Ballard excoriates school’s lack of spirit

Year in and year out, people take our high school’s state championships for granted. By no means am I referring to the players, coaches, or the athletic department, but rather the casual Westminster student, to whom state championships are nothing special.

Take the A-AAAA Girls Lacrosse state championship between the Wildcats and the Holy Innocents Bears as an example. The GHSA webcast of the game opens with a visual of raucous Bears’ fans equipped with maracas, vuvuzelas, and face paint packed in our Alfred E. Thompson stadium. No such group was in attendance for the Cats. After a 19-6 trouncing of the Bears, the Laxcats celebrated with justified extravagance while the crowd, made up mostly of parents, applauded and cheered as expected. Yet following the brief celebration, the Westminster community as a whole never truly acknowledged the magnitude of such a feat. After all, it was a STATE CHAMPIONSHIP! But, these days, with over 230 state championships under our belt as of this fall, a state championship has become commonplace at our school.

The first and only year in which Westminster failed to achieve one state championship was 1990. Furthermore, five different teams have won over 20 state championships in the school’s history. Ask yourself how many state titles we won last year? How many did you attend? Although many of you competed in some of these, I doubt many attended all eight state championships last year, six of which resulted in a first-place trophy. I would venture to say that many of you (including myself) didn’t go to half of them. While there are always exceptions, these statistics and questions explain why so many of us have become unacceptably numb to athletic excellence. Perhaps we just don’t (maybe even can’t) perceive it as excellence. However, some of the following numbers and notes may illuminate the unique success in specific areas of Westminster sports.

Cross country runners are perennial contenders for state supremacy, yet they receive far less recognition than they deserve. Each with more than two decades of experience, Joe Tribble and Amy Eubanks have led their runners to unimaginable success. Tribble and Eubanks, since inheriting the teams in 1988 and 1991 respectively, have run elite programs, but not without tremendous effort and passion. Tribble has amassed 20 state championships in only 24 seasons, including 15 in the last 16 seasons. Running the team six times per week, Tribble varies each practice with easy runs, distance runs, and hard sprints occasionally followed by several hard miles. On the other side of the trail, Eubanks has produced a streak of 13 straight state championships (1992-2004). The current streak of three is the result of exemplary self-discipline and work ethic in practice. Even more amazing than our runners’ endurance and commitment, is their ability to self-motivate despite intense pain and mental barriers, which is one of the most impressive traits of every cross country runner.

“I try to focus on what I’m doing, not how difficult it is,” said senior captain of the cross country team, Sean Smith. “If you think about the pain, it only gets worse.”

“Pain is temporary,” said Georgia girls state champ Sahara Fletcher. “Glory is forever.”

If the student body knew the amount of thought and work that goes into each practice, then maybe these annual state championships would not seem so automatic.

Although the records and success of Tribble and Eubanks cannot be matched by many other programs, Pete Higgins and his legendary coaching in high school swimming may rival the cross country squads. The Westminster swimming program under Higgins has become nothing short of a dynasty. Having won 35 state championships between the boys and girls teams, Higgins has been at the helm for the last 50 years. Practices can be repetitive. Each one involves two straight hours of swimming laps at different paces while other time is spent in the weight room. In addition, each swimmer must spend time perfecting their breathing patterns, underwater depth, and each stroke. Few nonswimmers understand and appreciate the commitment and effort put into each and every stroke, whether it is in a meet, warm-up, or practice.

“The student body expects us to win state,” said a leading senior swimmer, “and if we don’t then they seem disappointed.”

But the student attendance numbers barely reach double figures even at the state meet. Although the team and its hard work deserve better than 12 students at the state meet, things don’t appear to be changing.

The poor attendance at both cross country and swimming events demonstrates the evaporation of enthusiasm that has accompanied the perpetual success of our athletic programs. However, my hope is that the details above concerning cross country and swimming will encourage students to appreciate these athletes and perhaps even attend a meet or two. After all, swimming season is in full swing. Why not?