High School Sports

Prep Zone: Stevenson recalls scenes from high school athletics

My mind is a fountain of useless information.

Useless because there are facts and stories rolling around my cranium that will never solve any great societal issues. However, sports fans might find them mildly entertaining.

It might take me five minutes to come up with the name of someone I see at the gym, but I remember very well that six years ago Prairie Ridge pitcher Michael Heesch, now a Kane County Cougar, threw 67 pitches to beat Neuqua Valley in a Class 4A Baseball State Tournament semifinal game.

So here’s some minutiae off the top of my head. You can decide if it’s useless or interesting.

I remember:

• A Friday night in the 2001 football season when Crystal Lake South’s J.J. McDowell and McHenry’s Nick Guardyak both ran for 300 yards.

• A time the next spring when McDowell took a fastball flush in the mouth and was bleeding profusely, but did not fall to the ground.

• Prairie Ridge’s Robby Blackwood running clear and free in his leg of the 1999 Class AA 4x800 relay for the second-seeded Wolves’ team when he tripped on the 3-inch rail along the track at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.

Blackwood suffered a broken collarbone, but finished his leg, well behind the other runners.

The Wolves did not qualify. However, Blackwood, Kyle MacKenzie and Tyler Nicholson returned the next year to take second with Chris Morris. Mike Patterson never got that chance, he graduated.

Wolves assistant coach Jennifer Fuerholzer, tears flowing, hugged Patterson after that race, realizing he would not get a state medal. I always felt terrible for Patterson.

• Marian Central’s versatile John Hartlieb making it to the Class A State Track and Field Meet in the 110 high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles and shot put. After one shot put throw, Hartlieb heard the announcement to report to the 300 hurdles and started putting his sweats on. When another competitor asked where he was going, Hartlieb replied, “I’m going to do the hurdles. How come none of you are coming with me?”

• In 2001, Cary-Grove’s Kevin Cooper, who was always entertaining, had this to offer right after the basketball team knocked off Boylan for the Class AA Rockford College Sectional championship: “We wanted this to not be like the movie. We wanted nobody to ‘Remember the Titans.’ ”

• Marian Central girls track coach Tom Van Daele played the part of USA gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, while Hurricanes sprinter Katie Conway was Kerri Strug in the 1998 Class AA State Meet. Conway could barely run the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay with a foot injury, but figured she could gut it out for the team.

After their preliminary race, in which the Hurricanes qualified, Van Daele met Conway at the finish line, scooped her up and carried her to the training room. Karolyi had done something similar in the Olympics with Strug after her vault attempt.

Marian took eighth the next day, making all of Conway’s pain worth it.

• In the 1997 Class 4A football playoffs, Johnsburg quarterback Bruce Carpenter gathered his team together with about 1:30 remaining against Rantoul and said, “This is what legends are made of.” The Skyhawks promptly drove down and scored in four plays for a 20-16 victory, their first playoff win in school history.

Years later, Carpenter said it was a corny line. I disagree. If I had been standing in that huddle, I would have been wildly inspired.

• On a Saturday afternoon in 2000, Crystal Lake Central’s Scott Mueller was smoking hot, hitting nine 3-pointers and scoring 46 points in a 98-92 overtime victory at Prairie Ridge. On one trip back to play defense, after missing a 3, Mueller apologized to Tigers coach Jay Sargeant.

Later, Sargeant laughed: “He apologized for missing and I said, ‘You have 40 points, keep shooting.’ ”

• When Marengo moved to the Big Eight Conference in the early 1990s, an instant rivalry was created with Burlington Central in boys basketball. After their first game, late Marengo coach Bill Barry said, “What’d you think of that coach?”

Burlington coach Dave Gilliland’s histrionics were entertaining, from flopping on the floor to yelling at opposing players about to shoot. Yet through the years, Barry and Gilliland became closer and eventually were good friends.

Their teams provided some outstanding games. And when Barry died in 2008 after a bout with Parkinson’s disease, Gilliland attended the visitation and brought a basketball with flowers.

• Barry sitting at midcourt, in a wheelchair, with no one else near him, in January 2008 when the gym was named in his honor. He beamed and gave a little fist pump to “On Marengo” while the fans gave him a standing ovation. It was a perfect moment.

Barry died six weeks later.

• In 1999, Woodstock’s Laura Valldeperas, who had taken third in the Class AA long jump the previous year, fouled three times in her preliminary flight and did not make the finals. Valldeperas sat, shoeless, her feet in a sand pit for several minutes until Jacobs’ jumper Suzette Rose came to console her.

Rose said she told Valldeperas not to worry, that she would go on and do many greater things in life and that moment would some day seem trivial. What a great message.

• McHenry’s first football playoff victory in school history came with a lucky bounce and some creativity in 1991. The Warriors had the ball first against Jefferson in overtime and scored, but the snap was high and bounced off the frozen ground. Kicker Stacy Dadian grabbed the ball and fullback Mike Gonzales, blocking on the end, released to catch the two-point conversion.

McHenry, which had outplayed Jefferson all night, held off the J-Hawks two-point attempt for a 29-27 victory.

• In 2000, McHenry sophomore Jim Ernst grabbed a rebound of a missed free throw with less than 2 seconds remaining and fired a 70-foot shot to beat Marian Central at the buzzer, 78-77.

• In 2000, Prairie Ridge won its first Class AA regional baseball championship and the players, wanting to unify, had not spoken to the media all season. Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro didn’t particularly like it, but respected their effort to do something together.

However, after winning the title, Pecoraro said, “The heck with this, we just won a regional.” He pulled players over and they spoke about their part in school history.

• There are fresher memories from the 2013-14 school year, like Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney’s late-game heroics against Crystal Lake South and Cary-Grove.

And Huntley’s Amanze Egekeze finishing his illustrious career with a dunk in a sectional loss to Auburn.

And Prairie Ridge’s Tim Jablonsky’s pinch-hit grand slam in a supersectional win against Mundelein. C’mon, a pinch-hit grand slam? You can’t make stuff like that up!

• So, I look forward to more useless/entertaining nuggets to cram into my brain this year. The beauty of this job is they can happen at anytime. Even games that may not seem that consequential can provide some special snapshots for later on.

My trivia-filled noggin is proof.

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at joestevenson@shawmedia.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.

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