In my career I have been lucky to witness some wonderful moments of triumph.
I have covered state champions in boys and girls track, in wrestling, football, baseball and golf. I watched a player set national records for home runs and walks issued in a career.
I have seen too many close calls at various state competitions to mention here. Each have been thrilling in their own way, but Monday’s win for the Perry boys basketball team — even if the Bluejays fail to win a game at state — will rank high in my memory.
The reasons are many.
First is the redemption the team achieved after being denied in overtime of the substate finals last season. Yes, a few players had graduated, but the main body of the team remained the same. To have the team win, 73-71, after enduring a heartbreaking 73-70 loss — both in overtime — added to the sweetness.
Secondly is who the win came against. Glenwood is a fine team with some very talented players, but those players were taking dives at every opportunity. I had not seen so much flopping since watching a net full of salmon dumped on the deck of a fishing boat on some documentary. Add in a propensity to whine over every call and it was easy to see who any neutral fan at the game would have to be rooting for.
A shame, really, as the talent of the Rams is enough that they need not have acted so. I was warned ahead of time by media friends familiar with the Hawkeye 10 conference about Glenwood’s reputation for such actions and I am sad to say they were, in my opinion, correct.
However, the Rams are very young and hopefully they will grow out of it — they are too good to have played that way, although, to their credit, if it was their intentional game plan, it very nearly worked. Everyone I have dealt with at the school has been pleasant and helpful, so I am hopeful this experience was an outlier, as I expect it was.
Third was the officiating. I was lambasted, berated and nearly skinned alive by ADM partisans after complaining about the sorry state of the officiating in Perry’s loss to the Tigers in their Jan. 5 game.
However, the substate final was much the same, and numerous neutral observers agreed. Many approached me at the half and after the game to say “Perry didn’t get a call all night” or some version of such. There is no need to break down every call — if you were there, or happen to see video of the game, you will, in my opinion, come to the same conclusion.
The fourth was the boys themselves. They have worked hard, overcome some difficult off-court distractions they were not responsible for creating, and have answered every challenge. Glenwood took every punch Perry could land Monday, but in the end it was the Bluejays that had the little ‘extra’ it took to secure the win. That the team showed the mental strength and maturity not to react to the emotions of several head-scratching calls — something they were not doing earlier this season — also made Monday’s win that much sweeter.
Finally, the win was extra special because of the coaching. Ned Menke, the Character Counts Coach of the Year, is as great a guy as you will encounter. To see him guide this team to state is special. It is a special moment for assistant coaches Adam Bloom and Jim Prombo, too, but for long-time assistant Jim Richmond it must be extra delicious. Richmond began coaching basketball 31 years ago at Central Dallas (Minburn) before coming to Perry in 1990. It is his first trip to the state tourney, and his emotional reaction on the floor after the game reminded all who spoke with him that the players are not the only ones dreaming of a trip to the state tourney.
What a season it has been for Menke. He will be taking his first team to the state tourney in the same year his alma mater, South O’Brien, will be playing in the Class 1A tournament. His wife, Meg, is an Osage graduate, and the Green Devils qualified this year for both the boys and girls tournaments. Not bad.
Perry (15-9) earned the seventh-seed and is paired against two-seed Pella (22-1). They will meet Tuesday at 8:15 p.m. The Dutch will be the toughest challenge the Jays will have faced this year, but there will be plenty of time to talk about the match-ups and strategies — for now, it is time to slow down and make sure this week does not go by too fast, to enjoy the moment and soak it all in.
I had been confident last year that the Bluejays would “make me drive to Des Moines” to cover their last game(s) of the season. I am sorry it did not work out that way, but having to wait only one year to attend the state tourney has turned out to be just fine.
The Observant Reader will, no doubt, not mind if I indulge myself one more time in typing the words I have waited to tap out since coming to Perry in 2005: The Bluejays are going to the state tournament.
That was sweet. One more time: The Bluejays are going to the state tournament.