Column: Line Drives — Four years hold special memories

[This is my column in the June 30 issue of The Commercial Review.]

Four years.

Saturday marks four years as sports editor of The Commercial Review.

I didn’t expect to be here this long.

No, that’s not to say I don’t want to still be here — I do — nor am I on my way out the door.

If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to stay for a while longer.

I just never thought I’d hit four years.

I thought I’d put in a year or two and move on. It’s the epitome of small-town, community journalism — get a foot in the door, gain experience, go elsewhere.

But I don’t want to.

And I’m glad I haven’t.

It’d be hard for me to imagine not being around to see the culmination of the high school athletic careers of four local athletes.

Four years ago I came to Portland not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Four years later, the class of 2017 is the first group of student-athletes I’ve gotten to cover all the way through high school.

There are four in particular whose careers have stuck out the most.

Caleb Martin
Fort Recovery

In 2014, Fort Recovery football coach Brent Niekamp took a chance on a sophomore quarterback for the second time in as many seasons.

martyMartin and the Indians made school history by reaching the playoffs for the first time. He threw for nearly 1,600 yards and tossed a dozen touchdown passes in the process.

The following year was his breakout season. He led the Indians to the 2015 Division VII state title, throwing for more than 2,400 yards with 22 TDs. He set Division VII state championship game records for pass attempts (39), completions (25), passing yards (385) and passing touchdowns (five).

His performance on Dec. 4, 2015, as well as at the numerous camps he attended during the summer, resulted in him earning an NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Toledo.

Last fall, the Indians weren’t able to recreate the magic from the previous year. They advanced to the regional final, but lost to Minster, the eventual state runner-up.

Martin helped put Tribe football on the map.

Jay Houck
Jay County

So close, yet so far away.

houckOn Jan. 21 at Southern Wells in Poneto, Houck drained the second of two free throws to reach 1,000 career points. In 40 years of Jay County basketball, he was just the third to hit the milestone.

Houck next set his sights on breaking 2013 graduate Brock McFarland’s school record of 1,177 career points. Five games into the year he was well on that pace, averaging 20-plus points per game, including what would be his season-high of 33 points.

But then his scoring total dipped a bit as he was limited to single-digits in two of his next eight games as well as the final two contests he’d ever play.

Houck closed his career at 1,127 points, 28 fewer than Dan Ferrell and 50 shy of McFarland’s total. Finishing third on the all-time scoring list was a disappointment for Houck, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

“It would have been cool to be the all-time leader,” Houck said in March. “But I just wanted to win and have fun with my teammates.”

Bailey McIntire
South Adams

Starfire cross country and track coach Clint Anderson has never been shy about saying he knew McIntire was elite the day he got to high school.

He just didn’t have a clue at exactly how elite McIntire would become.

5-26 BaileyIn four years, McIntire left his mark on the school record books and throughout the state.

He earned two cross country state medals — he was 11th as a junior and sixth as a senior — was a Hoosier State Relays state champion in the 3,200-meter run in March and earlier this month placed fourth in the state in the same event outdoors.

McIntire, who will run next season for Purdue University, holds the Starfire record in cross country (15 minutes, 24.81 seconds) and owns three individual track records. He has the best times in the 800 run (1:59.1), 1,600 run (4:19.97) and 3,200 (9:10.42), all of which are likely to stand for quite some time.

He blazed a path from the moment he transferred to South Adams from Cowan.

Morgan Alberson
South Adams

I love a good comeback story, and Alberson is the epitome of one.

As a freshman, I was on the diamond shooting pictures as Alberson fractured the C7 vertebrae at the base of her neck.

morganFour months later I was there as she returned to the volleyball court for the Starfires.

What she’s been able to do since is nothing short of impressive.

Alberson helped lead South Adams to back-to-back sectional titles on both the volleyball court and softball diamond. During the 2016-17 school year, both teams won regional titles, the second in as many years for the softball squad.

Need a good reaction shot from a Starfire?

Just focus on Alberson. She’s full of emotion and not afraid to show it. More often than not, during those championship runs, she was the focus when attempting to get photos.

And if not for a scary incident as a freshman — and a speedy recovery — none of those moments may have ever happened.

••••••••••

Call me selfish, but I’m glad I’ve stuck around to watch the careers of these four student-athletes — as well as a host of others — come to fruition. I’m fortunate to have been able to see them succeed on the field, court and track with my eyes and through my camera as well as being able to write about their accomplishments.

My original thought of staying for a couple years and going elsewhere would have never allowed me the chance to see Martin, Houck, McIntire and Alberson excel in their respective sports as they have.

I’m four years in and I still love my job. It’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve stayed.

So here’s to perhaps another four years.

But it begs the question: Who will dominate next?

I can’t wait to see you.

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