys were together and I need to double this apology) had “opted to come in through the out door.”

    Again, I’m sorry. I was wrong. It was the “in” door and, aside from being a cheeky, sarcastic jerk, I was apparently disoriented after coming from the Customer Service desk prior to leaving instead of my normal route via the checkout aisles.

    Here’s the deal: At the register, following a brief, blitzkrieg shopping venture, I was anxiously preparing to conclude while chatting up the staff and goaltending Jojo’s relentless attempts to push, pull or pilfer anything within arm’s reach. Maybe it was the mild chaos I seem to tote in tow, but the cashier dude forgot to scan my coupons ($4.00! No sneezy pittance!) and had to direct me over to Customer Service to process a cash refund. So close to just waving it off, I decided ($4.00!!!) to go ahead and get my due.

    Naturally, a counter that had mere moments before been as free and open as the Serengeti was, when I arrived with an increasingly fidgety toddler, occupied by a couple with some return situation so complex as to require two employees hovering over the terminal with the intense, focused expression normally demanded by an abstract calculus problem. As the minutes clicked by and Jojo became ever more erratic and impatient, I felt my chest tighten, my calm breathing morph into heavy sighing and the gears in my bitter brain start to grind against one another.

    Wait, no, it wasn’t their fault. I’m doing it again. That cashier seemed a bit new at the task and made a simple mistake, maybe it was even mine as a novice coupon presenter. Did I hand them over too late? Too early? Plus, returns at the Customer Service desk always involve a bit of deduction. Was it from a different store? Did they want cash, a dis-charge to their debit card, a replacement? I’m sure the clerk and manager were doing their darndest to resolve the situation and focus on the customers at hand.

    To those three, for my implication of ignorance over the previous two paragraphs, I solemnly, here in view of the greater community, apologize.

    Where were we?

    Oh yeah, got my four bucks finally and, not exactly boiling but, due to the restraint of my annoyance and angst at an unexpected 5-7 minute detour of our little lightning strike grocery store hike, at least bubbling with latent sarcasm and huffery, I headed toward the door.

    I feel obliged to insert, here and now, the depth to which I detest the practice of using the wrong door at the Shenandoah Walmart. In clear, concise, impossible to misunderstand directions they are boldly labeled “Enter” and “Exit.” These are not simple suggestions or guidelines, these are calls to action. Using the correct one might indeed require a person or even group of people to walk an extra 10-15 feet depending on where they parked the vehicle and happen to be orienteering whence, but geez does it help with the flow of foot traffic and eliminate those annoying little head-on encounters.

    Of course, even with the proper ingress and egress procedure, you get the frequent rubber neckers and purse checkers who choose to halt precisely in the middle of the “road” and bring everyone behind them to a complete stop…but that’s a gripe for another day.

    “Flow” is a bit of an obsession for me. I generally like to move briskly through the world, whether on foot, in a car or even between the Points A and B of my mind. At least in the first two environments, American civilization has come to fairly basic accord on how to accommodate both the slow and the speedy, the coming and the going. You drive on a certain side of the street, road or highway. If that particular parcel of pavement is wide enough to allow for multiple lanes, you remain in the one on the right side until and unless you need to move around someone else. It’s a beautiful, elegantly straightforward solution and only requires universal understanding and acceptance to function to all of our benefits.

    If you choose or, more accurately, blindly default to the chaos of operating independent of said simple rules, the whole thing falls apart and leads to, at worst, bone-crushing, viscera-spewing collisions and, at best, a harmless though overly worded diatribe from a frustrated, middle-aged former sports reporter. Thank the fates you’re only experiencing the latter in this particular instance.

    So, there I am, “flow” foremost in my mind, approaching a simmer of annoyance and primed for a righteous, passive-aggressive encounter and – click – misfire. Again, sweet, unsuspecting, “Enter”-abiding citizen who met my muted, misdirected mini-wrath that Monday morning, I was a jerk and I’m sorry.

