A Long Time Coming | Teen Ink

A Long Time Coming

March 24, 2014
By KevinLange PLATINUM, Boyne City, Michigan
KevinLange PLATINUM, Boyne City, Michigan
41 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Use the glass half empty as motivation, but at the end of the day, be glad that it's half full"-Unknown

Playoffs—where dreams are killed to make others’ come true. Some thrive in the tradition, some collapse in the intensifying heat of it. All others come to consume it all, to root for one team to triumph or, rather, just root for the other to just get a well overdue taste of failure and succumbing humility.

Every team is a rubber band, each getting stronger and more durable as the year carries on. Playoffs are that straining pull of bands, that gradual progression into the defining heat of postseason battle. In high school and college basketball, that vigor of heat couldn’t correlate better with its climatic surroundings, as March heats up as well (or so we’d hope, already!).

It comes to test which rubber band of cohesiveness is the most prepared for the postseason stretch. But to be honest, expecting one’s team not to snap is like, well, expecting that rubber band not to.

Thus, ‘dreams are killed.’ Those dreams left unharmed are, of course, that of only the champions, so the ending result of a season for the overwhelming majority of teams is expected; it’s the specific outcome that is not. That’s what hits people so hard emotionally in sports. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that keeps a team and its community blindfolded until, well, ‘hit.’
Like anybody else, my boys varsity basketball team knew that time would come, and like anybody else, we just weren’t willing to accept that until it happened.

Simply a couple poor quarters against a very respective Au Gres-Sims team was enough to take us out of an error-packed game—a game demanding it be error-free to seize control of it.

We wouldn’t kid ourselves in admitting our true dream was ever killed, though.
At the start of the season, each of us was asked to write three goals we had for the season and turn them in to our coach. They were never shared or read off, but we were told later on in the year that a two-word phrase was redundant throughout the entire stack: Beat Bellaire.
Those words ran much deeper than one season.

Our teams’ goal for the past seven years, since 2007, had been to win a District title again. We wanted to finally splash the drought. What we experienced as a team, school, and community, with that two-word phrase in the backs of our heads, is as follows.

In March of 2005, the boys varsity basketball team rode into the regional finals boasting a 16-7 record and district title. The opponent was a team and program held in high regards, the Bellaire Eagles. The Eagles were loaded with fresh talent every year, and the postseason tradition of success seemed expected for the #4-ranked Class D team in the state. Result: 70-29, Eagles. Following year? Same scenario, same result: 64-39, Eagles.

My friends and I, decked out in our Logger wear, could only sit in the stands and wish we could do something about it; we were only in elementary.

Four years later, our varsity won a thrilling regular season game over Bellaire, 55-50. At the time, it was considered a major upset. Later that year, they lost in districts to Ellsworth, which ended the career of Jared Mathers and Stephen Howie. Both selflessly continue to help our basketball program to this day.

By March of 2011, Bellaire had joined our district and were set to face them in the finals in a matchup resting on a basis of revived apprehension. The matchup was now as assertive as ever; one would get to eliminate the other on the biggest stage of their respective seasons to that point.

The hype of the 2011 districts brought buildup like the battle between the two had never brought before. The team was 16-5 with a 12-point loss to Bellaire earlier in the year tucked away in the past, though inescapably still resonating with them. Bellaire, on the other hand, was 18-3 with a label as the best Class D team in the area. This was at a time in which underclassmen were suited up on both sides of the scores table, and plenty of other middle school and freshmen players were getting the privilege to practice with and become beneficiaries of the varsity’s dedication and willingness to train with the young teens, like my friends and I, throughout the offseason.

Their wins became sweeter to us, while the few losses burned more than they did to us as we watched in, say, our elementary years. They were the guys we were mentored by, the guys we busted our tails on the court with all year, outside of in-season games. That March, in our district final, Bellaire prevailed, 53-38. And the 2010-11 season ended at that. It ended the high school careers of seniors Travis Lange, Reggie Fiel, Luke Rypkowski, and Thomas Rahn.
The following year was a mad seek for redemption. A terrific winter for both Bellaire, 21-1, and us, 20-1, had the 2011-12 district final matchup dubbed as “the most-anticipated matchup in northern Michigan,” and rightfully so. Bellaire was ranked fourth in the state, and us, sixth. The Loggers’ only loss heading in? To Bellaire, 54-49, three months prior.

