Endless winter nights

In the midst of the tournament madness that encompasses February and March, I encounter a lot of cool tidbits or nuggets that can’t make into a story due to space, relevance or time.

Thanks to Mother Nature deciding that winter is not over yet and we’re not going to have spring sports for another week or so, I’ve solved two of the three above issues.

Relevance may be another issue.

So below are some nuggets and observations from the last five weeks of my tournament trail.

*Best atmosphere for a game: Willard High School. In my years in the area, I’ve covered a lot of games in Willard’s gym. The atmosphere for the Buckeye Central-Sandusky St. Mary tilt in the district final was, well, awesome. It was like 104 degrees in there and it was so loud it was unbelievable. I couldn’t hear myself talking at certain points during the game. And yes, I talk to myself when doing stats. The students sections were excellent and actually well-behaved. The electricity matched the energy of the game.

*Worst facility to cover a game in: Willard High School. It has nothing to do with the fact they don’t have a hospitality to speak of but everything to do with the fact they don’t provide enough working space for the media. If you are print media, you can stand. And forget having a place to work after the game because they need the space for the next game. Willard, you can do better.

*Coolest national anthem: Mansfield Senior. I’ve always enjoyed when schools use their local talent to do the national anthem instead of the canned soundtrack. Feels more authentic. You could hear a pin drop as Colin Henley, a Mansfield Senior High School sophomore, played the anthem on a violin. He also got the loudest ovation of anyone I’ve heard at high school event for an anthem effort.

*Most underrated event of the tourney season: state swimming at Canton McKinley. Any state tourney event is spectacular to cover because you know you are seeing the best of the best. This year was no exception. The action is fast and the energy in the natatorium is electrifying. It very much reminds me of the state track meet. The three area kids we had competing there – Chris Gates, Natalie Howard and Corinne Harris. – exuded class, more than any other athlete I covered this tourney run. And the fact I’m a terrible swimmer has nothing to do with the above statement. I was confused that they don’t have a dog stroke or the 50-meter paddle.

*Best night of basketball: Feb. 25 at Findlay High School. So in sectional games like this where we have local teams playing in back-to-back games, we write only one story due to space constraints. So after Lakota’s Colin Timmons buried a jumper with a second left to beat Elmwood in the opener, I approached Hopewell-Loudon coach Adam Smith and said “Good luck getting the lead story tonight after that.” He took the challenge. Rather, Ryan Lommerse did. He buried a 3-pointer in overtime as time expired to beat Riverdale. I’m interviewing Lommerse after the game and Smith comes up and says “We get the headline, right?” Yes, coach you do, or rather, did.

*Best place to cover a game: Findlay High School. Not only do they ensure enough space for the media but they make sure they have everything you need, including food and beverage. I was asked on multiple occasions by their staff if I had everything I needed. Bravo, Findlay. Some other tourney sites could take a page from you.

*Best what-if game: Carey vs. New Riegel. We were pretty excited about this matchup and were as astounded as everyone else when we learned Kara Scherger was out with an ankle injury. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, kudos to the New Riegel community on keeping that injury under wraps. Carey had no idea she was going to be out or was even injured. It was a spectacular game and we kept expecting Scherger to check in late in the game, a la Kirk Gibson for the 1988 Dodgers in the World Series. Carey was the better team that night but would have loved to see both teams at full strength for that regional contest.

*Most heartfelt moment: Watching Cody Clifford destroy Otsego to the tune of 18 points and six rebounds four days after his mom, Tammy, passed away. There were a lot of touching moments in that game, from the pregame hug from Otsego coach Jim Bostdorff to the hugs Clifford received from every teammate when he checked out of the game. But the best one was watching Clifford snip the final loop of the net, usually reserved for the head coach, and grabbing the net and pointing skyward with a hand on his heart. A lump-in-the-throat moment.

*Runner-up heartfelt moment: Clyde boys basketball coach Ryan Carter talking to his very tearful son, Price. The 7-year-old was quite distraught that his dad’s team had lost in the tournament to Norwalk. Price, there’s nothing to be ashamed of losing to a state champion.

*Nicest arena, poorest execution: The Stroh Center at BGSU. Beautiful arena but terrible functionally as providing useful stats to fans. The side scoreboard only listed numbers horizontally and you had to follow it like an Excel spreadsheet to see who scored what, and you better know numbers. On the big screen, all fans got to look at outside of the score was the ginormous OHSAA logo, which does nothing to aide the fan experience. You expect a little more of a college site. Riverdale and Findlay did better.

It’s been a great month of tourney fun and I can’t wait until spring tourneys roll around. But at this rate, with the weather, it may be June before sectionals even begin.