Sports editor says goodbye to R-C readers |

Sports editor says goodbye to R-C readers

by Chuck Smock

Many of you already know that I have accepted a job as a copywriter with the catalog division at Cabela’s (The World’s Foremost Outfitter) in Sidney, Neb.

For the rest of you, this is your official notice: Today’s sports section is my last after a fun four-year run in the Carson Valley.

This is the third newspaper sports job I’ve left in the last eight years, but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write a farewell column.

In the process of informing a few of the Douglas High coaches about my decision, one (who shall remain anonymous, but whose name rhymes with Werner Christen) said he’d be disappointed if I left without saying goodbye to the community in print.

I tried to explain to the coach that I was pretty sure I was just going to slip out of town quietly because I never wanted to make this sports section about me.

I didn’t want my mug shot printed in the paper every week.

I didn’t want to be a big-shot, know-it-all sports writer with an opinion on everything from AstroTurf to Zito, Barry.

I never wanted to rip a high school kid for making a mistake during a game and I certainly didn’t want to second-guess a coach for a play call or a substitution pattern. (I read sports writers who do those things and my first reaction is: Get your fat butt out there and do better.)

What I wanted to do was report positively on the athletic efforts of a great bunch of kids who were trying to get the most out of the high school experience.

Whether I succeeded or not is up to each of you to decide for yourself.

But when I started thinking about all the great things I’ve witnessed involving Douglas High sports, I realized the anonymous coach (Werner Christen) was right. It would be a shame not to take a moment to reflect on the big wins, the tough losses and the nil-nil ties we’ve experienced together over the last four years.

So, here you go, the top 10 memories I’ll take with me to the Great Plains:

10. Fantastic DHS coaches and current administrators.

When I told people I worked as a sports writer, the usual response was, “That must be a fun job.” And my stock answer was, “I get paid to watch kids play games. It beats working.”

Obviously, there’s a little more to it than that, but I’m flippant. What can I say?

The thing that can make or break a sports writer’s job is his relationship with his sources. Here at the R-C, that means primarily the coaches at Douglas High.

If I wanted to, I could take a few potshots here. I’ll be driving east on I-80 when this paper hits the streets and there’s a better than fair chance that I’ll see or hear only from a handful of you ever again.

But I can say in all honesty that the coaches I’ve worked with at Douglas High are among the best, brightest and most committed people I’ve met while covering high school sports in three different states.

These fine men and women put in an incredible amount time and effort into trying to teach their Tigers how to win with class and lose with dignity.

Principal Charlie Condron and vice principals Susan Baldwin and Tom Morgan also deserve some recognition for their support of extracurricular activities at DHS. I can’t remember a Tigers game, home or away, in the last two or three years that I didn’t run into one, two or all three of them.

9. Track meet at Douglas High rained out, March, 16, 2002.

Tigers track coach Keith Cole, who currently is trying to raise more than $400,000 to build an all-weather track and field complex at the high school, had a feeling this was coming, but he didn’t care.

He also didn’t care when other coaches called him to whine that they didn’t want to bring their athletes to the Carson Valley to compete on the dirt running track at DHS.

“We have to practice on this thing every day,” Cole said after kicking a dirt clod across the track five days before the first track meet in more than a decade was to be held at Douglas High. “Unless it rains or snows. And then we have to practice in the hallways inside the school.”

The meet ultimately was held at Carson High’s all-weather facility after a snowstorm moved through Douglas County later in the week.

In addition to teaching government and psychology, coaching cross country and track and, for the last nine months, awaiting the birth of his first child, Cole has worked tirelessly to build the community support (and hefty bank account) he will need to achieve his dream of watching his Tigers host a track meet on an all-weather track at DHS.

And he is even more diligent when he’s coaching the sport he loves. Watching Cole and assistants, Kelly Ackerman, Bob Bateman, Brad Newlon and Christine Wilson, motivate D and keep track of D as many as 100 athletes at an afternoon practice is an impressive sight.

