The eephus pitch
Sportmen of the year, a time to reflect on the best individuals De Soto High had to offer in 2008. And it wasn't easy.
What was easy was Andre Linzy's recognition as male athlete of the year. That was sort of a layup, given he also received the Lawrence Journal-World's all-area award.
But independent of that recognition, I did consider Jamell Townsend. In the end it was a question of who was more deserving of the two.
The reason for saying that - as you'll see with my justification for Barbara Hartz's recognition on the girl's side - is that Townsend excelled at all three sports he participated in. There is something to be said for a three-sport athlete when considering overall athletic achievements in a given school year.
He was the football team's go-to receiver, the pure athlete who when the team needed a big catch, it threw the ball up to Townsend and let him try to go get it.
Then in basketball, he averaged a double-double, pulling down 10.5 boards per game and putting up 12.2 points. That's pretty impressive for a junior.
And finally in track, he was Linzy's accomplice in success. He was consistently right behind Linzy in the distance-jumping events, and ran the third leg of the 400-meter relay team that qualified for state.
Both men were good teammates, too.
One of the things Linzy said he'd miss most about his De Soto days was Townsend cracking him up with comments about how he was going to out-perform Linzy. That motivated both athletes.
But in the end, you can't diminish Linzy's performance at the state track meet and his prowess on the basketball court. He was too much for opposing athletes to handle nearly every time he competed, regardless the sport.
With the girls, it was much harder. Eventually the choices were narrowed to four deserving athletes; Carly Stanley, Katie Williams, Jordin Burford and Hartz.
Stanley, a sophomore in 2007-2008, was a standout cross country runner, the top finisher for the Cats throughout most of the year including the league and regional meets. She struggled at state with a 31st-place finish, but was the brightest spot on a very young team.
And, as soccer coach Darren Erpelding said, she was the best player on the field for nearly every match. Despite playing defensive sweeper, she took over games late by busting up runs when other teams got desperate. Attackers couldn't get by her, and she was the soccer team's most valuable player.
Williams also excelled at two sports, basketball and softball. She was arguably the best pitcher for De Soto, posting a 1.44 earned-run average while striking out 80 and walking six. That's a 13.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, unheard of in high school. Good things are bound to be waiting for her down the road if maintains that sort of dominance.
And she provided an inside presence alongside Hartz on the hardwood as well.
Burford, like Hartz, was a three-sport athlete, so all other things being equal the logical decision was to narrow the candidates to two.
Burford received all-league honors in both softball and volleyball, which meant she was more decorated than Hartz, but the X-factors were the contributions each made in the sport in which they were least dominant, and their circumstances.
Hartz was a role player, mostly in practice for the De Soto volleyball team while Burford could be seen as the same. Not much help there.
Perhaps it was unfair to give recognition to one athlete. Maybe the right decision was to award female co-athletes of the year.
But circumstance is part of the playing field in athletics, especially in high school. Hartz came to the United States for her junior year, never having met the people she was staying with or students at the school she was attending. And she contributed significantly in every sport she was involved in, and, in the words of basketball coach Dwight Spencer she "was a very good teammate:never put herself ahead of the team."
So to the other three athletes who justifiably or not were snubbed by this dubious decision, there's always next year.