Warwick Vets has high hopes this basketball season because of its shooters, its height and its depth.
It won Tuesday’s game against Pilgrim with some of those – and with the quick hands of a 5-foot-5 senior backup point guard who played junior varsity last year and didn’t come off the bench until late in the second half.
This is why I enjoy high school sports, why I think I’ll always check in at the local gyms and fields, long after I’m getting paid to be there.
We live in an era of sports globalization, where people who have never been to England are English Premier League fans, where you can watch Australian Rules Football and cricket and rugby, where pro sports dominate the discourse.
What we miss is the fun in our own backyards.
Yeah, a Vets vs. Pilgrim basketball game on a frigid Tuesday night isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s the perfect stage to showcase all the reasons sports fans started to like sports in the first place. It’s not silly talk radio debate, off-the-field headlines and he-said, she-said. It’s just athletics – hard work, achievement, hustle.
And 5-foot-5 backup point guards.
Justin Batista is his name. He was the best player on the Vets soccer team this fall, whose slight frame didn’t stop him from becoming one of the league’s best scorers and earning all-division honors. His coach raved about him. He was the self-made player that’s becoming a little rare these days.
In basketball, you can only self-make so much – you can’t add inches. Batista led the Vets JV team to a division championship last year as a junior. And when you’re playing JV as a junior, you’re probably not going to be a superstar.
But this winter, he’s out there again, pushing for a chance. On Tuesday night, he got the call late in the game and made three steals in two minutes to spark Vets to a 55-51 comeback victory.
He did not score a point and had nothing but zeroes next to his name in the official box score.
But he was there – and that’s pretty cool.
Stories like Batista’s are everywhere, even in a place where high school sports are on the back burner and where teams often struggle. Josh Muto, the starting point guard for Vets, is listed as one inch taller than Batista – and I’m not sure I believe either measurement. But he’s a gamer.
Senior Will Remak has the kind of potential that a Warwick public school team hasn’t seen in a while. Go to a game, and you’re liable to see him go off for 30.
Pilgrim’s best player is Ryan Morris, who may someday be a very familiar name to Rhode Island sports fans. His powerful left arm made him one of the top pitchers in the state as a sophomore two years ago and had college coaches lining up, but an injury kept him out all last spring. He’s not taking it easy, though. He’s on the court this season, competing harder than anybody.
I could keep going.
The point is, high school sports still bring something special to the table. And even as they drift further from the days that saw tens of thousands flocking to football and hockey games, that something special resonates more than ever.
January is a good time for New Year’s resolutions. Make one in 2014 – watch more high school sports.
The 5-foot-5 backup points guards won’t let you down.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.