Bring on the squeaky sneakers and dimly lit gymnasiums. Football stars, lace up those new basketball kicks and be your teams' heroes once again.
The temperatures outside are getting colder, and pretty soon fans will be packing themselves in on the often wooden bleachers at the local high schools to watch John Naismith's game in its purest form. No loud music, no eccentric light shows that leave fans in a daze, just the squeak of the shoes and the sound of the net whooshing after a player knocks down a jump-shot. Yea, that's right, I said a jump shot.
High school basketball is without all the off-the-court drama you often find in the college game, or dare I say point-shaving scandals that have happened in the past. Basketball players in high school are often kids who had a hoop in their driveway and tried to hit at least 10 shots in a row before their parents shut off the lights. At least, that was how I was until I realized I had no future as a hoopster.
Basketball is a sport in which athleticism, strength, grit, and wit all need to work cohesively -- if you have the necessary combination of those four things you will be successful.
The high school basketball season for the Ayer-Shirley Panthers starts a bit earlier than the rest of the area. Ayer-Shirley opens up with Clinton on Dec. 7 with the boys playing the Gaels at home, and the girls at Clinton. The rest of the local teams find themselves in action on Dec. 11.
Many people forget that high school basketball courts are where young stars blossom. Sometimes, an athletes' accomplishments on the court go unnoticed because he never scored that 1000th point, or dropped that double-double. It is my job as a journalist to go into every stuffy gymnasium and highlight those players who don't light up the stat sheets.
Who says we have to go along with the standard stat sheet of points, free throws, three pointers made? I vouch for a new category: floor-burns.
When I was in college as the young sports editor of my school's student newspaper, I always found myself drawn to the players who didn't score the most points, but those who displayed the most heart.
Charlotte had an injury-plagued point-guard in my years named Charlie Dewhurst. Dewhurst was so injury-prone that the student section affectionately nicknamed him "Dewhurts." When he was in the game, I always found myself wondering when is Charlie going to dive for a loose ball, and how many will he go for. I don't know why, but I have always felt that way even when I was a kid watching the Celtics play.
Anyone remember Walter McCarthy? A bench player who wore the unassuming no. 0 for Boston, it seemed like the only love he received was from the Celtics' longtime broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn. Now, every time I step into a gymnasium I find myself looking for that spark player. The player who doesn't have all the skills, but who makes up for that with his heart and willingness to sacrifice his body for a rebound or loose ball.
Winter sports are, for one, a good way to get out of the cold frigid New England weather.
Hockey is a sport I wish I would have been able to play. Many parents of hockey players will tell you it is very expensive and time-demanding. I first tried to skate when I was about nine years old at the pond in front of Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a childhood friend of mine.
Let's just say he was a natural, and I had many bumps and bruises not from hip checks. I still appreciate and love the game just as much as someone who has laced up the skates and battened down the cage.
I always look forward to the sounds of pucks on the pond, slicing skates and the sound of the goal horn buzzing. In high school hockey, there seems to be a large gap in the level of skill some teams have. Some of that comes from not fully-meshed team chemistry due to schools playing cooperatively.
Hockey is a sport where you will find three types of players. The bruisers, finesse-players, and the facilitators. I always like watching the bruisers, probably because if I could hold my stocky body up on skates, that's exactly how I would play. Finesse-players are the kids who like to dip-and-dazzle their way through defenders, breaking out moves you think you saw in the last Winter Olympic Figure Skating competition, all while maintaining possession of the puck.
Groton-Dunstable is the reigning Division 3-A State Champion with their magical 22-0-1 season a year ago. I cannot wait to see how they defend their title. We already saw one Crusaders state title defended successfully in boys soccer.
There is something about a small arena, the smell of gas-station coffee wafting through the air on a winter night. The temperature may be 25 degrees outside, but it is a warm, toasty 32 degrees inside the rink. I cannot wait to step foot into the local gyms and the frigid hockey rinks this winter. As a writer new to the local sports scene, covering all the games gets me riled up. So if you see a reporter feverishly fumbling between his notepad, cup of coffee and cellphone court or rink side, stop by and say hello.