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Local Sports

Looking beyond the statistics

Saying it once again, I’m not a typical sports writer. I know it and own it.

My focus in covering athletics and athletes is more on the people involved than the statistics. Oh, I know everything counts — in terms of statistics — in sports. Points, takedowns, tackles, yards, seconds, rebounds, assists, rankings and the list goes on to tell part of the stories.

Many of coaches have come and gone because of wins and losses. We all want our athletes, teams and coaches to be successful. We play the games to win. I play games to win, but I don’t always win. Individuals and teams I cover don’t always win — on the scoreboard.

I’ve never met a loser among the young people and the coaches I’ve worked with throughout my 30-plus journalistic career. There have been a few whose’s attitudes have been disappointing at times, but I’ve considered all the youth I’ve featured in my stories as my “kids” and winners.

People stories are what I’m about as a sports journalist. I can’t rattle off statistics for people or teams. I have to look up win-loss records all the time. Sure, there are statistical milestones we need to honor along the way. That’s goes without saying.

Every time I’ve celebrated the accomplishment of an individual or team what is compelling is the human story. Athlete and coaches have great stories to tell. We all see the successes, but the backstories are important. All have failed, had disappointments, but they’ve put in the hard work, the persistence, the focus, the sacrifices and risks to strive forward.

I work with coaches in the Newton and Lynnville-Sully school districts who put an emphasis on developing young men and women who are good people and ready for life beyond high school and sports. In my years here, I’ve worked with coaches in the other three school districts in Jasper County and have encountered the same focus.

That’s a good thing for the young people of our Jasper County athletic teams. Growth as good citizens is important and all have an opportunity to grow in and out of their chosen athletic endeavors.

Case in point with the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union’s decision to expand the state girls’ swimming and diving meet to a preliminary-final format in 2018. Under the new prelim/format change, the number of state swimming qualifiers will increase from 24 to 32. The number of state diving qualifiers will increase from 30 to 32.

NCMP head swimming coach Sarah Patterson had mixed feelings about the change as it was talked about for some time. The format is a concern for Patterson, but the state field has expanded, which she likes.

“Originally I was against the change to a preliminary-final format because most of our girls are club swimmers and have not been involved with preliminary heats then finals. It’s something you have to get used to, but the change allows for more swimmers to qualify for the state meet. I’m all for that,” Patterson said. 

“To me that outweighs any detriment about doing the prelims-finals format. More kids at the state meet is important even if they don’t qualify for the finals, they get to participate in the state meet.”

Patterson has coached the NCMP girls’ swim team for more than 25 years at Newton. She’s in her second season as the head coach for the NCMP boys’ swim team. Iowa high school boys’ swimming made a major change earlier — moving the state meet from Marshalltown to the University of Iowa Campus Recreation and Wellness Center in Iowa City.

“I’m excited about the new venue for the boys’ state meet. Marshalltown’s venue was great but there’s a cool vibe in Iowa City in the new pool. It’s a fast pool, and I’m excited to see how it goes,” Patterson said.

Right now, less than a month away from the district meet (Feb. 3) the NCMP boys’ team has a couple of relays and a couple of individual events it could qualify for state in. Senior Caleb Gaylor is seeded sixth right now in the 50-yard freestyle and is in the top 20 in the 100 butterfly.

Gaylor combines with senior Jacob Knoll, and juniors Carter Briggs and Mason Lee in the 200 medley relay, sitting at 22nd in the state right now. Briggs, Lee, Gaylor and sophomore Jacob Nedder have the NCMP 200 freestyle relay in 29th.

“These guys are working hard. We have a meet Saturday in Fort Dodge. Our district will give us a great competition. We’ll be swimming in the Trail Point pool in Ankeny for that,” Patterson said.

NCMP is in a district meet with Ames, Ankeny, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines Roosevelt, Marshalltown, Waterloo West and Waukee. The meet is Feb. 3 at the Trail Point Aquatics Center on the DMACC Ankeny Campus.

Contact Jocelyn Sheets

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