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OPINION - Lessons from the playing field

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)    At night after my regular news work at WSAU is over, I’ve been doing play-by-play for D.C. Everest High School sports on sister-station Fox Sports AM-1390 FM-93.9. I’ve just completed my first year as the radio ‘voice of the Evergreens’. It’s been a fun, enjoyable (although sometimes sleep-depriving) experience.

There’s an old saying that teachers are often taught by their students. I’ve learned things from my last year around these student-athletes.

The D.C. Everest football team taught me that how you finish is more important than how you start. This team got better week by week… they played their best game in the state playoffs, which happened to be a 19-17 loss to Bay Port. I think they'll continue to get better next season.

The Evergreens girls basketball team taught me that there’s no substitute for good leadership. This team had two senior leaders – Lauren Anklam and Brianna Ziolkowski. They weren’t great in every game. Actually, they both had games where they played poorly. But they were always steady, confident leaders on a team that was otherwise filled with underclassmen. That leadership was more important than scoring. Many players say in past years Everest girls basketball was a collection of individuals, many of whom didn’t get along with each other. They were a team this year.

The boys basketball team taught me that a good team is more than the sum of its parts. Almost all the boys scoring came from two very good players – Zach Finnegan and Jared Gjertson. You’d think they’d be easy to beat. Usually one kid who can shoot and another who’s tall isn’t enough to play winning basketball. But other players were very good at filling individual roles:  Nick Sierakowski was a very good ball-handler; Grant Van Grinsven was a great man-to-man defender; Josh Neilson and Jon Rohr hit just enough 3-pointers to keep defenses honest. Making the most of these individual pieces made for a winning team.

The hockey team reminded me that games aren’t played on paper. If you saw Everest warming up against Wausau-West at Marathon Park on January 31, you’d wonder why the Evergreens even decided to show up. The West players looked huge, hulking, intimidating… they were a much bigger and more physical team. And West hadn’t lost a conference hockey game in three years. There’s a great life-lesson about doing your best even when things don’t look promising. Everest won, 3-0.

I have mixed feelings about the high school baseball season. Baseball is my favorite sport, but it was also the least enjoyable season – because of the weather. I had a hard time getting into a season that started nearly a month late, and had nearly half the schedule cancelled. The lesson is to focus on things you can control and not to worry about things you can’t. Every baseball team in our area lost games and practice times to Mother Nature. The teams that were most adaptive did the best.

Congratulations to all the student-athletes. I’ve enjoyed watching all of you play, and look forward to next season.

Chris Conley

P.S. -  I’ve learned many other things. Most parents and family members are very well behaved. I’m sure somewhere there are parents who hound coaches about playing time and show bad sportsmanship during the games, but I didn’t see them. The parents I’ve seen enjoy seeing the games and are good examples of school spirit.

Most games have been well-officiated. (Baseball has not been officiated as well as the other sports, and there appears to be not enough good hockey officials to go around.) I didn’t see any games where the outcome turned on a bad call.