First published: June 21, 2012
Say it with me: “State Champions.” As a baseball dad, I can’t hear it enough. It just doesn’t get old.
Now, those of you who aren’t attuned to high school athletics might view the celebration surrounding Woodford County High School’s improbable run to the state title as a misguided emphasis on sports. I hear you. And (I think) most of us in the victory parade agree there are more important concerns than winning a few ball games.
But this championship means more than a few games.
For the players, the season that ended with an unforgettable 4-0 win in the 2012 state finals on June 9 began in August 2011 with a series of entirely forgettable “fall ball” games. Then during the winter, the players endured excruciating sessions of conditioning. Practice started when the ground was still frozen, and the first scrimmage was March 13.
Long before last week’s parade came a procession of practices and games, cold nights and long bus rides, then hot nights—and more long bus rides. And when they finally got home each night, the players tended to their schoolwork, or else they couldn’t play.
These boys didn’t become state champions simply by showing up for the final game. They worked their way to the top, showing more discipline, determination and dedication than most adults are ever called on to display.
A friend of mine suggested I write a story about the Yellow Jackets’ sensational season. And while there’s a magical quality about their historic title run, the backstory is downright undramatic—a long season of grit and gradual improvement. But know this: When you look at a team photo or at images of smiling, celebratory players, there is indeed a story behind each face. Every player faced his own challenges, his unique self-doubts.
At some point, perhaps while languishing on the bench or failing on the field, each player must have asked himself the same question: “Is this really worth it?”
I daresay each player now has the same jubilant answer. Because not only did the team win the school’s first baseball state title, they did it in front of thousands of Woodford County fans—grateful, astonished and raucous fans.
And the hits keep coming for the players. The community has wrapped them in supportive arms and showered them with praise and genuine affection. Just a month ago, these boys were finishing the last game of the regular season—better than most, but still a “regular” season. Their record stood at 27 wins, 6 losses. And they never lost again. While ever-growing crowds of hometown fans watched, our boys—our sons, friends, students and neighbors—found a way to win every game in the district, region and state tournaments.
It’s been a wonderful ride, even from my seat in the stands. Eventually, of course, the brilliant glow will soften, the streak of wins will end and the attention will fade. And although the boys will soon leave their teenage years behind, the title of State Champions—and all the discipline, determination and dedication behind it—will never grow old.