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Springville-Griffith Institute varsity basketball: Some things go beyond the number on the scoreboard

TEAM HUDDLE — The Springville-Griffith Institute varsity boys basketball team (pictured, above) ended the season with a 2 – 16 record. Photo by Dave DeLuca.
SPRINGVILLE — The following guest column was submitted by Springville Journal sports correspondent Dave DeLuca.

If you think you know everything you need to know about high school sports, think again. This is no walk in the park. Just ask coaches and players, who spend six days per week together, experiencing what sometimes feels like a roller coaster.

Student athletes here at Springville-Griffith Institute go to school from 7:35 a.m. – 2:17 p.m. Their school day consists of eight 45-minute periods; one is lunch, if you have room in your schedule.

But their day doesn’t end, when the clock hits 2:17. Student athletes take on a balancing act of heading off to a sports practice or game that can sometimes get the best of them. Some kids are trying to figure out what to do with themselves, after graduation day. Getting 11 guys on a basketball team to refuse to quit sounds easier than it really is.

This tug of war becomes even more of a challenge, when a team is struggling to get wins. The S-GI boys varsity basketball team had to do just that, this season. A loss against Dunkirk on Feb. 19 wrapped up the Griffs’ season, in which they won just two games.

Any Joe Schmo could look at a 2 – 16 record and think, “Man, that’s not very good.” Inside that record, deep down in those 16 losses, is something the average person looking at a plain old win-loss record can’t see. This is something that only the team’s coaches, parents, fans or those who had the privilege of watching all 18 games the Griffins played can understand. As a sportswriter, I sometimes have to give up the right to be fan, but, being on the Griffin beat this winter, I am going to add myself to that list.

On Jan. 11, Springville traveled to East Aurora, to take on the host Blue Devils. Chants of “Let’s go, E.A.” echoed throughout the gym, after the Blue Devils erupted in the first quarter, taking a 19 – 0 lead after the opening 8 minutes. To make matters worse, during the second quarter, East Aurora’s Ian Allen got a steal and threw down a one-handed dunk in transition, that made the East Aurora crowd go absolutely bonkers. Moments later, the Blue Devils scored again, to take a 27 – 2 lead.

But, in the blink of an eye, the tide started to turn. Springville went on a 11 – 3 run, to end the half, and continued its success in the second, as the run became a 19 – 5 surge.

East Aurora regrouped and took the game by 17, even though Springville won the game, after the first quarter, outscoring the Blue Devils 30 – 27.

In my mind, there was a win, beneath that loss. It’s not just my way of seeing the positives. I’m not just being Mr. Nice Guy. Nine times out of 10, after a team goes down 19 – 0, it folds. The athletes throw in the towel and start trying to add to their personal point totals, with only themselves in mind. That game enlightened me about the team I would be covering, on a nightly basis.

The season saw the Griffins fall to Pioneer, Eden and South Park, in overtime. Springville lost numerous nail-biters, in regulation.

During a game held against Lake Shore on Feb. 6, the Griffins trailed 20 – 6. Springville went on a 39 – 23 charge, to take the 45 – 43 lead. The crowd jumped on, for the ride, following the look in the players’ eyes and the pep in their steps.

Billy Dickinson and Greg Beatty nailed 3-pointers. Brian Seneca and Bobby Fisher hustled for rebounds. Guards Adam Wolfley and Nate Wolcott got their hands in passing lanes. Brian Johnson, Kevin Zabawa and Pat Emmick provided quality minutes, off the bench. Will Lawton hit a clutch jumper, with 20 seconds left. Eleven guys contributing 100 percent of their basketball-shaped hearts, but 11 guys suffered another heart-wrenching defeat, as Lake Shore won the game 53 – 51.

Life in Springville’s division is no picnic. We have one of the best competitive divisions in Western New York. Erie County Interscholastic III was the only division in Section VI that had seven teams with at least four league wins.

Pioneer beat Lake Shore in the teams’ first meeting, by 50 – 45, but Lake Shore avenged the loss, throttling Pioneer in the second meeting, by 32 points. In this league, if you don’t keep your guard up, anyone can beat you.

Springville is a Class B small school, while teams like Amherst and Pioneer are Class A large schools, with nearly 100 more kids in their respected schools than in Springville’s grades nine – 11 enrollment numbers. Those figures do not necessarily win games; Depew was the division’s smallest school, enrollment wise, and that team finished 9 – 5 in league play. Lake Shore, the division’s largest school, with nearly 200 more kids in grades nine – 11 than Springville has, finished 5 – 9.

Division members Cheektowaga, Depew and Pioneer were one game away from going to Buffalo State, for the Section VI championships, this past season. East Aurora and Maryvale lost at Buffalo State, while Amherst won the A-1 championship.

The division is loaded with talent. Just look at Stan Wier, who graduated from East Aurora, after leading New York state in 3-pointers, a season ago. Wier earned himself a full ride to the University at Buffalo, to continue his basketball career.

Springville never backed down. The Griffins did what they did best: grind. Loose balls were thought of as gold and effort was set at the max. Hard work was never questioned. Isn’t that what you want from your young people?

High school sports are meant to give kids an experience. Sports give them the opportunity to do what they love. Sports allow them to show off their passion and their affection for the game. Winning is the goal, but it really is just a bonus, for most of these kids, who will probably not go on to become professional athletes.

“There was no quit in this team, all year,” said Coach Frank Noeson, who spent more time with his players than anyone else did. “Regardless of record or deficit in a game, the focus was still there, along with the determination. It was encouraging, to see a group of young men ready to put their heads up and work hard to get better, instead of make excuses as to why things weren’t going their way. In a season like ours, it’s really easy to start kicking stones and pointing blame and that’s one thing that didn’t peek its head once.”

The Springville boys qualified as a scholar athlete team, with the Griffins’ averaging more than 90 percent, as a team. High school athletes will play a bigger game after graduation. The more intangibles players can embrace, the better off they are.

Noeson said that he could not wait to return to the Springville basketball program, after taking a year off before the season.

As a whole, times have changed. The game of basketball is often more focused on “me” and less on “we.”

Coaches instill and embrace the idea that, when a team’s back is against the wall, its members work harder, not just for themselves, but for everyone.

That is the situation in which the Griffins played their best. They have a stubborn fight in them.

Look at the big picture; they didn’t shy away, for a moment. As American sportswriter Grantland Rice said, to athletes in locker rooms around the world, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.

It’s how you play the game.

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