Sunday, June 05, 2005

Top 10 athletic moments/achievements

Okay, this post has been a long time in the works, and will start (hopefully) a series of "top 10" posts in the coming days and weeks.

In a conversation with Chris Richardson, I first had the idea for this topic. He was mentioning to me about a particular athletic achievement of his, and it got me to thinking: What are my favorite moments or accomplishments?

So, without further adieu, here are my favorite moments and greatest accomplishments throughout 24-plus years of being an athlete.

10. Teeing off

This is only on here because it - combined with Richardson - got me thinking of what achievements could be on this list. While at the driving range the other day with Tara, I pulled a Babe Ruth. Granted, I wasn't getting paid to hit this shot, and I wasn't facing a crafty pitcher with sandpaper in his glove, and I hadn't hit a respectable shot all day, and I wasn't under any pressure, but I still enjoyed it. After hitting a number of balls, I had one left. I point to the 150-yard sign at Ghetto Ponds and said I could hit it in one shot. As Tara looked on, I took her trusty 3-iron and sent the ball straight toward my goal as I threw my hands up in the air. The sign, which sits on a downward slope of about 30 degrees, stands approximately 3 feet high and has about 1 feet of space between the core of the sign and the ground. My ball bounced twice and came to a rest right beneath the sign, just as I had predicted. Let's move on to less gay stuff now.

9. The Half

Sure, its just intramurals, but it was still one of the best halves of basketball I've ever played. Okay, maybe not played...but I was lights out from beyond the arc. It was this past spring, and the Huggy Bears found themselves down by 20-plus points. It didn't look good. One of the officials - Joel Youngblood - made a quick reference to Patrick Beilein, uttering the statement "Chuck McGill: Instant Offense." The vote of confidence from a supposedly impartial official ignited my streaky shooting touch. After the first in-bounds, I stopped and launched a high-arcing shot from 23-feet away, hitting nothing but net. The 3 was the first of five I would hit in the half, only missing once (the sixth attempt) while leading the Huggy Bears to within 4 points. It's been a long time since I've been in the zone to that extent, and thats why the five long bombs crack the top 10. Hey, I said less gay, not free of gayness.

8. My first start

In Little League, I was mainly an infielder until my fifth grade season. I had played a lot of first base, but then I shifted to shortstop and a little bit of catcher. While warming up before one of the games, I was tossing with the regular catcher. I kept popping his mit, which was a manly thing to do as an 11-year old. Regardless, my efforts to impress worked, as the catcher (a year older than me) signaled to the coach (my Dad) that maybe I should pitch once in a while. The next game, my father called my number to start. I gave up only a couple of runs, while striking out 10 in 4 innings to get the win. It didn't change my life - but I still have the ball from that game. Too bad there weren't any scouts there to see my Prior-esque performance. Of course, we all know what happened to Henry in Rookie of the Year.

7. Coach McGill

While it isn't an achievement brought upon my personal athletic prowess, my 4-year reign as a fifth and sixth grade basketball coach is a must for this list. My squad - the Green Team (or Team McGill) - went 4-4 its first year, and stumbled through the other three years as my cousin Josh and I coached up these 11 and 12 year olds. Winning was a priority, but I absolutely loved coaching and practice. I still see and talk to some of my old players - and they remain a central part in why I chose to get into education. Oh, and the losses were Josh's fault.

6. Watt Powell

As a ninth-grader, I made the Kanawha Central All Star team (as naturally I would). In a second round game in the consolation bracket, I approached the plate for my first at-bat in Watt Powell Park. This was the same park in which I watched future major leaguers like Pokey Reese, Dan Wilson, Trevor Hoffman and Tim Pugh. In my first plate appearance, I took a fastball up in my wheelhouse and drove it into centerfield for a base hit. It was perfect. Unfortunately, I never hit a passing train beyond the right field wall.

5. Qualifying for States

As a junior at DuPont, I played No. 1 singles for the tennis team. In our final year in AAA, our team headed down to Beckley for regional competition. At No. 1 singles, our region would send four players to the state tournament, where 16 top players would compete for the state championship. I think I had around a .500 record that year, playing very stiff competition. In the tournament, I continued my unlucky draws by meeting up with Woodrow Wilson's top seed, Andrew Haught. The towering - and intimidating - Haught expected to find himself easily in the state tournament. That's before he ran the tennis version of Cinderella Man. I hung tight in the early stages of the match, simply holding serve and trying to find a way to break his mammoth serves that were blitzing by me left and right. Then, there was "the shot." It is perhaps my finest shot, if not my most significant shot in my tennis career. I slide on the grainy court and took a backhand stab on a drop shot of his. The ball nipped the net and fell harmlessly in for a winner. I ended up - while playing very tight and nervous - capturing the win 8-6 to advance to the state tournament. Haught was pissed, and threw stuff. I became the first DuPontian to qualify for the states since Becky Markham in the 1980s, and the first male in DuPont's history. You could also say our school was never good at tennis, but whatever.