    But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Oh, sure that time, but…

    Pride and prescience

    One week ago Friday we loaded up the family truckster, made a pass through Shenandoah to pick up grandpa – a 1958 Sidney grad – and headed off to Cedar Rapids to see the Cowgirls play in the state volleyball championship. It was a memorable drive, an unforgettable night in a fantastic venue, a gladiatorial effort by the ‘Girls, an epic battle against adrenaline deprivation to get back home and, of course, I wanted to write about it all.

    But after reading Peter Johnson’s personal, pride-drenched and perfectly worded mic drop of an essay posted on Saturday, I thought better of it. I’ll just say, “Thanks, girls” and leave it at that. And thanks, Peter, for being so compelled by the affection and admiration for your hometown and school. You’re a talented writer, but more importantly in my mind, you’re an honest and emotional one.

    Which segues nicely into a little plug for Matt’s brilliant concept of having “Your Blog,” in the first place. I didn’t even know about the idea until I saw Peter’s post pop up on Saturday, but it immediately struck me as something truly inspired and absent from any sports news and entertainment source that I know of. We all talk about this stuff and we all have an opinion, anecdote from our own days or eager point to make about the area high school athletic scene, but the main avenues for those thoughts are typically limited to a few words at a time.

    That’s fine for most people and most subjects and, in fact, is wonderful for eliciting discussion that gets right to the meat of the matter. Occasionally, though, a topic requires more insight, reflection, expansion and caringly crafted explanation. Plus, IMHO, a bit of flourish. Kudos, again, to Peter for kicking it off, but I’m definitely hoping to see more submissions from the fan base at-large very soon.

    Which is an ample, if not artful, segue segue into my next hot topic, the season to come. Just a couple days away now, the winter campaign Valley Forges ahead as East Mills prepares to tip in their annual girls’ basket-blastoff with Shenandoah Tuesday. I’ve covered this game at each venue from an alternate perspective, but am anxious to experience it with a new set of eyes.

    I still have great affection and respect for a number of the Fillie players I’ve watched over the last couple of years and won’t exactly be rooting against them, but the Wolverine athletic program is one of those I’m particularly interested in getting to know far better. East Mills and Stanton, in particular, are names I’ve associated with tremendous challenge and rivalry – year after year, season after season – for the four Corner Conference schools I’ve been focused on to this point. Losses to them have been letdowns, although hard-fought and justifiable ones, and wins have come with great celebration at overcoming a potent, historically deep and admired foe.

    Now I’m learning to look at them in a different light, not as tough dates on the schedule and barriers to “my” teams’ aspirations, but as half the equation of a thrilling night of competition and, ultimately, great representatives of southwest Iowa and the Corner Conference. Again, cribbing from Peter’s excellent post, the farther the postseason progresses, the more an individual school or athletic program acts as statewide envoy and exemplar of the entire conference. The circle of pride widens and, critically on a longer timeline of what sports really builds in our kids, sportsmanship and respect emerge as they rally behind their once-and-future rivals in the larger arenas.

    It can be as much the players you compete against as the ones on your side of the field, floor or game-time flyer that define your experience.

    Which leads to my final awkward lead-in, shifting to a short commentary on the sad affairs befalling Farragut this week. Once more, plenty has been said in the last few days on the dissolution of the town’s school district, especially eloquently by Matt in his blog and Nishnabotna grad Joseph Heitshusen, my replacement at the paper, in his column. Matt, with his years of experience, and Joseph, with the bulk of his youth spent in the Farragut school system including the last few as a star Shen-Nish wrestler and Blue Devil baseball standout I had the privilege to cover, surely brought a deeper, more detailed perspective than I could ever muster, but still I have my story.

    Before I ever imagined becoming some semblance of a sports reporter guy, the former Farragut High School was one of my first employers as a substitute teacher for a year. Many of the kids I would later watch from the sidelines were freshmen and sophomores then and served as a de facto welcoming party for my transition to not only living in rural southwest Iowa where my family has its roots, but also working here and assuming a role in the community. Sure, being a sub has its challenges, but those kids couldn’t have been nicer, more engaging or a better group of ambassadors for the area and its small town schools collectively.

