Turning Points

This is graduation weekend for Maryville High School.  My son, Sam, will be part of the 2018 class.  Sam wasn’t an impact athlete, but Maryville High School and its coaches and his teammates helped provide Sam with some great experiences over the last four years.

Football has been especially successful.  Coming off a state championship when Sam was an eighth grader, everyone thought another state championship was just on the horizon.  After all, the Spoofhounds had beaten Ezekiel Elliot’s team the year before.

After rolling through the MEC again, Oak Grove came out of nowhere to beat Maryville in the quarterfinal game.  The same thing happened at Odessa the next year.  Great teams and great experiences, but not the ultimate goal.

Going into Sam’s junior year, the Spoofhounds looked like the monsters of Class 3 football in Missouri.  After all, how many Class 3 teams have over 20 seniors.  There were so many great players on that team, it was hard to imagine a loss.

However, that’s why they play the game.  In the state championship game, Maryville had almost as many turnovers as they had the whole season combined.  Another great experience for Sam as a manager, but still the season ended in disappointment.

Who knew that the football team Sam’s senior year would be the team that shocked the whole community.  It isn’t that we didn’t expect success.  Coach Matt Webb always told anyone that would listen that tradition never graduates.  That’s true, but over 20 seniors did graduate.

The first MEC loss in years occurred in Chillicothe.  In fact, the Spoofhounds didn’t even score.  After a couple of rebound wins, the team traveled to Smithville and the unthinkable occurred.  Not only was Maryville beaten, but the last minutes were played with a running clock.  It sure looked like the graduation losses would be just too much to overcome.

There are certain people and certain moments that provide turning points.  Sam still traveled with the football team as a manager.  However, he only did jobs on game day.  The coaches could have told him to get lost.  Just the opposite happened.

Coach Webb allowed Sam to travel with the team.  One person who I will always be grateful for is the offensive coordinator, Matt Houchin.  It started in junior high when Sam went to Coach Houchin to tell him he wasn’t going to play anymore.  Sam thanked Coach Houchin for the opportunity.  Matt later told me not many players that quit thank him.

All four years in high school, Coach Houchin always took time for Sam.  It was something he didn’t have to do.  It was something he probably didn’t even think about.  Despite that, what he did for Sam had a huge impact.

Something else happened about the time Smithville was beating Maryville, knocking them out of the hunt for a conference championship.  After most games, players get together for pictures.  That’s especially true for the seniors.  Sam always hung back from these pictures, not thinking he was a part of the team.

One Saturday morning, Sam and I went to breakfast at Gray’s Restaurant.  Betty Reuter and her senior son, Jacob, were having breakfast.  Betty stopped Sam and told him to get on the field and be part of the pictures.  Jacob, an outstanding fullback and linebacker, could have ignored what his mother was saying.  Instead, he agreed and asked Sam to be part of the pictures.

Sam did what Betty and Jacob asked.  He started hanging around after wins.  Pictures showed up Facebook with the football players and Sam.  I could see he was feeling like he was part of the team.

The first turning point that I will never forget was the way Nathan Powell, the defensive coordinator, and Matt Webb devised a defense to stop Diego Bernard, the elusive Lafayette quarterback.  There was no way Maryville could win this game.  It also would mean the end to a 49-home field winning streak.

I was wrong.  That defense did its job.  Bernard had a great game, but the team only scored 12 points.  Maryville won 14 – 12.  It was a turning point.  Sam took a lot of pictures with his classmates after that game.

We all thought the Spoofhounds could make it to the district championship game.  Then things would get tough with another trip to Chillicothe on the horizon.

It looked like the same scene from an earlier bad movie when Maryville trailed 12 – 0 deep into the second quarter.  It looked even worse when Jacob Reuter was forced to the sideline with a leg injury.  It was as though Chillicothe sensed Jacob was missing as the middle linebacker.  They ran for 40 yards right where Jacob had anchored the middle of the line.

It sure looked like a 20 –  0 deficit at halftime and the end of the season.  A red flag on the field turned everything around for the Spoofhounds.  It was one of those turning points.  I’m not sure Chillicothe had 20 total yards on the ground the whole second half.  Maryville came roaring back to win.  Suddenly, tradition was showing up at the right time.

Maryville had to prove one more time it could defend its home field.  After a close win over Center High School, the Spoofhounds hit the road for the semifinals and championship games.

Who could believe that the Spoofhounds would score 40 or more points in the first half of these games.  The second half of the semifinals and championship game were played with a running clock.

Sam was in the front row when the team lifted the championship trophy.  I have no idea how that team won after losing all those seniors.  The maturity of a much smaller group of seniors and the domination of an offensive guard, Jalen Sundell, led the way to a memorable season.

There were other turning points and memorable moments in basketball, too.  Coach Matt Stoecklein, the head coach, kept Sam on the varsity team.  Getting in and hitting a three-point field goal on senior night was a highlight.

Being part of two district championship teams also are highlights for Sam’s high school team.  Getting to be the senior to accept the trophy after this year’s district championship was maybe a little thing for the other seniors but will be something Sam or I will ever forget.

As Sam’s high school days close-out, like when Sam thanked Coach Houchin for giving him a chance in eighth grade football, I owe a big thanks to the Maryville football and basketball coaching staffs.  The coaches may not realize it, but they did so much more than win championships this year.

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