And when Cole does get his track built, I can guarantee you one thing: I’ll be the first person in line when they open the gates that fine Saturday morning.

8. Douglas beats South Tahoe in State volleyball semifinals in 1998.

The win avenged two consecutive losses to the Vikings, including one in the Zone final the previous week.

(The Tigers went on to beat Green Valley in the State championship match the following day, which also happened to be the pheasant opener in California. I had to make a choice. The pheasant hunting was fantastic.)

This team was led by a trio of great seniors D Kaycee Green, Rebecca Rippee and LuLu Sewell D but it was junior Natalie Stratton who made an unbelievable play to clinch the victory in what had been a back-and-forth semifinals match with the Vikings. Stratton’s diving, pancake of a dig somehow found its way over the net and onto the floor to complete a comeback in a game that saw the Tigers trail 10-1, 12-2 and 13-5.

A large throng of vocal Douglas supporters made the match even more memorable.

Juniors Jessica Granat and J.K. Koenig also played big roles in the State championship season.

7. Ken Carr leads Douglas softball team to State tournament in first year as head coach, 2000.

Carr, the Voice of the Tigers at football, basketball and softball games, is one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. He retired after two seasons with the Tigers, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Douglas, with a rookie varsity head coach, entered the Northern 4A Zone tournament as the No. 6 seed, but opened the tournament with a 3-2 win over No. 3 seed Reed. Sophomores Lindsey Rollins and Allie Walling each singled and scored runs against the Raiders. Senior Michelle Roza added a triple and scored a run.

But the real fun started in losers’ bracket play.

Facing elimination, the Tigers scored three runs in their final at-bat to beat Reno, 3-2. Junior Jennifer McCrosky had a two-run triple to get the rally going. Junior Jeannette Holt followed with a game-winning single that brought home McCrosky.

The Tigers then had barely a 30 minute break before taking the field against Reed in another elimination game.

Douglas again waited until its final at-bat to wrap up the win over the Raiders. Holt and Baudelia Ceballos each knocked in runs in the top of the seventh to secure the 3-1 win and the third-place finish the guaranteed the berth in the State tournament.

6. Douglas baseball team beats Carson to break a streak of 18-consecutive losses to the Senators, March 14, 2002.

Hal Wheeler, the last man to coach the Tigers to a win over the Senators in (1994), got the job done again in his first year back on the bench.

Senior Darren Muren pitched a great game on a cold day at Carson High, striking out seven in five innings. Senior Tommy Hoyle pitched the final two innings. He closed out the game by striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh.

Wheeler showed a stroke of coaching genius in the first inning when he asked junior Marc Walling to lay down a bunt despite the fact that Walling was facing a 3-2 count in his first Sierra League varsity at-bat. Walling responded with a perfect that moved senior Shane Cauley, who had led off with a single, to third base. Cauley later scored the first run on a sacrifice fly by junior Austin Graham.

In the second inning, a confident Walling ripped a three-run home run to deep left field to give his team a 4-0 lead.

Carson rallied back to tie the game in the sixth inning, but an RBI single by senior Matt Saylo and a perfect suicide squeeze bunt by senior Andrew Andrews in the top of the seventh allowed the Tigers to beat the Senators for the first time since the current seniors were 10 years old.

5. Douglas’ volleyball rallies past Galena D twice.

At the State tournament in 2000 and again at the Northern 4A Region tournament in 2001, the Tigers dropped the first two games in best-of-five matches only to rally back and win three straight from the Grizzlies on their home floor.

Last season’s win over the Grizzlies was probably the most important. It secured a berth in the State tournament and gave the Tigers the momentum to go on and beat Fallon for the Northern 4A Region title the next day.

The win was especially sweet for coach Kira Laden, who took over as varsity head coach in midseason and led the Tigers to 13-consecutive three-game sweeps heading into the playoffs.

“Wow,” Laden said after the victory. “I’m really impressed with the girls coming back in that fourth game after being down, 14-7. It looked pretty bleak, but they stepped it up. Everyone did. I’m really proud of them.”

