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SIDELINE REPORT: Thank you, Broncos, for an unforgettable basketball season PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 31 March 2011 18:05

With the 2010-11 high school basketball season officially behind us, I want to take this opportunity to reflect one last time on what was an exciting and meaningful season for both Wauneta-Palisade varsity basketball teams.

I have to admit it, when I was asked to speak two Saturdays ago at the Bronco Basketball Community Celebration, I was a little surprised. The unexpected request to address the crowd left me at a loss for words multiple times. Underprepared and nervous, I wasn’t able to articulate my thoughts as clearly as I would have liked.

I’m considering this my second chance to find the words that escaped me that night.

My first impressions of the WP boys and girls basketball teams were stark in contrast when the season began in early December. I don’t claim to be the best talent scout out there, but as far back as the season-opening game against Brady at the Palisade gymnasium, I could tell the Bronco boys team was something special. In all honesty, I had a good feeling about them.

Conversely, my first impression of the Lady Broncos was anything but favorable. As I watched the girls basketball team struggle in their first several games of the year, I began to think that reaching a .500 record would be a lofty goal for them.

A few weeks went by. As the Broncs gained steam toward what would turn out to be an exciting, season-long ride, the Lady Broncos slowly found a rhythm of their own. I was — to say the least — impressed when the girls won 6 of their next 8 games. What served as the catalyst for the girls’ newly inspired brand of basketball still baffles me.

I truly don’t know what served as the spark that helped the Lady Broncs bounce back after their sluggish 0-4 start. Was it the return of senior Shelby Hamilton, who had been hurt at the start of the year? Was the increased effort exerted by freshmen like Abbie Fanning rubbing off on the team? Did a sharp mastery of the Xs and Os by Head Coach Roger Lauhead finally seep into the minds of his players? These are some of my best guesses, but I truly don’t know the answer.

But I do know this: the excitement I got from watching the Lady Broncs was growing.

I’m not afraid to admit that I became a fan of both teams as the season went on. Striving for impartiality when working in journalism is a top goal for any writer, but when you stand on the floor next to the same players you cover, it’s hard to turn off your emotions. It’s hard to not become a fan of the players as you get to know them and their individual personalities over the course of a three-and-a-half month long season.

As the season neared the midway point, my interest in the girls basketball team had fully reached the level of the boys. I told one individual in town while we talked over dinner (because a lot of people in town like to stop and talk sports with me, which I love, for the record) that the “Lady Broncos had stolen my heart.” Girls games were suddenly as exciting as the boys — the girls were playing with the same passion I saw in the eyes of the guys.

Now, please don’t interpret this as a knock on the Bronco boys. My excitement for that team never wavered all year. However, it did seem like in the middle of the season, when the boys were tearing teams up by 20 and 30 points, the girls were hanging on to win thrillers that made for several exciting Friday nights. The Lady Bronco games against Perkins County and Chase County especially stand out in my mind.

The Broncos didn’t seem to play in as many regular season nail biters as the Lady Broncs, but nonetheless, I loved watching their brand of basketball.

Wauneta-Palisade had the best boys team in southwest Nebraska this year. Period.

They were the best team in Nebraska for their class this year. Period.

I only missed five of the boys’ 28 games this season (all of which but one were tournament games), giving me as good a taste for their talent as pretty much anyone who followed them (except for possibly coaches Kuhlen and Alberts, and of course, Bill Bischoff).

I was there when they lost to Arapahoe. The Warriors happened to be better for just one night.

I was there when they lost to Giltner. The Hornets happened to be better for just one moment.

I said in jest at the Bronco Basketball Community Celebration that the shot by Brady’s Dakota Terry that won the game for the Lady Eagles in the district final over WP helped soften the blow when an almost identical play happened against the Broncs in the state championship game.But only part of that comment was in jest.

The buzzer-beating shot by Brady that knocked off the Lady Broncs was a true stunner — the very definition of a heartbreaker. For those who weren’t in Wallace to see it personally, it was one of the most gut-wrenching sports moments I can remember. I honestly felt sick after that game. Wau-Pal was the better team that night, and they should have made it to the state tournament. Seeing the girls gather with their district runner-up plaque after the game was an especially tough moment.

For them to bounce back the way they did during the season — running off a 16-4 winning streak which included subdistrict wins over a pair of talented teams from Wallace and Hitchcock County — it was hard to see them go out that way.

It was hard to see the boys lose on a last-second heave, too. But standing there in the Devaney Center, while the boys were reeling from their agonizing loss, I couldn’t get the Lady Broncs’ district final game out of my head. It was the girls’ game against Brady that helped serve as a reminder to me that anything is possible in basketball.

And as tough as it was to be on the wrong side of both of those losses, each moment seemed to encapsulate the excitement of the entire season in the blink of an eye.

The mere fact that it took buzzer-beaters (with 1.6 and 1.7 seconds remaining, respectively, remember) to end both the Broncs’ and Lady Broncs’ seasons is miraculous in itself.

And suddenly I’m reminded why we play sports in the first place. It’s not about always being a winner. It’s about feeling the emotions of the game. It’s about capturing the adrenaline. It’s about catching that “runner’s high” that we all yearn to feel.

It’s also about performing with dignity and class even when your opponents choose to taunt. Capturing the Sportsmanship Award speaks volumes about the character of the people from Wauneta and Palisade and how they expect their school, and their own children, to carry themselves.

I’d like to repeat what I said at the end of my speech at the Bronco Basketball Community Celebration for those of you who weren’t there to hear it. Here it goes:

When I moved to Nebraska, many people here told me it wouldn’t be long before I began to bleed Husker red, even though they were fully aware of my Missouri roots and Tiger fandom.

And although I’m yet to fully embrace Husker Nation (give it a little more time), I’m proud to say I’ll bleed Wau-Pal Bronco Blue and Red for the rest of my days.

Thank you to the Bronco Boosters for putting on such a good-spirited event at the community celebration. Thank you for the wonderful dinner and the opportunity to make a fool out of myself in front of a large crowd.

Congratulations to coaches Dave Kuhlen, Roger Lauhead, Seth Alberts, Kathryn Pruter and all the Bronco and Lady Bronco players on a pair of outstanding seasons. Thank you to the student managers, bookkeepers, referees and fans that made this basketball season one that nobody in Wauneta or Palisade, including myself, will ever forget.

 

JOSH SUMNER is the managing editor of the Wauneta Breeze. Contact him via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .