Baranek: Why do high school sports mean so much to me? Let’s count the reasons

SHARE Baranek: Why do high school sports mean so much to me? Let’s count the reasons
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I don’t know how many times — seems like a million — the question has been asked over the years by my friends, especially those who come from a different working life.

Tony, why do you always talk about how much you love what you do for a living? Why does covering high school sports mean so much to you?

Every time, it takes just a few seconds to answer, because immediately the images come to mind, starting with March 1974, when I sat on my living room floor and pecked away at the keys of a Royal typewriter, penning my first story for the Harvey Star-Tribune.

It was 1976, and Bremen was playing at Reavis in probably the most important football game in Bremen’s history. The Braves lost their chance to be in the state playoffs for the first time, and minutes afterward I remember walking up to a somber coach Eddie Novak. His head was in his hands as he sat on the bench and I was petrified to ask, “Coach, what happened?”

Before I spoke, Eddie looked up at me with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen and said, “Tony, you know what I’d say. Just go ahead and write it.” Needless to say we talked, but I remember thinking as I walked away, “Wow, you really capture raw emotions doing this.” Kind of chilling, but also very appealing.

It was 1985, and Mount Carmel was playing Springfield Lanphier for the Class AA boys basketball state title at Assembly Hall. What a rush watching that game go into double overtime, then writing about how a little-known sophomore named Derek Boyd hit a jumper as time expired to give the Caravan a 46-44 victory.

It was 1986, and what an experience it was covering the Class 4A playoff run by a Tinley Park football team that had just 25 players and provided story lines for the ages up to and including a 21-15 victory over Rock Island Alleman in the state title game.

It was 1993, and Oak Forest was down a point to Hillcrest in a girls basketball game that would determine the conference title when with two seconds remaining senior Joy Beauregard, one of the most talented, but humble, three-sport athletes the school ever has had, hit a turnaround 17-foot jumper. She then slid to the floor in tears as her teammates jumped for joy around her.

Someone once told me that what I do is so important and appreciated by the kids because high school sports writers are among the first people, outside of their parents or their coaches, who tell the world that Johnny or Julie athlete is good at what they do.

Maybe that’s why, after Sandburg lost to Oak Forest in a heartbreaking sectional final in 1995, point guard Kristen Bakotic tearfully and bravely answered the questions I had for her. Then, as I was heading out of the gym, she called out to me and said, “Mr. Baranek! Mr. Baranek! Thank you for coming!”

The reasons I still love doing this simply never have stopped coming over the past 39 years, from Lincoln-Way East’s stunning playoff run to a 2002 state softball title in the program’s first year of existence; to colorful coaches such as Hillcrest’s John Maniatis, Mother McAuley’s Nancy Pedersen, Sandburg’s Gary Bonk and Richards’ Gary Korhonen and Julie Folliard; to the crowd of 2,000 Tuesday at Mother McAuley for a night of electrifying volleyball between the host Mighty Macs and Marist.

Friday will bring another memorable moment, receiving a “Distinguished Media Service Award” from Illinois High School Association assistant executive director Matt Troha and Andrew athletic director Rich Piatchek.

Neither one of them will ask me the question. They live the answer, too.

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