Celebrating our state champions

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Euphoria, meaning "a feeling of vigor, well being or high spirits," is the perfect word to describe the mood of the Cassville community this week. On Friday, the Wildcat football team claimed the Class 3 state football championship and their victory seems to have invigorated the entire town.

Football has always been a vital part of this community. On Friday nights during football season, fans fill the stands at Wildcat Stadium to overflowing, and this past Friday, it seemed as if all of those loyal followers made the trek to St. Louis for the state championship game.

The game was exciting to watch with the Cassville squad prepared and focused from the opening kick-off. I have heard many people comment on the class shown by our players and coaching staff. There really was a professional feel to the way our team conducted themselves and handled the pressure of playing in such a huge venue. And I must admit I loved seeing our boys help their opponents up after each play, which is definitely something a mom looks for. The men in my life reminded me that those "hands-up" were always prefaced by big hits that knocked those Lions to the turf.

This year's football team started the season off playing in the shadow of their ranked rival to the north. Pre-season polls, in my opinion, underestimated Cassville's potential, but playing from the underdog position seemed to suit the Wildcats perfectly. After some setbacks, Cassville peaked at just the right time. As the string of victories started to mount, it began to seem possible that the Wildcats just might get the chance to play for the state title. This possibility became a reality, and Cassville took advantage of all the opportunities set before them to claim the championship in convincing fashion over a talented private school squad from St. Louis.

From my vantage point as editor, I have the opportunity to watch young people grow up as I cover their successes and accomplishments week after week. Although my boys are now Cassville High School graduates, they knew many members of this year's championship team and played side-by-side with several of them in various sports. This group has been a real pleasure to watch and cheer for over the years.

Team chemistry, big hearts, a will to win and just plain hard work are some of the qualities that have been attributed to this year's team. As one who frequents the YMCA, I saw several of the football players working out all summer and last spring in preparation for this fall's season. The majority of these players were seniors, and I was very impressed with their work ethic and willingness to put in extra hours to make themselves and their team better.

And speaking of seniors, it must be noted that teams rarely make it to state championship events without a strong group of senior leaders. This year's squad benefitted from the leadership of 15 seniors in all. This group of young men led by example and seemed able to inspire younger players to meet the challenges of playing at the varsity level and excel. I also think this team understood the importance of playing as a team. It seemed to me that the players took turns making big plays on different nights, which made for extra excitement and inspiration.

It is also important to recognize that the fundamental and underlying strengths of this team were laid out and developed by a talented and dedicated coaching staff. I ran into a few of the coaches in the days between the big state play-off games, and under all the smiles and excitement, you could see exhaustion etched on their faces. This group of men worked tirelessly to prepare their players for the next big game, and I'm sure got very little rest. I know they will tell you the lack of sleep was worth it, but we need to make sure we don't take their commitment for granted. Thank you coaches for all your hard work - you make us all proud.

In closing, let me congratulate all the parents who have supported their sons through the years, taking them to those early morning practices and putting thousands of miles on the family vehicle to cheer on your Wildcat. You should be proud of all your son has accomplished; he's a state champion after all. Remember that you played a big role in helping these players succeed, you are a big part of their success, and each and every one of you should relish every second of this special time.

Again, congratulations Wildcats - you've made the entire community of Cassville proud.