One of the things that impressed me most about Laden’s coaching was her ability not to overact. Unlike other coaches (such as the one a Galena), Laden doesn’t slam her clipboard to the floor when she gets mad and she doesn’t jump up and call a timeout every time the Tigers get in a little jam. She seems to prefer to let her players work through their problems together rather than trying to impose her will on them. And time and time again I watched as the Tigers got themselves out of trouble, seemingly growing stronger after each incident.

Seniors Chelsey Myers, Megan Brinkmeyer, Jencie LeJeune and Andrea Honer, juniors Emily Haas, Brittany Addeo and Cheryl Nicoll and sophomore Michelle Paterson carried the Tigers through the 2001 playoffs. They all seemed to respond to Laden’s coaching philosophy.

4. Oh, what a night! DHS boys’ and girls’ basketball teams sweep Carson at DHS for the first time ever, Feb. 2, 2001.

Werner Christen and Keith Lewis both were in their first seasons as head basketball coach in 1998, my first year here at the R-C. In fact, they were the first two coaches I met when Dave Price took me out to Douglas High to show me around.

I really enjoyed watching these two men build their programs over the past two years using two different approaches: Christen likes to keep things light in practice (at the appropriate times) and would be considered a players’ coach; Lewis is more of a “you play like you practice coach” who demands discipline from his players on and off the court.

They both have great senses of humor, each was equally as professional after a big win as he was after a tough loss and they support each other. And the night they swept the Senators was one of the neatest things I’ve seen in more than 12 years as a sports writer.

The atmosphere in the jam-packed DHS gym was unbelievable the night.

The girls, who were mired in a season plagued by injuries and illness, got things going when they pulled out a 43-42 win in the final seconds.

“The feeling in that locker room after the game was something I will never, ever forget,” Christen said after the game. “They were so happy.”

The boys’ game was just as intense. With five seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied, senior Seth Lee missed a 3-pointer that would have produced a roar that would have shook the building.

Lee came back and drained a 3-pointer early in the overtime period. Junior Will Thomas made seven of eight free-throw attempts in the final two minutes to close out the 70-62 win.

When the final horn sounded, a flood of face-painted, broom-carrying Tigers fans swarmed the victors at center court.

“Like I told the kids, this will be a game they remember for the rest of their lives,” Lewis said.

3. DHS girls win first Northern 4A Region soccer championship, Nov. 4 2000.

Fred Schmidt is one of the many DHS coaches I have a hard time figuring out.

By day, Schmidt is a partner at the law firm Hale Lane, specializing in energy law. By afternoon, evening and on most Saturday’s during the fall soccer season, Schmidt is one of the most thorough, enthusiastic and intelligent soccer coaches I have ever known.

Schmidt, who is in his ninth season as the Tigers’ head coach, has had a lot of success Douglas (career record 131-26-22). But everything came together perfectly in 2000 for a team that went 11-0-1 through its last 12 games.

The Tigers shut out three opponents on their way to the Region championship. Amber Gwinn scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Elko in the first round. Andrea Chaney, who celebrated her 16th birthday the same day, scored her team’s only goal in a 1-0 victory over Galena in the semifinals. And Kali Schmidt gift-wrapped the championship for her dad when she scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Reed.

Defensively, this team was led by a great senior goalkeeper in Ashley Sulprizio. Senior stopper Kelsey Newell, junior sweeper Kristie Gearty and sophomore fullbacks Jessica Brady and Rebecca Wallstrum played perfectly while shutting out the two best teams in the High Desert League in the semifinals and finals.

Junior midfielder Jessica Girder and sophomore midfielder Tracey Hawks also were key players for the Tigers.

2. Douglas girls advance to basketball State championship game, Feb. 22, 2002.

Never in my life will I forget the roar that 3,000 or so Douglas fans created in Lawlor Events Center when Andrea Honer hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to force a second overtime in the title game with Centennial.

