Hats off to Southside Seahawks|Commentary

Published 9:06 pm Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sports Writer

With all the negativity surrounding the Northside baseball team — negativity directed at the players, the coaches, the school’s administration, the school district, the Daily News, the local media in general, I figured it was time for an uplifting, hopeful story. A story about a baseball program that was in the doldrums for years and found redemption in the face of adversity. Sound familiar?
The young men on the Southside baseball team have a lot to be proud of, especially the team’s six starting seniors: Alarie Elks, Ryan McLawhorn, Jamie Blackard, Eric Boyd, Brad Boyd and Kevin Sparks.
As freshman, these six student-athletes joined a Seahawks program that was used to losing, and losing a lot.
Four years later, these young men, now seniors, finished off the season 13-9. They willed their team and program to its first-ever Atlantic Conference title, let alone its first playoff appearance.
“I think we’ve won more games this year than the first three years combined,” said Eric Boyd. “Nobody expected us to win as many games as we did. Nobody expected us to be conference champs. Nobody expected us to be sitting in the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.”
Nobody, that is, except for Boyd and his teammates.
“We’ve been expecting it since our freshman year,” he said.
The team fell short of its own expectations when it lost in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s Class 1-A state playoffs on Thursday night to Princeton, 11-4, but it wasn’t without trying.
As I sat in the pressbox at Southside on that misty, cool night, I could tell that the seniors were not going down without a fight, because they had been fighting the same battle for four years.
Even after the Seahawks fell behind 6-0 after two innings, they played their hearts out, probably not for us, but for each other.
The most telling sign to me was when Blackard hit a single with none on in the bottom of the seventh and Southside down 11-4.
Blackard pumped his fist as he rounded first, seemingly showing the Princeton Bulldogs why he and his teammates were still the bigger dogs, with the bigger hearts.
And the young men, the seniors that had been through the fire, wore their hearts on their sleeves after the game, and rightfully so.
As Southside head baseball coach Red Lewis addressed his players, Blackard hung his head in his arms. But the truth is, Blackard, and the rest of the players, had no reason to hang their collective heads.
Lewis told his guys that they won’t forget this season for the rest of their lives, and he’s right.
And I’m sure coach won’t forget them.
“They are very unique,” he said after the game. “I’ve learned from them as much as I’ve learned from anybody.”
Maybe we can all learn something about perseverance and redemption from these six young men.
Who knows, maybe four years from now if Northside makes the playoffs, or even wins a conference championship, some of the players still on the team will be able to look back at the incident that happened on May 4 and say it was all worth it.
Greg Katski is the sports writer for the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4216, or by e-mail at gkatski@wdnweb.com.