Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Linenberger: Tonganoxie, McLouth memories numerous

June 20, 2007

While covering a recent college signing, a Tonganoxie High student-athlete attending the event asked me why I no longer was "the newspaper guy."

The track member had grown accustomed to me being the guy with the pen, notepad and camera, always hanging around after events waiting to ask oh so many thought-provoking questions.

Instead, for much of the spring season, Scott Tittrington of the Lawrence Journal-World's sports department -- this is the sports section so a sports analogy is required -- was called out of the bullpen to give me a little relief.

During the past several weeks, I continued to man the sports section, but at the same time settled into my new position.

When longtime Mirror news editor Lisa Scheller had the opportunity to go to work at the KU Endowment Association in Lawrence, she went for it.

When Lisa's position at The Mirror subsequently became vacant, I went for it as well.

As many can attest, Lisa is a fixture in Tonganoxie. At The Mirror, she was one of those familiar faces so many people knew. Her feet are considerably smaller than mine, but her shoes are hard to fill.

Still, it's not easy bidding the sports scenes in Tonganoxie and McLouth adieu.

The memories during the past six years have piled up like vintage photos in an old shoebox.

There were the obvious highlights -- the two state tournament appearances by the Tonganoxie High girls basketball program, the annual trips to the state track meet in Wichita and state wrestling in Wichita and then Salina, and the cross country state championships in Wamego. Last year's THS softball trip to state, the program's first in school history, definitely ranks up there as well, as does Ross Starcher's charge toward a state title in wrestling when he finished in second place.

And who could forget the atmosphere surrounding so many regional and substate tournaments? The thrill for the THS girls basketball team in hanging tough and rallying for a win against Sumner Academy in 2005. The agony a year later when the Chieftains had the Sabres defeated on Sumner's home court in the substate finals rematch, only to be whistled for a foul -- with two-tenths of a second left -- that denied THS from another state berth.

Regular-season games also have filed neatly in my cranium, such as the THS football win a few years back at Piper when Tonganoxie's Jeff Hughes kicked a game-winning field goal in the waning moments. Or that triple overtime THS boys basketball game at Jeff West a few seasons ago.

THS football has sharply risen to the status of perennial powerhouse the past few years, and I've seen the birth of two new sports, boys golf and girls soccer, while covering Chieftain athletics.

McLouth's breakthrough undefeated regular-season football record after going winless two season before also ranks up their in my memory bank, as does the MHS softball team's rise to prominence the past few years.

There's so many more memories I could run through, but there's only so many inches of space available.

However, there's one team I so wished I could have covered at a state tournament -- the THS volleyball team. During the six years I covered sports, the Chieftains charged to the substate championship match but never could get over that hump. Perhaps I was bad luck and now they can make it to state with me not roaming the sidelines.

As much as I enjoyed covering area sports, the role of the sports writer is not cheerleader. On a few occasions I was asked at events why I wasn't getting excited. As a sports writer, that's really not part of the job description. Being the impartial media, meanwhile, is.

On the flip side, I always hoped Tonganoxie and McLouth teams would do well in their endeavors. And, in tight contests, I could feel myself getting into the games, stomach tightening a little, palms starting to perspire.

So, deep down in my stomach, a part of me was waving pom-pons. And after covering teams so long, you become connected to the student-athletes. While interviewing Ali Pistora at the state basketball tournament in the spring, Pistora started to tear up after her team placed fourth at the tourney in what was her final basketball game in a THS uniform. I admit I had to turn away slightly, because I had to whisk away a tear that was forming in the corner of my left eye.

Earlier this month, Eric Sorrentino, became, as we've been calling him, "The New Shawn."

He's been out meeting coaches and players and is settling in well in Tonganoxie.

As for me, you'll still catch me at school events, but it likely will be at school plays and assemblies rather than games and meets.

Even so, I might resurface at a sporting event sometime, when the "new Shawn" needs the "old Shawn" as a pinch-hitter.

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