The perfect time of year to be a sports fan is now fully upon us

This will not be a golf column though the sport will be mentioned. I am not quite ready to switch to bowling either. Right now, I just love being a sports fan. I’m a fan of all kinds of sports at many different levels. Let’s see why I believe sports can bring us a tremendous amount of enjoyment.

When the leaves change colors, there are a number of athletic activities that I follow. Baseball is heading to the postseason. The NFL is underway. The college football season is heading into some pivotal games. NASCAR is in the midst of its Chase and despite the fact that Tony Stewart’s broken leg has destroyed my fantasy team, I will watch every lap until the championship is decided at Homestead.

Then there’s the local high school sports scene. I ventured over to Hedges-Boyer Park to watch some of the Cross Country Carnival action. The boys’ team from my alma mater did not disappoint as Seneca East reminded everyone that they were state champions last year. With a one-two finish from Jason Willman and Jared Stockmaster, SE captured the team title in Division III. Is a repeat of last season’s state championship effort in the offing? Time will tell.

The New Riegel girls’ volleyball team is undefeated and state ranked. I used to stroll through the hallways at NRHS (though in an older building) and it’s always great to see some classy kids achieve athletic success that mirrors their classroom accomplishments. Winning on the playing field and excelling academically is a New Riegel tradition.

How about Hopewell-Loudon’s Bryce Gorrell shooting a six-under par 67 at Nature Trails earlier this golf season? That’s a pretty impressive score, though I must admit that I have shot 67 there as well. Of course I had to play three or four more holes to complete my round after reaching that score. Despite some transportation issues that I hope have been ironed out, the H-L boys’ golf team has had an incredible season. Gorrell’s season will continue as he has qualified for the state tournament.

Sticking with golf, Maykala Dull shot a robust even-par 72 in the sistricts to advance to the state tournament for the third consecutive year. The Lakota junior recorded her sparkling score at Sycamore Springs near Arlington. I too have shot 72 on this course, but as Paul Harvey used to say; now you know the rest of the story

If you are a Cleveland sports fan, the last month has been tumultuous to say the least. The Browns lost their first two games and then shocked everyone by trading arguably their best player, running back Trent Richardson, to the Colts for a first round draft choice next year.

Nearly every Browns fan that I talked to uttered the same term to describe the trade and the decision to start third string quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Browns were “tanking” the season throwing in the towel after just two games. Browns fans were angry.

Well a funny thing happened on the way to giving up, as the Browns players apparently didn’t get the tanking memo. Cleveland has won three games in a row since the trade and Browns fans are now smiling, a little ruefully to be sure, but smiling none the less. The team may still have another losing season, but hope is no longer completely gone even with Hoyer suffering a season ending injury Thursday.

If the Browns saga was not enough to stoke a Cleveland sports fan, the Indians won their last 10 games of the season to make the playoffs. Nine wins and the wild card playoff scenario would have been crazy; 8-2 would not have been good enough. But they won all 10 giving us Tribe fans a thrilling end to the regular season.

Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Rays ended all the excitement in one night. I would like to see a best two of three series for the wild card teams. Every team and their fans should get at least one home game if you make the playoffs. I’m sure Reds fans would agree. The fact that the Indians performed the way they did down the stretch is enough for me to say that it was a great season.

Staying with baseball for a minute, how about the farewell that baseball gave to Mariano Rivera? The Yankees closer was honored at the All-Star game in a scene that gave baseball fans everywhere a few goose bumps. In his final appearance at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter and Andy Petitte came out to remove him with one out to go. The fans gave him a standing ovation as he became very emotional. The greatest closer in the history of the game is also an outstanding person. Leo Durocher’s comment about nice guys finishing last doesn’t hold water in his case.

The Rockies’ Todd Helton will also call it quits after this season. Colorado honored him in his last home game by presenting him with a horse before the contest started. Helton responded with a home run in his first at bat, but missed the chance for the best exit ever by an athlete. They should have brought the horse out of the bullpen, where he could have saddled up and waved to his fans as he rode off into the sunset. Just saying

I’d like to return to high school sports for my last story. Many of you may be aware of this story from the state of Utah, but if not, this will get any sports fans attention.

The head coach of the Union High Cougars football team was not happy. Some of his players were skipping school, misbehaving in the classroom and not getting very good grades. The last straw for the coach came when it was learned that some members of the football team were bullying another student online.

A few days before Union’s Friday night game, the coach sat down with his assistants. They decided upon a course of action and ran it past the school’s administration. After the game Friday, all the members of the team that would be a total of 50 were given a letter. It stated that the coaching staff was not happy with the players not representing their families, the school, the community, alumni and themselves to the best of their abilities. The coaches wanted changes made and they were going to start right away.

The letter then went on to state that the players should turn in their uniforms immediately! You heard that correctly. All 50 players were being suspended. With the Homecoming game scheduled for the following Friday, the move was indeed unprecedented.

The players could get their uniforms back, if they met some requirements. Each player was going to be required to do service work at home and in the community with pictorial proof of their service expected. They would also have to attend a two-hour study hall after school bringing something of academic significance with them. Meet the requirements and they could get reinstated.

If you are like me, you are wondering how the parents as well as the student athletes particularly those who had not been guilty of the poor behavior felt about the situation. As it turned out, the players and parents, to their great credit, embraced the changes. Players mended broken fences and shoveled out a pig sty on Saturday morning. They also were required to stop in at a couple of local nursing homes to visit elderly residents.

By Thursday morning 47 players had been reinstated (three still had grade issues, but were expected to rejoin the team eventually) and the team met for its only practice of the week BEFORE the school day began. Homecoming would go on as planned and I’m betting it had a whole new meaning for a lot of people.

High school sports are a place where life lessons can be learned. It doesn’t always happen, as we get so consumed with winning that we forget what high school sports should be all about. The lessons learned in this small Utah community were immense and everyone in town will benefit from the changes, most of all the players.

And that folks is one more reason I love being a sports fan.

Al Stephenson is the golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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