This time of year always brings back memories for me.
My high school football team was barely good enough to win a game (and in the case of my senior year, it wasn’t even good enough to do that), meaning that the Friday night lights had long since been turned off for the final time.
Thus, our top athletes had migrated inside to our bandbox of a gymnasium, preparing for the upcoming basketball season.
I never so much as tried out, knowing that our coach likely would have cursed me for wasting his and everyone else’s time as a 5-foot-10 point guard who couldn’t shoot, pass, dribble or defend very well — if at all. But I remember watching either from the bleachers or the filming area high above the floor as our coach barked out instructions, pushing players up to their very limit.
The sound of squeaking shoes and bouncing basketballs reverberated throughout the building, occasionally broken by the shill shriek of our coach’s ever-present whistle.
But embedded in those sounds was a sense of optimism from players and coaches alike. Though we were far from a powerhouse — we went 5-17 when I was a sophomore, and narrowly won a play-in game against a one-win squad just to make it to the double-elimination round of the state tournament — there was always the feeling that we had the pieces necessary to make a run at a region title and possibly the state title that had eluded our program since the mid-1970s.
(They still haven’t won one since then.)
The same optimism no doubt reigns supreme this week as prospective players for the boys and girls teams at Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville take to the court and coaches look to put together the best squad possible out of their collection of talent.
In a small, tight-knit town like the one I grew up in, the optimism also can bleed over into the student body and the community as a whole.
When you got us on the road, our team was decidedly inconsistent. We could beat the Class 4A champion from Colorado on its home floor one night, only to lose to a middle-of-the-pack Class 2A Utah team the next. But get us in front of our home crowd in our packed, tiny gym? That same team that beat us by 20 at their place would lose to us by 15 at ours.
That extra support from our community allowed us to go 15-1 at home my last two years. They didn’t care that we couldn’t win a game in Kamas or Nephi, and regularly struggled in Blanding and Manti. When we were in Moab, we were the biggest show in town — and our fans let us know it.
Those were more than just games. They felt like genuine community events.
Our three local schools deserve the same thing. When it comes right down to it, what more is there to do in Tooele, Grantsville and Stansbury Park (as well as points beyond and in between) on a cold winter’s night?
Why not support our local youth and make them feel like there’s something special about stepping onto their home court? That kind of support can help boost a mediocre team into a good team. It can also make a good team into a great team as they feed off the energy in the gym.
So, come in out of the cold and enjoy some basketball this winter — and, in the process, make it an even more fun experience for the players.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He has logged more miles on school buses traveling through rural Utah than he cares to think about. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.