    Essex was another district that called me up on regular occasion for an odd day or two of work and I can say the same about the students there. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a joy and a privilege to watch them grow from gangly, goofy eighth-graders to the impressive young adults they are as seniors today, never losing the forthright, funny and fearless qualities this larger community of southwest Iowa helps impart. Each town and each school certainly has its own history, traditions and sense of pride, but I feel qualified to say there is a common thread that binds and defines the kids in this corner of the world and I am humbled and ecstatic that my own children are now intertwined with it, as well.

    During my first year at the paper, I covered some sports, but was also on the school beat for a couple area towns and gained an intensive, if not quite exhaustive, education on the extreme challenges facing small districts. At the core, of course, is trying to retain and attract students while town populations steadily decline, all the while offering a mandated minimum of courses and keeping test scores up. But the greatest obstacle superintendents, in particular, attempt to navigate is the financial handcuffing imposed by the state in a professed effort to ensure “equity” for all Iowa students.

    The idea, as I understand it, is to limit smaller districts’ spending authority so they can’t gain some advantage or undue privilege by plunking down more cash per pupil than the big schools are able to, as if they are sitting on a vast bank account and just can’t wait to build big, gaudy stadiums and buy everyone leather-backed chairs and MacBook Pros. My experience, which was admittedly brief, involved an area superintendent explaining that the district could only remedy its dearth of air conditioned classrooms by purchasing portable units because the state wouldn’t allow it to spend money it had on a new central system. That, he said, would be considered a facility improvement and have to come from a levy fund controlled by spending authority, so he had to get creative.

    Air conditioning. You know, so students can actually go to school on those oppressive late summer days and not be forced to stay home, not learning. We’ve all been in the gyms, exterior doors swung wide and industrial-grade fans thrumming away, sweating in the stands as our “privileged” kids fend off heat exhaustion in a climate-uncontrolled indoor environment. Nine times out of ten, I’m guessing, this is the more common scenario than one the state envisions in which small towns can somehow flood their schools with cash, luxuries and scale-tipping opportunities.

    Other extreme challenges involved meeting accreditation requirements, which I learned is often the first slippery spot on the slope to ceding control of a district’s fate to the state. Obviously, we want our kids to have all the reasonable academic options available, but small districts are seriously hindered in their ability to employ adequate staff numbers – on budget – to offer a full range of courses and, kicker alert, actually get students to enroll. You can have the teacher and the class, but if you don’t get the butts in the seats, it doesn’t count.

    So they share resources, one district opening certain less fundamental but no less important courses – think languages, ag science, industrial arts – to students from another district and quid pro quo. That way, only half a salary goes on each school’s budget and they meet the standard. Unfortunately, the students in question have to literally hit the road, sometimes a half-an-hour or more each way, to get to class and, as a result, are habitually late to the next one back at their own school. And then, in many cases, they get to do it again for sports practice after the school day proper is over.

    It’s my understanding that there has been a powerful crowd in the upper echelons of state education for quite a while focused on reducing the number of school districts in Iowa to 99, or essentially one for each county. I’m sure there are valid reasons, but the cynic (a disproportionate portion of me most days) says it’s simply about bureaucracy and centralizing control, an ages-old battle between population centers and the perceived periphery. Somebody wants one size to truly fit all because it makes the execution of a standard equation far easier.

    The method for achieving this vision, in my opinion, appears to be the particularly cruel practice of slow, prolonged strangulation. I’m not trying to excuse or explain away any poor practices by administrators and/or school boards, but the deck seems decidedly stacked against them regardless of what they do or do not do. And that is the ultimate point here, in fact, that the fate that befell Farragut is lurking around the corner for almost every small school district. One ill-placed step on the slippery slope and all the state has to do is wait.

