Salute to winter state champions

By Observer editorial March 29, 2010 01:56 pm
Triumph and heartbreak are the key ingredients in the heady brew of a high school sports season. They give flavor to the long, long months  of  practice and travel and competition.

Local athletes had their share of both in the basketball and wrestling seasons just past. In the state finals, there were champions and near-champions. Some youngsters celebrated joyously after reaching the pinnacle, and others grieved for falling just a little short.

And, oh, what a time it was. For triumph, nothing matches Imbler’s 66-37 win over Griswold in the Oregon Class 1A championship basketball final in Baker City. With the victory, the Lady Panthers achieved a goal they’d been working toward since they were fifth-graders playing AAU hoops. To make the triumph sweeter still, they were perfect on the season, 26 wins against no losses.

These girls weren’t the only local athletes collecting state championship hardware as the final curtain fell. Still others emerging triumphant at the end of the long winter season were wrestlers A.J. Plummer of Imbler, and Dylan McCallum of La Grande.
Plummer, a 119-pounder, capped his season by pinning Culver’s Ryan Kasch in a state title match in Portland. Plummer wrestled undefeated on the tournament and ended his season with a 30-4 record, huge accomplishments for a junior competing in one of the most demanding high school sports of all.

McCallum, one of eight La Grande High School wrestlers to advance to the Class 4A tournament, won gold with a 7-5 decision over North Marion’s Jake Stigall. The 112-pounder triumphed in all four of his state tourney matches, and profited by more than a medal. As a champion, he gets to represent Oregon in a prestigious post-season dual meet with California wrestlers.

 For heartbreak in the basketball season, nothing matches La Grande’s 56-47 loss to Central in the Class 4A boys title tilt in Corvallis. It would be hard to find a basketball team that worked harder this year, and it seems a shame it was denied glory in the end.

The La Grande boys went 0-5 in the first weeks of the 2009-10 season, and were 2-7 when they opened Old Oregon League play. From there, the story took on a fairy tale aspect, with the unlikely local heroes going 13-1 in their next 14 games. They beat Tillamook and Henley in the first two rounds of state before falling in the final. Is there anything so heartbreaking as a fairy tale with an unhappy ending?

But, cest la vie. Win or lose, Union County teams and individuals notched fantastic performances as they reached for the top this winter.

Those who made it and those who almost did deserve cheers for their efforts, and thanks for the excitement they stirred in our hearts.