2011 had some games you just can't forget
Sometimes, everything blurs together.
We cover sports in three communities, so between seven high schools and countless youth leagues, we're pretty busy. By my rough estimate, I covered about 300 games this year. It's crazy to think about it like that. And I wonder why I don't always feel like watching sports when I get home. I guess I watch plenty as it is.
They're all different, of course, every game its own story, but you can't keep them from blurring together. I'll remember specific games when I look back and read my old stories, but without those, I couldn't tell you what happened.
Thankfully, though, there are moments that stick out every year, moments I remember without having to look back. Those are the ones that kind of define a year, and in this my last column of 2011, I'm taking a drive down memory lane to look back on my favorite moments of the year in local sports.
Hurricanes get it done
They were supposed to win, but in any arena, that's never a guarantee. Upsets happen.
The Warwick Vets wrestling team wouldn't hear of it. The Hurricanes won the state championship in style, demolishing the competition with 11 medalists and clinching the title even before the final round.
It was a thoroughly impressive performance, and knowing the back-story made it even better.
Four years before, I remember Vets assistant George Schmeider talking excitedly about a group of freshman wrestlers headed by a kid named Mike Meyers. They were going to do something special, he said.
Meyers ended up winning four consecutive state championships, becoming one of the great athletes in Warwick and Rhode Island history. The team grew up around him, turning into one of the top programs in the state, but state tournament success didn't come as early as they hoped. Those young 'Canes thought they would win it their junior year. They didn't.
But maybe that was the way their story had to go. They worked, they stuck with it and they set out to bring a title home.
Doing it was pretty special. Potential doesn't get always realized in high-school sports.
The Hurricanes realized every ounce of it.
In 2010, when Hendricken won its first football state title since 1996, I figured no Hendricken team in the near future would come close to a moment that special. How could they?
This is how. In September, you lose to La Salle by more than three touchdowns. You have your growing pains the rest of the way, but you fight and eventually start putting it all together. And then you play that same La Salle team in the Super Bowl. They're undefeated. They're the heavy favorite.
And you win.
That's exactly what the Hawks did this fall. Last year's championship team will have its legacy forever, but the 2011 Hawks have joined them in the realm of remarkable moments.
I thought the Hawks had a chance against La Salle. I did not think they would win. It was one of the biggest upsets I've seen, and certainly the biggest football upset. Generally, it's not a sport where upsets happen, like basketball or soccer. On a given day, you have to do a lot of things right to be a better football team than your opponent, especially when that opponent is as tough as La Salle.
The Hawks did it all, and it was a wonder to behold.
Hawk Upset, Part One
Hendricken beats a heavily favored La Salle team in the state championship. I'm not repeating myself here – it happened twice in 2011.
The football team's victory was actually the second such upset. The first came in the spring, and it actually took me by surprise even more.
We follow football very closely, doing podcasts every week and catching up with coaches. So we knew how the Hendricken football team was feeling about itself heading into the Super Bowl. We knew the Hawks believed.
Lacrosse doesn't get quite as much attention. Spring's a short, busy season, and we're just trying to keep up. From what I knew, I didn't envision big things for the Hendricken lacrosse team. Even when the Hawks won their semifinal game, I didn't think a whole lot of it. La Salle was dominant, and I figured anyone who made it to the finals would be just a speed bump on the Rams' road to the championship.
Obviously, I was wrong about that. The Hawks absolutely shocked the Rams, and the celebration was absolutely the biggest I've ever seen.
Warwick's Little Leagues have seen their numbers decline lately, and in the last few years, that's led to some short summers for all-star squads that had previously dominated the district.
There were some struggles again this year, but for two nights in June, Warwick had quite a Little League story going. Warwick National's Elijah Brown and Sean Creamer pitched back-to-back no hitters to open play in the District 3 tournament.
The run ended soon after, as National was bounced from the tourney, but those performances were pretty amazing. I remember going to the team's third game in the tournament, after the no-hitters. There was a huge crowd at National, and there was a definite buzz. A Little League all-star run is always fun to be a part of, and this one was, too, even if it ended early.
Nobody will forget those no-no's.
Summer to Remember
When you follow a team for a whole season, you can get attached to them. You don't root for them, but you get invested. You know the stories and the characters.
That happened to me this summer, but it didn't take a whole season. It only took a week.
We covered the 9/10-year-old Little League East Region tournament in Cranston, producing the content for a web site devoted to the tourney. It was a good time, a fun tournament to cover.
But I never thought I'd be invested in a team from Connecticut.
It was the all-star squad from Waterford American Little League. They won the tournament and were pretty clearly the best team.
Their coach was the one who sucked me in.
His name is Bill Speller, and the first time I saw him, I wondered why he was coaching 10-year-olds. He's a big, burly guy and from his spot in the third-base coaching box, he was stern and forceful with his kids. I thought he was a coach who was too tough. Ten-year-olds don't always take well to that.
But as the week went on, I realized that what Speller was dishing out was tough love – and a lot of it. He was the kind of coach you would want your kids to play for.
At the end of the tournament, while his team celebrated, Speller couldn't hold back tears. Here was a big man, a tough man, just breaking down. His team had a great summer of baseball, but you could tell that it was about more than that for the coach. It was about a bunch of kids he loved coming out and accomplishing every goal they could have possibly dreamed up.
It was an awesome moment.
It was the kind of moment you remember, even in the blur of a sports year.
I can't wait for more moments like that in 2012.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.