With the end of the year, it’s time for my annual look back at the year of sports from the local sports scene.
Favorite game to cover: I’ve seen a lot of good football games in my 37 years on the Bureau County beat. This year’s 3A quarterfinals between Princeton and IC Catholic ranks right up there with all of them. The only thing that would have made it better is if the Tigers would have won.
Going into the game, many said it would be for the state championship and it proved to be so. The Tigers led 20-7 at the half and I remember telling our ace photographer, Mike Vaughn, that the Tigers were going to have to score one more time to win it. Unfortunately, that proved true as the Tigers fell in overtime, 27-20, and the Knights went on to waltz to the state title two weeks later.
Best quotes: I’m going to the ball diamond for two gems. Hall coach Tom Keegan summed up a dismal game by the Red Devils by saying, “We were a circus without the tent.”
Princeton Tiger pitcher Ean Compton described what makes baseball such a great sport. “I just love it, because there is no tie. It’s either a strike or a ball, an out or not. No in between,” he said.
My favorite sports moments of the year: Wasn’t sure what Albert Pujols would do in his return to St. Louis, but had a hunch he would go out with a bang with the Cardinals. He surely did, seemingly finding the fountain of youth back in St. Louis and taking us all on magical ride to 700 career home runs. He smacked 24, finishing with 703.
I got to step back in time when my alma mater, ISU, played its first Redbird game at Horton Fieldhouse in 34 years, called the “Return to Horton.” It lived up to its hype and was just as I remember it fondly from my youth. Maybe not as loud as it was my teen and college years, but very loud nonetheless. I’m hoping they do this again soon.
Story that touched me the most: In the course of the year, there’s a lot of stories/columns. The one that tugged at my heart the most was writing about 10-year-old Zane Britton of Princeton who didn’t let a wheelchair slow him down.
Born with spina bifida and paralyzed from the knees down, Zane got to fulfill a wish to play football with his friends and score a touchdown with the help of his good buddy, Kip Cook.
We can’t get enough sports moments like these.
My storIes that received the most reader response: I often get feedback on stories over the year by email, phone call or text, mostly good. Three that come to mind were my question and answer interview with St. Bede graduate JA Happ about his return from Major League Baseball after 15 years, the Return to Horton, and on the news side, Grieffs Auto Tech closing its doors in Princeton.
The Teegan Davis stories were hot tickets online, drawing 8,515 views for his commitment to play football for Iowa and 4,067 views for the follow-up signing story. A story on a fund-raiser for LaMoille native Jade Geuther drew 4,003 views, my column on the BV and Rockridge football teams displaying good sportsmanship drew 3,849 views and the Happ story drew 2,570.
Sadly missed: We lost a lot of local sports figures in the past year, including: Marvin Hartz (noted fastpitcher); Scott Carter (former PHS coach/teacher); Elinor “All-Star” Nelson (Senior Olympics All-Star, Church League fan); Garrett Scott (2019 BV grad, Storm football); Dean Madsen (LaMoille High School principal, gym namesake); Doreen Flinn (former PHS teacher, wife of PHS great/coach Lew Flinn); Dick Mills (all-time leading scorer in basketball at Bureau Township); Kathy Waca (No. 1 Church League fan); Tim Dever (PHS grad, longtime coach/teacher); Dave Piper (former Princeton Little League coach, big White Sox fan); Neil Stiver (quarterback and captain for the 1945 Walnut Blue Raiders Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame team); Rick Allen (set single-game scoring record at PHS with 46 points, ranked ninth all-time).
I was saddened by the passing of my boyhood sports hero, Franco Harris, over the holidays just a few days before he was to have his uniform number retired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was because of him and his famous, “Immaculate Reception” that I became a Steelers fan at age 12.
Here’s to 2023: For my Hieronymus’ Hypothesis for 2023, I see the Princeton Tiger basketball team playing for the state championship that the football team didn’t get to have a chance.
BCR Sports Editor Kevin Hieronymus has covered sports in Bureau County since 1986. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org