I’ll also never forget the looks of anguish on the faces of the Tigers as they watched the Bulldogs celebrate their 76-74 victory. I know how hard the girls and their coaches worked to advance to the championship game. I also know how much fun they had along the way getting there. I hope with all my heart that everyone associated with this team remembers only the good stuff.

Head coach Werner Christen and assistants Andy Hughes, Aubrey McCreary and Allen Gosselin guided the Tigers on an improbable run through the playoffs last season.

At the Region tournament, Douglas beat Galena (53-45 in overtime), Fallon (45-43) and Carson (46-44) to claim the school’s first Northern 4A Region basketball crown.

Christen always credited his five seniors D Honer, Amber Gwinn, Lindsay Knox, Mallory Moore and Lindsey Rollins D for their leadership, but the Tigers wouldn’t have advanced to the State championship game without the contributions of junior Emily Haas, sophomores Michelle Paterson and Julie Gingrich and freshman Erin Brinkmeyer.

1. Douglas football team beats Wooster at Wooster for the first time ever, Oct. 5, 2002.

This one doesn’t benefit from the test of time, but I believe it has the potential to be the biggest football victory at DHS since the Tigers won the 2A State championship in 1974.

In each of the first four years I covered Douglas football, the Tigers always seemed to be two or three key players away from making the step up from playoff hopeful to league-title contender.

The win over Wooster was the second big victory in a row for the Tigers, who were coming off an eye-opening 41-8 triumph over Hug High.

If the Tigers can win at least two of their last three Sierra League games, they will play host for a home football playoff game for the first time since 1974.

In my humble opinion, no one at Douglas High deserves to experience a little success more than head football coach Mike Rippee and his assistants, Ernie Monfiletto, Steve Wilcox, Bob Bateman, Ron Hall, Todd Wilcks and Mike Blackledge.

I’ve spent enough time at their practices to know that no football staff I’ve ever covered works harder or cares more about the process of using the ups and downs of athletics to help boys develop into young men. They are constantly challenging their players, themselves and each other to get better every time they step on the practice or playing field.

Many of the players won’t realize it for years, but they are learning things every day that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

I wish I could have played football for Mike Rippee and his fellow coaches at Douglas High.

In addition to the coaches mentioned above, I would also like to thank the following coaches for the time and energy they have expended over the years to call in, fax, drop by or e-mail their results to the R-C: Bob Bytheway (skiing), Ron Cauley (Nevada Yankees), Brent Eddy (boys’ golf), Phil Emm (boys’ JV basketball), Ralph Johnson (girls’ JV soccer) Dee Gosselin (girls’ tennis), Mark Lilly (freshman football), Don Luikart (swimming), Michael Rechs (CVMS basketball), Will Sandy (Coleville football, girls’ basketball) Michael Schneider (boys’ tennis), Phil Sheridan (boys’ soccer), Rick Smith (softball), Milko Vasquez (boys’ JV soccer) and Dennis Young (JV baseball).

I’d also like send out a special thanks to contributing columnists Bill Welch (tennis) and Gina Hames (swimming), both of whom do an excellent job promoting their sports and getting lots of kids names in the paper.

I’m sure I have forgotten a coach or two who deserves recognition. I know I could have taken the, “I don’t want to leave anybody out, so I’m not going to mention any names” route, but I didn’t want to cop out like that. The coaches at Douglas High have been too good to me over the last four years.

If you (coach, parent or reader) ever took the time to submit any scores, stats or results, I want you to know I truly appreciated your efforts.

Matt Bodourian and Sheila Gardner also deserve to get their names in the paper one more time. If it wasn’t for the two of them, there is no way I ever would have taken this job.

And, finally, while I am excited about the prospect of working for Cabela’s, the opportunity came with a price.

A few days after I accepted the offer, I realized that taking what could turn out to be the job of a lifetime meant I would have to give up the best job I have ever had.

I can honestly say that the people I’ve met in Northern Nevada are among the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You’ve treated me better than I deserved. I leave with nothing but fond memories.