In the’ gym, before a crowd condensed enough to negate the option of trying to squeeze out of the horde for concessions—though the game was intriguing enough that no one dared leaving their seat—the Loggers faced the biggest test since the last time they lost to them, that past December.

I remember being in the locker room with a 26-23 lead at halftime, suited up just as a JV player brought up for districts with other underclassmen, and senior Logan Jenkins, panting, told the team, “We have a chance to make history, guys.”
The win would have taken us to regionals with a great position to break out of the region for the first time in school history. Arch rival Bellaire overcame the halftime deficit, though, eventually giving them the lead and district championship. The high school careers of Jenkins, Josh Puroll, Forrest Williams, and Elliot Clink had come to a close.

The following year became much the same as the last several. At 19-1, we squared off with none other than the 20-0 Bellaire Eagles in the opening round of districts. I shouldn’t even have to say who our only loss all season came to, heading into the postseason. The undefeated Eagles took command in a 42-28 win, giving us our sixth straight year of failing to get out of the district, despite being one of the premier teams in northern Michigan. The high school careers of Max Reed, Crosby Boettger, and William Miller had ended with Bellaire moving past the Loggers in the bracket for the third year in a row. One can imagine what the goal for us was that entire spring, summer, fall, and winter. This was our time to do what had needed to be done far too long ago.

The regular season was great. We were able to extend the conference winning streak to three years, but the ultimate goal was still untouched until districts had come around. At 19-1, our only loss coming in an overtime devastation against Bellaire early in the year (what’s new), we finally wanted to give what we thought we owed to the community, alumni, and school as a whole: a district title over our rival.

And what an opportunity we were to seize: Friday night, the alumni all in attendance, and an overall fan base just absolutely tired of losing to the Bellaire Eagles. People from schools all over northern Michigan had been telling us, “Beat Bellaire for us” or “Everyone wants you guys to beat Bellaire.” The opportunity was just overdue.

Facing the #4-ranked Eagles, just as they’ve similarly been ranked for what seems like eternity, it was our chance to give to all of our alumni and community what they had been bereft of for too long. Thanks to some incredible shooting spurts, on-the-fly defensive adjustments, and a complete momentum swing in the belief that we were going to win that night, we were able to pull out a 55-46 victory.

Oh, but there was so much more to thank than that.

The parents, who supported us through thick and thin for our entire careers. Not to mention, they’ve even helped us change a referee’s mind on a call even he wasn’t sure about from time to time…to time.
The alumni, who helped us get where we are today. If it wasn’t for their influence on us, we wouldn’t have had the chance of being the team we were with the mindset we had.
The coaches, Tim Smith, Dale Jacobs, and Mike Burzynski, who each have put in and sacrificed so much time all year round for the betterment of our team’s potential success; there’s no coaching staff that has done as much preparation and given more dedication to a group of small school kids than you guys.
Everyone who believed in us.
Everyone who didn’t.
Both became motivation; like glue and tape, they were opposite ways to get us to stick it out, so to speak, but both worked. It was the doubters a few miles down the road that fueled us in adversity just as much as it was our warm support from our community and from around the area.
It was small school basketball at its very finest.
We as a team were able to bring a community together through our work, and by the time we were bobbing around the district championship trophy with the crowd that exuberant Friday night, it was safe to say the presence of our fan base had propelled us to return the favor. It was a favor our team had seen and had come almost close enough to taste, though were unable to touch for over seven years—that iconic trophy.

Traverse City Record-Eagle’s headline said it all: ‘Team finally tastes victory against Bellaire.’
With the sweat still fresh, the scoreboard still glowing, and an arch rival team panting on the sideline, disgusted by the taste of their own medicine, we finally returned that favor. The trophy was as feasible as ever before. Fans could finally touch it. Players kissed it, posed with it, the whole nine.

The mutual feeling that was flushed over the community that night needed no explanation; it was a long time coming.

The author's comments:
A tribute to the school, basketball program, and community of Boyne Falls, Michigan.

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