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Sports – An Annual Fabric of Life

Sports are a big part of my life as I realize they are for much of the Connection Newspapers readership which support and cheer on their favorite youth, high school, college and professional sports teams. For me, the yearly calendar is often marked by signature sporting events, such as the NFL playoffs in January, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in early April, and the men’s NCAA college basketball tournament in March.

My birthday (March 13) always arrives as the college basketball conference and national tournaments are beginning to unfold. Many of my birthdays have been extra special or dampened somewhat, depending on how my favorite college men’s basketball team, the Terrapins of the University of Maryland, fared at the ACC Tournament or whether or not they went on to qualify for the national tournament field.

Sports fans often associate major events in their lives with landmark sports moments involving their favorite teams. A former co-worker of mine, a huge Boston Red Sox fan like myself, got married and enjoyed his honeymoon during the Sox’s history-making World Series run in the fall of 2004.

After being with my mom in the hospital for the birth of one of my younger brothers, my father, then the high school boys’ basketball coach at Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, rushed from the hospital to the O’Connell gymnasium where his Knights were in the closing minutes of a nip-and-tuck game. Upon my dad’s arrival to the home team bench, his head assistant coach, in one of those memorable moments that has been remembered and laughed about for years, simply told him, `It’s yours to lose.’

In fact, O’Connell won that night, making it one of my dad’s landmark coaching days – with the birth of a son and a basketball victory.

<b>THERE WERE WONDERFUL</b> local sports memories made in 2010 for fans around the Northern Virginia area. Quickly coming to mind for me were the prep school heroics of the Virginia State AAA girls’ softball champions from McLean High School, as well as the Langley High boys’ lacrosse team which, after being disappointed in the Northern Region title game – an overtime finals loss to Robinson – stormed back to capture its second consecutive state title the following week with a championship game win over Loudoun Valley.

In Reston, the South Lakes High girls’ basketball team, under head coach Christy Winters Scott - the former University of Maryland women’s basketball star – advanced all the way to the Liberty District finals before falling to two-time defending champion Madison. Freshmen center sensation Zoe Beard-Fails made the all-district tournament team, as did freshmen guard Marlena Tremba. A year earlier, a much more seasoned South Lakes team had captured the regular season district crown.

The Herndon High baseball team did not capture any titles, but enjoyed a winning season (11-7) under new head coach Greg Miller, a former Hornet baseball star himself who was taking over the reins of the program from the legendary, longtime Herndon baseball skipper, Al McCullock.

Fred Priester’s Oakton High Cougars, behind the terrific guard play of the Coyer twins – Caroline and Katherine - and shooting sensation Zora Stephenson, made their annual strong postseason charge, capturing another region crown and qualifying for the state tournament. The Cougars defeated West Springfield in the region finals. Caroline Coyer scored 20 points in the title game win and earned tourney MVP honors. Also from the Vienna area, the Madison High girls’ hoopsters, under steady head coach Kirsten Roberts, a former Warhawk player herself, won their third consecutive district tournament title. Junior guard Erin Kavanagh earned tourney MVP honors in the Warhawks’ finals win over South Lakes.

Other local team’s experienced sensational seasons, including McLean High football, baseball and boys’ soccer; Langley boys’ soccer and girls’ lacrosse; Madison baseball, girls’ softball and girls’ soccer; South Lakes’ boys track, boys’ cross country and boys lacrosse; and Herndon boys’ basketball.

Local professional sports highlights for 2010 included the Washington Capitals putting together the best win-loss record in the NHL; Washington Nationals rookie pitcher sensation Stephen Strasburg electrifying the Washington, D.C. home crowd and the entire baseball universe with his debut game, 14 strikeout outing versus the Pirates; and the Wizards landing the top pick in the NBA Draft and selecting point guard extraordinaire John Wall from Kentucky.

<b>I HAVE COVERED</b> high school sports for The Connection Newspapers for the past 23 years, and I am still amazed that every contest – regardless of the year, sport, schools involved, or even the players and coaches – is a special, one-of-a-kind event which will never be duplicated. One could attend hundreds of high school football, field hockey or soccer games and all of those sporting contests would hold their own, distinct characteristics, such as weather elements, the mentality of the individual athletes on that particular day, the recent success or failures of the teams leading up to the game, or even the bigger picture world events taking place at that particular time. No two games are ever exactly alike.

Almost always, the teams and players I have watched compete over the years have played with passion, determination and a healthy will to win within the rules. There is still a sense that high school sports is, overall, pure in a way the professional and college games are not. I get tired of watching enormously high paid pro athletes playing half-heartedly in front of packed stadiums and millions of TV viewers. There is another option – supporting and attending the local high school and youth sports events.

The New Year, God willing, will be filled with more numerous, exciting high school and youth events for local sports aficionados to take in and enjoy. May area high school and youth sports fans throughout Northern Virginia continue to rally around and remain a big part of the local sports scene in 2011.

My best wishes go out to all for a happy, safe and successful New Year.