PORTSMOUTH — New Boston boys coach Adam Cox pictures in his mind Malachi Potts receiving and holding up the “Gold Ball”.
Wheelersburg girls coach Dusty Spradlin said his sole seniors are missing out on memories.
And, Notre Dame girls coach J.D. McKenzie — speaking for his five seniors —said it was their moment to shine.
Instead, unfortunately, when the Southern Ohio Conference canceled its March 17 annual all-star basketball games, all the 2020 team champions and individual honorees are left with thoughts of what would have been.
In a long-standing SOC tradition, the basketball all-star games feature the four division champions being honored with receiving a “Gold Ball” championship trophy — and individual players and coaches receiving plaques for first-team, second-team and Player and Coach of the Year awards.
However, amid the threat of the coronavirus and in conjunction with Ohio’s schools-closure directive from Governor Mike DeWine, this season’s SOC all-star games and activities were canceled — and unlikely to be rescheduled.
It’s the first time anyone with any recent memory can remember the all-star games getting canceled, and it begs the question of how to present the “Gold Ball” to teams and all-league plaques to players.
While ideas on possible recognition ceremonies or assemblies in the future vary, it still doesn’t take away the disappointment the programs and players feel about not having their moment among their peers.
“It (all-star ceremony) is something we really wanted to have. We watched Eastern (2018 and 2019 SOC I champions) get the trophy while we finished second both times. I picture in my mind Malachi Potts and Marcus Saunders and Blake Grant out there holding up that trophy. The SOC does a nice job with the all-star games and presenting the trophies and plaques, and our kids were excited about getting those. It was a big thing for our program and our New Boston community. I picture the facial expressions and smiles of our players once they get their hands on it,” said Cox. “We will eventually get it, and we’re not surprised and certainly understand why it was canceled, and our main concern is for everybody’s health and safety. It’s just heartbreaking for somebody like Malachi who went from last-place and no SOC wins as a freshman to first-place and no SOC losses as a senior. He deserved to have his last night of basketball be the SOC all-star game and holding up that trophy.”
Potts was one of three seniors — along with Marcus Saunders and Blake Grant — who were part of the Tigers’ team which won its first SOC I championship since the 1996-97 campaign, as this season’s league title was the first outright for New Boston in almost half-a-century (1970-71).
“Being at New Boston, winning the SOC is not something that is common. This year, we won it, but without the actual hardware in hand, it feels like winning a million dollars but not receiving the actual check. It hurts,” said Potts. “I just wanted my last basketball game to be in the SOC all-star game and be able to hold that trophy. We lost during our freshmen season like it was our job, but we worked hard to turn the program around, starting with winning in the SOC. We worked hard to win the league championship and it was our first team goal. It would have been a great last farewell for Marcus, Blake and I.”
The Tigers, along with the Notre Dame Lady Titans, both went 14-0 in the SOC I —as Notre Dame’s seniors never lost an SOC game in four years.
In fact, the Lady Titans’ titanic SOC I winning streak spans over 70 games and six years — almost 80 to be exact.
McKenzie feels bad most for this season’s seniors — Lauren Campbell, Paetyn Collins, Cassie Schaefer, Taylor Schmidt and Olivia Smith — for they won’t have an opportunity to enjoy the moment like groups past.
That fivesome was also part of the Lady Titans’ first-ever regional runner-up squad, as Notre Dame defeated Peebles in the Division IV regional semifinals.
Both New Boston (Kyle Sexton POY, Jerome McKinley Defensive POY and Adam Cox COY) and Notre Dame (Ava Hassel POY, Taylor Schmidt Defensive POY and J.D. McKenzie COY) also completed clean sweeps of the SOC I awards.
“It’s their moment. We work hard all year to try and repeat as SOC champions and receive the ‘Gold Ball’. When we haven’t won it, we make sure we watch the champion celebrate and use that as motivation for the next year. Kids in the SOC have a goal to win the ‘Gold Ball’ and put it in the school’s trophy case,” said McKenzie. “It is nice recognition with the all-star game and plaques, especially for the seniors. It’s a real nice event the SOC puts on, and it’s disappointing we couldn’t do that this year. It means quite a bit to be honored along with your teammates in front of your peers. But we understand there’s much more important things in the world right now. We want to get back to normal, but we want everybody to be healthy first and foremost.”
McKenzie, who also coaches the Notre Dame softball program and is principal of NDHS, was asked about the possibility of the conference conducting a banquet minus the all-star games —located at one singular site.
That, of course, would be dependent upon all Ohio schools —both public and private — returning to in-person sessions starting Monday, May 4.
For football, there are two separate SOC awards ceremonies — as the two division champions (SOC I and SOC II) play host.
McKenzie said such a situation is more likely than the entire 17-school conference joining together for one night.
“The SOC doesn’t have anything on the table as far as that goes right now,” he said. “The schools which won, once we go back to school, may have their own assemblies and recognize their award winners that way, but as for this year, there isn’t any event set to recognize all the champions and all-league honorees in one place.”
For the Wheelersburg Pirates, that would be ideal — given their girls and boys teams swept the SOC II crowns.
With Eastern entering the SOC II, the Lady Pirates posted a perfect 16-0 league mark, while Wheelersburg’s boys amounted a 15-1 tally —exacting a measure of revenge on Waverly in overtime to clinch at least a share of this season’s championship.
It was the Pirates’ second straight title, and first conference crowns in boys basketball since 2011 — as the Lady Pirates have now won six of the last eight on their side.
“Our team was excited about winning the league again, and with that goes getting publicly recognized at the all-star games. The communities want to see those teams get recognized. It’s a special opportunity for these kids, for winning the SOC in basketball is not easy. It’s tough to miss out on that this year, and it’s a lot of hard work to win the SOC, but there are much bigger issues going on right now with public health,” said Wheelersburg boys coach Steven Ater. “It’s possible that the teams that won it can have their own public ceremony at some point. Maybe our boys and girls teams have theirs at the same time. I am confident these kids will get publicly recognized at some time, but at the right time.”
Spradlin concurred, but did express sadness for his two Lady Pirate seniors — Lani Irwin and Brittani Wolfenbarker.
“That’s the biggest thing. Getting that ‘Gold Ball’ again and being recognized by your peers and putting on that uniform one last time in the all-star game and taking all the pictures, those are memories that last a lifetime and you always look back on. It is a shame that Lani and Brittani both miss out on that opportunity this year. But postponing the event is what had to be done and it was the best thing to do and it was done for the right reasons,” said the coach. “But having that recognition gives kids, especially seniors, that closure on a season.”
Spradlin said and agreed with Ater about having some sort of public recognition ceremony, but until schools re-open, it’s all simply in the talking-to-planning stages.
“We will have a banquet on some sort of scale, we usually do. Right now, we have to wait and see,” he said. “The kids look forward to the all-star game and the ceremony for the ‘Gold Ball’ and their awards and all those memories with their teammates and friends. Hopefully, we’ll be back in school soon and these kids will be rightfully recognized.”
Once that happens, four schools will be represented receiving top honors — and actual and even mental pictures play out.
Spradlin and Ater, in guiding the Orange and Black to division championships, were named as the SOC II Coaches of the Year —with Kaylee Darnell of Wheelersburg for the girls and Trey Robertson of Waverly for the boys being tabbed as Players of the Year.
Caitlyn Brisker of Oak Hill was the SOC II Girls Defensive POY, while the boys Defensive POY was split three ways —between Wheelersburg’s Carter McCorkle, Minford’s Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis and Oak Hill’s Noah Donley.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved