By Mark Carpenter –
I am all for smiling. It’s why we love babies and puppies, they make us smile. In fact, myself included, I don’t think the world smiles enough. It seems like in recent months the entire country has become one giant frown and that can’t be a good thing. On Sunday afternoon at West Union High School, if only for a few hours, the smiles were restored to Adams County. It’s a shame that the rest of the country couldn’t join in.
There have been a lot of news reports in recent weeks about young people with special needs becoming heroes of the moment-the young man named Seth in Ripley, our own Hunter Rapp in North Adams, and numerous others around the country came on the court and achieved moments that will not soon be forgotten by themselves, their families, or anyone in attendance. Sunday afternoon at WUHS was three hours of those kinds of moments.
I am always honored to be invited to the annual Hawks-Sheriff’s Department battle and I am deeply indebted to Wonder Woman Liz Lafferty for her gracious invitation. By the way, I think that at any moment Liz will start spinning around, there will be that red flash of light, and “poof”, she will be in full costume. On Sunday afternoon, there were so many things going on at so many levels that it is really hard for one’s brain to process it all.
The first smile that caught my eye was that of a young lady named Maria, who sat down at her keyboard a good half-hour before she was supposed to perform the National Anthem, she was so anxious to get started. She sat and waited, and smiled and waved at the crowd, and even threw a couple of smiles my way, which of course, warmed my heart. When it finally came time for her to perform, she knocked it out as usual, throwing her arms up in triumph at the end amidst the cheers. I would have dared anyone there on Sunday to kneel for that rendition.
When it came time to introduce all the players for the game, there were a few smiles coming from the members of the Sheriff’s squad, but most of their faces showed the fear of what was upcoming for them on the court. Perhaps Sheriff Rogers put it best when he said, “It’s a lonely feeling when you are in a gym without one single fan.” Things picked up considerably when the Hawks were introduced and they all came to the floor with that certain bounce in their step and of course, broad smiles across their faces. “We’re gonna win and we are sure gonna have fun doing it.”
Some of these Hawks have become local folk heroes, for example one T.J. Liston, who as many of you know is one of the biggest supporters of West Union basketball and on Sunday, he was paid back in full with his own giant fan club on hand, including some lovely young women wearing shirts that said “T.J.’s Biggest Fans.” You don’t think ol’ T.J. was smiling all afternoon? He got as many cheers every time he touched the ball as Kevin Durant did boos in Oklahoma City over the weekend.
The smiles of the Hawks become infectious very quickly and for a couple of hours, you tend to forget what you didn’t get done over the weekend or the giant pile of work that awaits you on Monday morning. In fact, most of your cares are swept away for the moment. Just watch Charlie Gardner for awhile and try not to laugh or smile. Charlie’s main duty on Sunday seemed to be to make sure that the Sheriff wasn’t trying anything underhanded with the officials, and let me tell you, Charlie was right on top of it all day. Watch the on-court celebration of Michael Bailey whenever he fired one through the net and try not to smile right along with him. You can’t do it and if you weren’t there on Sunday to forget your cares, you certainly missed out.
I must mention that one member of the Hawks doesn’t do a lot of smiling before and during the game, because he is focused on just one thing-winning. Sometimes that might not be a good thing but for Darrel Grooms, it’s the Vince Lombardi-like only thing. When it is all said and done, though, and Darrel has wreaked his basketball havoc on the helpless defenders from the Sheriff’s Office, then he smiles. And brags, and even got to do a radio interview as the Snappy Tomato Pizza Player of the Game. That is one pizza that is really going to be enjoyed.
I go to a lot of basketball games each winter and I often get frustrated about things I see and hear, but I usually try to keep those under wrap. Sunday’s game is the polar opposite of that. When the whistle blows, half the gym isn’t in an uproar like a typical high school game, but they are instead cheering all the way around, because of course many of the calls seemed to favor the Hawks, proving the Sheriff’s money is no good around here.
Other than a few fellows who played on the “losing” side, everyone left the gym on Sunday with a smile on their face, stories to tell, and if only for awhile, the ability to cast aside their worries after three hours of entertainment. I bet, though, that those folks on the “losing” side didn’t really leave with big frowns-I think they had some fun too away from their usual work. It was another outstanding effort by everyone involved and this reporter would just like to say a big “Thank You!”
I bet the Hawks are already starting to practice for next year. And to add..thank you Gary McClellan for the kind introduction, but there was only one Hall of Fame journalist in the gym on Sunday, and it wasn’t me.