Making the most with what you've got
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”
The line opens up Charles Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities,” but as I watched the final minutes tick down in Indian River High School’s boys’ basketball game against Seaford last week, I thought of how the phrase has paralleled the year’s athletic season for the Indians, as well.
Here was a basketball team that, since graduating talented names including Tyree Oliver and Jeremy Purnell three and four years ago, respectively, has struggled to assemble a productive year on the court. This season, in particular, the team fell shy of securing a win. But the program is one that is far from a failure, having locked up two state championships in the early 1980s.
Only two months ago, I was watching some of these same athletes, as well as head coach Marvin Phillips – who served as an assistant coach on the gridiron – carry the Indians’ varsity football team to their first undefeated season since the Indian River School District was established in 1969, and their second state title in the program’s history.
As their football season progressed, it was apparent that what head coach Ray Steele and fourth-year quarterback Jamie Jarmon possessed was something special, but few would have predicted the outcome, back at the season’s start.
The fall season also saw the Indians’ boys’ varsity soccer team make another respectable run into the post-season, while just a stone’s throw from their practice field a field hockey team – led by myriad head coaches over the past several years – fought to find a win, but to no avail.
New programs, such as Indian River’s cross-country and swimming teams, continued to spark interest and pick up speed in their third year since being introduced to the athletic program, while volleyball pieced together a second-straight 8-7 record but missed the cut for the state tournament.
This winter saw the Lady Indians’ basketball team close out a 12-1 run on the hardwood, en route to potentially capturing a third consecutive division title, while a young wrestling program yielded another handful of athletes to the state wrestling individual championships.
While some teams broke new ground and rewrote history and others opted to put their season behind them, one thing was apparent and constant, though: The school reverberates with a sense of pride in all their sports, no matter who’s filling out that starting roster, who’s calling the plays, who’s waiting in the wings for their big break or who’s cheering from the stands.
And until that season begins, analysts can review records from previous years, stats from returning players and hypotheticals of tomorrow’s stars all they want. But much like Mr. Gump’s box of chocolates, you never truly know what you’re going to get.
And that’s the beauty of sports. Oftentimes, great athletes express the importance of having a short-lived memory, where forgettable seasons are best left behind them. Still others have spoken of how a dismal prior year has fueled their desire to win the very next season. Some will try to recapture and sustain success, year after year.
Phillips brought a character and maturity to the basketball court that resonated with the players. They could have hung their heads and given up, but they did not. They pushed on through the year and finished the season. And, at the end, Phillips didn’t talk about how discouraging the year had been or how disappointing a losing record was, but rather highlighted the good that came out of it, the things that players learned and his hopes and ambitions for next year.
Looking around the gymnasium, it’s impossible not to notice the success the athletic programs at Indian River have experienced.
State championships, conference conquests, division titles – every sport at Indian River (with the exception of the three newest: cross-country, swimming and track-and-field) has at least one banner marking a great feat in years past, and I’m sure others will soon follow.
More state title banners will be hung. Conference and divisional banners will fill the currently vacant spaces, prompting new ones to be fashioned and subsequently decorated with milestone years as seasons return.
As the 2011-2012 school year ventures forward, warmer weather will fill the practice fields, and soon, the springtime air will be filled with cheers and jubilation from across the baseball and softball diamonds, over the soccer pitch, surrounding the outdoor track, throughout the tennis courts and around the golf links. Coaches, athletes and fans will try to mimic past success and rebuild on struggling seasons, in hopes of making the next season “the best of times.”