    Which is why, more than ever, the traditional and time-honored rivalries we enjoy so much, town against town in an unending struggle for county and conference supremacy, must, as in the case of Sidney’s volleyball run, be limited to the duration of athletic events and quickly drift away as soon as they are over. Like with the Cowgirls or any other Corner Conference team that has ascended past the Regional level, our partisan, provincial interests naturally should fade to reflect a greater interest.

    Because, like it or not, I believe what happened in Farragut is not just an unfortunate possibility but a likely eventuality for those districts that hold too fast to traditional enmities and town boundaries. Times have most definitely changed and clinging to an outdated sense of civic identity can have disastrous consequences. Two of the strongest districts, Sidney and Fremont-Mills, started discussing a future that involves some form of sharing or consolidation a year or more ago. To reject the notion – in the name of an antiquated idea of community pride – is to live in denial. The more we work together and support one another, the greater the chance that our great small town schools and teams can stave off the state’s attempt to starve them into submission.

    The weighting is the hardest part

    Once upon a time a perfectly good maxim held that “Practice makes perfect.” Someone, at some later date, much to the chagrin of those who subscribe to the notion that “Showing up is 90 percent of the battle,” had to go and amend the cliché, correctly in my opinion, to read “Perfect practice makes perfect.” My best interpretation of that extended extrapolation is that arriving, participating and dutifully hanging around is not, indeed, enough. Far from 90 percent, it might be closer to 9 percent of said “battle.” Let’s round it up to ten.

    Another tried half-truth is that “Good things come to those who wait.” Again, the passivists find hope in the notion that simply biding one’s time until success, happiness or some vague positive result magically appears as if by divine due, is a virtue. I would modify this little moral to say: “Good things come to those who weight (the value of hard work and victory as a constant goal over idly awaiting an outcome they think they deserve).”

    Granted, I’m no poet or profundus maxim-ist, but the point stands that a sense of urgency and an expectation of immediate rewards are the natural state of a competitive athlete, not of a somber, sober, solemn practitioner of patience. There’s a reason Monk, Brahman (not the bull) and Yogi (neither the Bear nor the Berra) are seldom-seen mascots.

    But for a talented, nose-to-the-grindstone and ever-ambitious Sidney Cowgirl senior class, much of the last three years has been an anxious anticipation of a time to come. Not by design or desire, of course, but by the degree of Corner Conference competitors that stood in their way. They were weaned under the affluence and influence of Stanton, Villisca and Nishnabotna senior standouts, grew strong through fierce contests with Fremont-Mills, East Mills and Essex teams that were a single, solid year of experience ahead and, now, stand tall, having eclipsed them all as state tournament qualifiers and the lone conference sports squad left on the court.

    Early in my tenure, I wrote extensively about the all-around exploits of Blue Devil stars Molly Goltz and Alexia Blank and witnessed plenty of impressive performances by studs like Villisca’s Jill Vanderhoof and Stanton’s Carmen Subbert, schools and players I didn’t specifically cover. Later, the focus shifted to Trojanettes Haley Fundermann and Seana Perkins and the growing legend of the Lady Knights’ non-twin twin bill of Macy Williams and Taryn Williams, who brought their teams to the brink and, eventually in their final basketball season, the bright lights of a state tournament berth.

    But I saw the potential of the Cowgirl gang of four from the get-go. Lexy Larsen, Mac Daffer, Quinn Sheldon and Kenna Nennemann, each with her own strengths, have competed together since well before high school and showed every ounce of the skill, dedication, determination and positive mindset it takes to coalesce a cadre of gifted individuals into a championship team. Unfortunately, they had the Viqueen dynasty and the Lady Knight conquest to contend with through the bulk of their own ascension.