4. "21"

Okay, not an achievement in the least, but it is the greatest game ever invented. There are variations of "21" all around the world, but my Dad brought me up on his version in order to emphasize the importance of great - not merely good - free throw shooting. Additionally, "21" was often played one-on-one, so from the time I was 9 or 10, I had to take it to the hoop every single possession against a 40-year old man who had no shame in swatting my ball all over the hills of the West Side. We still play the game to this date (he won three in a row from me in his last trip to Morgantown). As a freshman at WVU, one of my best friends - Joey Efaw - and I would play for hours on end at the Towers courts. You see, in "21," you have to hit it right on 21. Therefore, if you hit a 2-pointer when you have 18 points, or if you hit a free throw at 19 points to go to 20, you have to hit the next free throw or you will start over at 1 point. Prior to Efaw, I would sometimes go for it on 19, and sometimes would miss intentionally so I could just get a 2 on my next possession. But Efaw always, always went for it. Now, that's what I do, in honor of him (he passed away 3 years ago). So, in any list revolving around sports, "21" has to be mentioned. It was the foundation for me in both the fundamentals of sports, and competition.

3. The Bream Team

Ahh, yes. We were legendary. From third grade to sixth grade, we went against the grain and ditched our school teams in order to play in the Church leagues. Our school hated us, and J.E. Robins hardly won a game. But me, Chris Hudson, Justin Phillips, Mike Whitaker, Justin Moore, etc., dominated the Church leagues for four seasons. It almost wasn't fair. Sure, the First Presby's and Morris Memorials and St. Marks were good, but our teams always won. Well, almost. We went 63-1 in my four years, and our only loss was to Baptist Temple in my sixth grade year. However, it was later found that they were using an ineligible player, and we were awarded the game. We ended up playing Baptist Temple again in the championship game, this time without their star player, and we cruised to a fourth straight title. I wore rec specs, so I was the coolest.

2. No-hitter/Near upset

In 9th grade, I pulled a Bo Jackson and played baseball and tennis at the same time. I mean at the same time. I would go to tennis practice from 3-5, then head to baseball practice from 5-7. It was tiring. One day, I had a game and a match just an hour apart. Although I lost the tennis match, I wasn't supposed to even challenge the No. 1 seed from Andrew Jackson, but I gave him a run for his money. In fact, I had a break point on his down 5-4, and blew it. After the valiant effort, I traveled back to DuPont City for my game. I changed in the parking lot, stepped on the mound, and promptly threw a no-hitter. It was a good day. I no longer had the rec specs, though.

1. The rise of DuPont tennis

Okay. This one might seem a bit egotistical, but I've always been the most proud of bringing success to DuPont. I started playing in eighth grade, and in ninth grade, Davey Lamm joined the junior high team. That gave me a partner. I went on to high school, played doubles while I paid my dues as a sophomore, then took over No. 1 seed as a junior. On the team was a talented sophomore by the name of Chad Hudnall. He was the most athletic and most gifted of us all. I always convinced my best friend Greg Pennington to join the team after he did not play as a sophomore. He got very good, very quickly. I started taking private lessons after 9th grade, and Davey soon followed. Prior to my junior year, I encouraged my head coaches to set up a clinic at the Players Club in Charleston. It was illegal, but we had to do something to gain an edge. For a month prior to the start of official practice, we would coincidentally gather as a team at the Players Club and receive group lessons. It was so beneficial. But with me and Davey, then Greg, and then Chad coming in from Cedar Grove Junior High, we had an awesome quartet by my senior year. I played 1, Chad 2, Greg 3, and Davey 4, when in all actuality we could've swapped at any position. In fact, there was absolutely no difference between No. 1 doubles (me and Greg) and No. 2 doubles (Chad and Davey). That gave us six solid positions to compete with more established tennis programs. Man were we good. It was the best time of my life. In those two months, we beat people we weren't supposed to, and raised eyebrows everywhere we went. We almost won our regional over Charleston Catholic, and had we been able to snatch one more victory from somewhere in the region (Greg and I lost a very winnable match in the semifinals of doubles), we could've taken home the trophy in DuPonts last year. We sent several to the state tournament, and finished ranked No. 8 in AA/A, which includes all the private and catholic schools, as well as perenial powerhouse Williamstown. All in all, this was my finest athletic achievement. Not so much for my personal accomplishments, because they weren't incredible feats by themselves, but for the building of a program. I'm not sure I'll ever do anything - or be a part of anything - that was as great as helping build that team into one of the finest in the state.


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