Looking back on the 2018-19 school year, I find myself trying to comprehend a few things.
Chief among them: How can an area as compact the MyTownNEO coverage area continue to pump out such excellence in such a wide variety of sports?
My inner fan takes a back seat to my professional self when I get the privilege of covering local high school athletes. It doesn’t mean he’s not watching, though.
Journalist Michael: Another year and another round of goodbyes to some great student-athletes. Every year, it seems like the crowd of excellent kids goes off to college — only to have bunch of them return as coaches in a few year’s time.
Fan Mike: Yeah, It’s a pretty strong area you cover — and it’s a heck of a good distraction from the train wreck that the Indians season has become.
JM: Have some perspective. First, to incur the number of injuries the Indians have the first half of the season and still be around .500 shows some quality in the organization. Second, the Indians of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s routinely lost 100 games. The team’s nowhere near that level of train wreck.
FM: You do realize the Class of 2019 has never known a time where the Indians weren’t at least outside contenders, right?
JM: That’s a welcome change from the first 17 years of my life. Heck, we’ve got to remember that the majority of this class was born after 9/11 happened.
FM: Are you ready to call yourself ‘old’ yet?
JM: No. But I always told myself I’d be a true veteran when the sons and daughters of the children I covered back in 2003-05 started coming through our high schools.
FM: That day can’t be too far off, you know.
JM: I do know. Right now, though, it still feels like the youngest siblings from families I’ve covered are the ones heading out the door.
FM: Case in point?
JM: How about Stow’s Lizzy Stefanov? Talk about having huge shoes to fill with what her brother, Aaron, and sister, Lexi, did for the Bulldogs. Lizzy turned out to be All-Ohio in two sports and might have been the best of the bunch. Tulane volleyball is getting a good one.
FM: I will miss her 200 megawatt smile when you interview her, but I still think she should be playing basketball in college.
JM: Didn’t you say the same thing about her sister when she left for Mercyhurst?
FM: What can I say? I’m my father’s son. Basketball is a family thing.
JM: Well for the Stefanovs being multi-sport athletes is a family thing. Ditto for the McNamara clan in Aurora. Colin McNamara was another graduating athlete who had expectations based on what his family had done. His brothers were one of the pillars of Aurora athletics for a decade.
FM: Ah, yes. The guy who darn near took your hand off when he slapped hands with you at the state wrestling tournament.
JM: The fact I couldn’t feel my fingers for an hour was worth it. “Mac” is headed to Ohio University to wrestle.
FM: You had a lot of fun covering those Aurora wrestlers this year, didn’t you?
JM: It’s not every year that a team scores two state runner-up trophies in one season. Of course, Greenmen coach Johnny Papesh is probably still thinking of how his team could have gotten past St. Paris Graham.
FM: Best season in school history and he’s not satisfied?
JM: You don’t know top-tier wrestling coaches. They tend to be satisfied when their team wins a state championship with 14 individual state titles.
JM: The thing that made this year so much fun was the teams that made the deep post-season runs weren’t always the usual suspects.
FM: You mean like the Twinsburg girls soccer? The team Strongsville…
JM: Don’t start. I’d rather concentrate on the Tigers’ remarkable run to the state semifinal, which was a school first, rather than the controversy at the end of it. Regardless of what happened against Strongsville, John Garber and Co. had a season for the ages — and might not be done.
FM: You may be right. But you’re also forgetting the lone state title in you area last year was won by one of the usual suspects.
JM: Oh, you mean Woodridge boys cross country running home with state title No. 8 in the last 12 years. If there’s ever been a friendlier dynasty in Northeast Ohio, I’d like to know who.
FM: Why do you say that?
JM: Part of it is the fact that cross country is not football. You’re running against the course and yourself as much as the other runners.
JM: But I think most of it has to do with the coach. Anyone who asks me “Who is the best coach in you area?” gets a simple answer: Jeff Howard. He’s turned a sport that proudly proclaims itself as other sports’ punishment into part of Woodridge High School’s identity.
FM: Winning eight state titles in 12 years will do that.
JM: It doesn’t hurt that Howard is one of the nicest men on could hope to meet off the course. The best part is, as my colleague Jonah Rosenblum said, it’s likely he doesn’t realize how good of a coach he truly is.
FM: Isn’t that how most of the great ones think?
JM: Dubious, but I’m glad that’s his personality — and by the way, Woodridge has six of the seven guys who won the state title coming back this fall.
FM: Already thinking about next school year? Slow down, for goodness sakes. Let’s get through summer before we hit full throttle again.
JM: As you wish, but spare a thought the kids laboring in stuffy weight rooms over the summer.
FM: I always do — especially if it takes my mind off the Indians.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO