by Larry Ham
2012 was an interesting year in the world of sports. From a local standpoint and a national standpoint, it was unpredictable and exciting, which, of course, is why we love sports! Here are my top stories from the year, in no particular order, beginning with the local scene.
Locally, the top story, in my opinion, was the resurgence of two football programs. The Immanuel Eagles, who had suffered through several bad seasons, got the program going in the right direction again, under head coach Matt Armstrong. After losing their first two games of 2012, the Eagles won seven of their next nine, including their opening round playoff game, on the road against Caruthers.
The Other program to rise out of the ashes was the Reedley College football team. I realize that to say a team that finished 3-7 had a resurgence is rather weird, but the Tigers look like they are back on the right track after several disappointing seasons. Coach Randy Whited installed a new spread offense, and when Quarterback Sean Stell and his offense got used to it, the Tigers looked a lot like the Tigers who dominated JC football in the 2000s. It amazes me how easy it is for “fans” to jump ship when a program struggles, and heap the blame on the coach. You wouldn’t believe some of the emails I received over the past couple of years, criticizing Coach Whited and his staff. I assume those same critics will email me and congratulate Coach Whited for getting things going in the right direction again. Yeah, right.
The other local sports story that really stays with me is the renaming of the football field at Reedley High School. It is now known a Sal Gonzalez Filed, in memory of the man who almost single handedly kept the Reedley Youth Football program going over the past couple of decades. Sal died of a heart attack in 2011 and it seemed only right that there should be a memorial to a man who meant so much to local sports. Kings Canyon Unified, or the City of Reedley, or whoever was responsible for the name change deserves kudos for doing the right thing.
Nationally and internationally, the biggest story for me was the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup. The Kings entered the NHL in 1967, and in the ensuing 45 years, had come close to winning the cup only once, in 1993 when they reached the finals, only to lose to Montreal. The 2012 team won the cup as the last seed in the playoff brackets and simply steamrolling the opposition. For this lifelong Kings fan, it was almost hard to believe it actually happened. So how did the NHL celebrate one of the most exciting seasons ever? By having another labor dispute. As I write this, there is no agreement on the horizon, and the greedy owners and greedy players aren’t even negotiating. Way to go, guys!
Two other California teams made headlines this year, for very different reasons. The Giants won their second world series in three years, and the Dodgers spent four billion dollars on players trying to prevent the Giants from winning another one. Now, as some of you know, I am a lifelong Dodger fan and it pains me to say this, but the Giants have done a great job of building a team through the amateur draft, and trading for the right player at the right time. I don’t know if you can actually buy a championship like the Yankees used to do, but the Dodgers are certainly trying that approach. I hope the fans at Dodger stadium don’t mind paying twenty dollars for a hot dog, because that’s where they are headed. At least they got rid of Frank McCourt.
It was an Olympic year, and the United States fared quite well in London. The men’s basketball team plowed through with little resistance and won the gold, and the women’s soccer team avenged their meltdown loss in the World Cup by beating Japan for the gold.
Oh, and Michael Phelps won some swimming medals and ate a lot of Subway Sandwiches.
Another big story on the international front was Sebastian Vettel. Who? Sebastian Vettel is probably the best race driver in the world, and you’ve probably never heard of him. He won his third consecutive Formula One driver’s championship in 2012. The fact that you’ve never heard of him shows how far F1 needs to go to make an impact in the United States, but perhaps the new track and race in Austin. Texas will help.
The Penn State molestation debacle was finally resolved, with Jerry Sandusky being sent to prison for the rest of his life. The fact that coach Joe Paterno’s reputation was sullied through these disgusting events is sad. He was a great coach, a decent man who got caught up in a terrible situation that he made worse by keeping silent.And finally, a few thoughts on two sportsmen we lost this year, Gary Carter and Chris Economaki. Gary Carter was a great catcher who played twenty-one seasons in the major leagues, for the Expos, Mets, Dodgers and Giants. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003. He was a great player and a great person, and he will be greatly missed. His enthusiasm for the game was what I will most remember. He loved being a major leaguer, and understood how blessed he was to be able to play a game for a living.
Chris Economaki was a motor sports commentator and announcer who passed away this year at the age of 91. He was an indelible part of my youth. My father was a huge motor sports fan, and whenever we watched an Indy car race, especially the Indy 500, Chris Economaki was there. His voice was distinctive and unforgettable.
And before I go, I want to say one more thing. I am a sports fan. A huge sports fan. I have been for most of my life. Sports is an important part of my life. But I am also a husband and father, and so my thoughts as the year ends, are not so much on my Kings winning the cup or the Dodgers signing Zack Grienke, but on 27 families in Connecticut who are spending the holidays with broken hearts that will never mend. I cannot imagine what they are going through. So hug your kids today and tell your spouse you love them, and keep those families in Connecticut in your prayers. See you in 2013!