    But it was fortunate, as well. The Cowgirls’ “waiting” game provided both the blueprint and the real, on-the-court battles they needed to reach the pinnacle they occupy today. The truest mark of their virtue, and the validation of their journey beyond this season’s fantastic record and tonight’s big match in Des Moines, is that they didn’t just expect their time to come, they fought every day for three years, on the practice floor and against some of the best athletes and teams southwest Iowa has ever produced, for that time to be now. And now, it’s here.

    Having been away from the local sports scene for a significant chunk of this past season, I can’t – and shouldn’t – offer any sage advice or sound strategy to the Cowgirls prior to their big dance with Springville this evening. I can, from my state basketball experience watching F-M take on the Orioles this past winter, say be prepared for a vocal and borderline vicious student section. Despite a prominently posted IGHSAU website message about the etiquette of positive cheering and not singling out opposing players, they spent the majority of that game doing just that. Maybe they’ve changed their ways, but if you happen to be a Sidney star whose name has appeared frequently in stories and stat lines, don’t be surprised or rattled by a fair share of unwanted attention from the other side of the stands.

    Beyond that, I would say to this Cowgirl corps, particularly the core senior quartet who have impatiently awaited their moment in the spotlight, maybe this isn’t quite your “time” yet. Maybe tonight isn’t the greatest glory you’ve anticipated since first stepping into the varsity arena so many seasons ago. Maybe this is just another battle in the war you’ve been waging and the real prize is still a day or two away. Maybe the “good thing” you’ve been perfectly practicing for is better than you could have even imagined as a fresh-faced freshman facing the struggle that unfolded. Maybe you’re not all the way there yet.

    Maybe the wait, or the weight, isn’t quite over. 

    Opening a new chapter

     

     

    The rain came after I arrived at new and improved Carl Stadium in Tabor Friday night, but I brought the fog with me. Those shiny, unfamiliar bleachers might have had a little to do with it, but the more likely culprit for my mental haze was certainly the six weeks I’ve spent away from the game.

    Not the game of football, specifically, but the game around the game of covering local sports. You know that feeling you have on the first day of work following a long vacation? You’ve forgotten passwords, your chair seems too low, your routine is out of whack and you’re not exactly sure how to kick the old instincts back into gear. Yeah, that was it, but with a side order of feeling like I just showed up three days after my own funeral.

    Perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic. There is an iota of truth in the analogy, though. When you leave a job, particularly one that’s come to define a significant chunk of your public and personal identity, a little piece of who you are passes away, slips into history and – to yourself as well as others – becomes a fond but closed chapter. Walking into that stadium felt like preparing to act out the lines that someone else had written.

    Luckily, there was a game going on other than the one between my ears. And, though it ended up a not-particularly-close contest, I got to witness some pretty wondrous events on my first official beat back. I got to see Essex seniors Cody McClintock and Alex Dailey - two guys I have known since before my sports reporting days when I spent a year as a substitute teacher and they were just goofy, gangly eighth-graders – finish their football careers fighting to the last. With his team trailing substantially, Cody picked off an F-M pass and had a big return to set up Alex’s fourth-quarter touchdown reception finale on the next play.

    Struggling through two winless Trojan seasons, they won their 2015 opener to snap the streak and spent homecoming night in the glow of an unforgettable win over Sidney.

    I also got to see some of the guard-changing going on in the vaunted Knight program. With living legend Nate Meier home on a Hawkeye bye week and watching from the stands, the new breed of upperclass leaders, Sam Phillips, Parker Powers, Nate Hardisty, Hunter Rasmussen, Adam Todd, Carter Jennings and the consummate winner and game time tactician, senior Jason Rusten, completed a gutsy, challenging 8-1 regular season campaign. At the same time, preternaturally gifted freshmen like quarterback Mason Vanatta and Swiss Army Knife Jaeger Powers heralded the next wave of F-M fortitude.

    Within that 2015 work-in-progress, Rusten is attempting his own rewrite on a running clock deadline. A broken collarbone, even early in the season, would spell the end for most mortal men. But, with the end of this ongoing gridiron effort ominously, always now possibly circling in to signal the end of his great football career, there he was doing whatever he could to help his team, even running a series under center and completing a pass with that still-tender throwing arm.

