Archive for Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Senior night emotions

March 1, 2000

Marcy Dodge has an easy smile that stretches from side to side of her face.

Friday night, despite having played in her final game at Tonganoxie High School, the senior's infectious grin practically lit up the room as she waited her turn to be introduced to the darkened gymnasium.

Dodge, Jenny Crain, Sarah Overbaugh, Jill Stauch, Sarah Gripka and Sara Poje ended their Tonganoxie High School basketball careers that began when they were freshman, trying to please coach John Lee, now also with the varsity.

Neil Rieger, Brett Becker and Scott Aligo, the senior boys, followed the girls onto the court as Mike Webb, the boys' varsity coach, introduced them.

As freshmen, Rieger, Becker and Aligo were not the Michael Jordans of the high school. They probably looked at their older teammates and could only dream of being welcomed by the frenzy of a packed gym. Maybe they were not even confident of their ability to hit the rim every time they shot.

Crain, Overbaugh, Stauch, Gripka, Poje and Dodge were not varsity stars as ninth-graders either. They probably didn't realize second-grade girls would look up to them as countless older girls look up to Cheryl Miller and Lynette Woodard.

Senior night evokes emotion. Fans, who once played, often remember their final moments of high school glory. Parents, who have been driving their sons and daughters to practices since their children were only waist high, reflect on their children's final high school game.

The players and coaches, however, feel the most significant twinges.

As Lee introduced each senior girl, she walked from under the bleachers to center court where she met her parents. The crowd expressed its foot-stomping, roof-rattling appreciation. The parents gave their daughters a framed set of basketball pictures and a helium balloon shaped like a basketball as senior gifts.

The scene was enough to make even a nonpartisan observer emotional. Dodge and her teammates, however, were enjoying their final moments as Tonganoxie Chieftains too much.

They exchanged high fives, laughter and memories. When the boys were introduced, they overcame the typical male high school shyness and returned hugs from the girls.

In all likelihood, no one will build a monument for this seasons' teams. The seniors' blood, sweat and tears have resulted in .500 records that don't usually end up inscribed in stone.

When they were introduced Friday night, the girls had won a tight game. The boys, who were introduced before their game began, ended the night with a loss.

Lee began coaching basketball with these girls as a freshman coach. He expected this team to do better during the regular season. But that doesn't take away four years of memories.

As a first-year coach, Webb hasn't been with his seniors very long. He said he wished that he had worked with them longer but that they had played well in the short time he had to coach them.

The records were not important Friday night, and they won't be important when these young people look back.

In five or 10 years when the three young men and six young women revisit the glories of their past, if they lean close enough to the floor, they might hear the echoes of distant bouncing balls and squeaking sneakers.

If they stand close enough to the walls, they might, out of the corner of one of their eyes, catch a glimpse of a player flashing to the basket or grabbing a rebound.

They'll remember that final roar of the crowd from the night they took their final bow and graduated on to other things.

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