    We often think of rebirth, especially in a religious context, as a joyful, uplifting event but, as a very interested observer at a couple of first births, I can tell you it’s in large part a tense, traumatic and messy situation for all parties involved and only hopefully brings a happy ending. Rebirth can be much the same and coaches and players go through it on a fairly regular basis. New leaders, new stars, new faces, new challenges, new fortunes and new ideas of the possible. The payoff is a thrill associated with the discovery of the undiscovered, but it comes at the expense of more than a few gray hairs and sleepless nights.

    Writing, as I am right now, helps organize the thoughts that come and put them in perspective or, at the very least, exorcise them from a frantic mind. I don’t know if coaches, as a rule, keep journals, but I imagine the late evening/early morning bull sessions with their assistants after a game are some first step in the transition from this week to next. For me, the process seems in its early stages of discovery, despite four years of experience. The “then” is over. Let the new chapter begin…

    The new guy some of you already know

    Hello again. And for the first time.

    My name is Jason Glenn and we’ve met before…or not…or maybe you’ve just seen me lurking on the sidelines with a camera around my neck, chatting up Matt and/or Andrew in the midst of a Corner Conference competition between one of the four teams I covered for the Shenandoah newspaper and your favored squad, new friend.

    Whatever the case, here I am. It’s been roughly a month-and-a-half since my last official day on a job that started almost exactly four years earlier. In the time between those dates, I was privileged to witness and report on a full freshman-to-senior cycle of fantastic athletes from Essex, Fremont-Mills, Nishnabotna and Sidney.

    Naturally, I got to see a whole bunch of talented young players from all the other conference schools as well, but I have to admit my editorial bias swung heavily toward the kids I followed most closely. I saw their struggles, sacrifices, efforts and achievements from preseason through the state plateau and got to know many of them on a personal level, learning in the process what fine, funny, smart and decent young folks arise and emerge from the southwestern-most counties of our fair state.

    I should also fully disclose that I am now a parent of two Sidney students, with another fixing to join the future Cowboy and Cowgirl ranks in the coming year. Sam, my oldest, is a six-year-old in kindergarten while his younger sister, Katie, is in the school’s excellent four-year-old preschool program. Jojo, the youngest of my and my wife Molly’s brood, will join the three-year-old preschool roster in August 2016, rounding out our contribution to Cowpoke and Corner Conference rolls of the next dozen or so years.

    A conflict of interest was the cause for my self-termination at the paper, but it wasn’t due to any supposed or overt prejudice toward the District we call home. I like to think I’ve maintained a fair balance of local boosterism and professional objectivity over the last four years and gaining a few new red t-shirts in my closet doesn’t endanger that. The conflict was one of time. With only 24 hours in a day and my own kids becoming full-time students with evening extra-curriculars in the offing, spending three or four nights a week at an area athletic contest – as much as I have come to love it – simply didn’t leave enough time for me to adequately perform Job No. 1 at home.

    In addition to covering local teams for far longer than I have, Matt has been tackling the boots-on-the-ground dad task for a decade beyond my current tenure. As we’ve become friends, starting as co-workers at the paper where he was an invaluable mentor on the local sports scene and through his tireless development of this website, I’ve seen him balance a dedication to his family with one to the student-athletes of the Corner Conference and their families. When we started talking about me joining him and Andrew at SWISportsCorner.com a couple weeks before I left the paper, he understood my dilemma between continuing to do the thing I’d grown to love and being there for the people I love as they grow.

    So now here I am, trying to contribute something new to this great local sports info and entertainment source. As we figure out precisely what that is – getting out to a game a week for coverage, some columns here and there, action video highlights and perhaps a little show featuring Matt and yours truly – I’m sure some of it will seem familiar to those of you who know me. But I’m hoping, for those of you who don’t as well as for myself, there is exciting, uncharted water ahead and new adventures abound…