Saturday, December 16, 2006

SPORTS - First Capitol News - Mike McMurran Sports Editor


This is our Christmas edition so I would like to share a seasonal story or two with you. I don’t know if it just happens to me or if others have the same experience, but the other evening I woke at 2 or so in the morning and began thinking about Christmas. As the thoughts were going through my head I realized that this Christmas would mark the 22nd that Lynn and I would spend together. Without giving out Lynn’s age, twenty-two Christmas Eves are more than half than she has celebrated in her entire life; meaning, she has spent more Christmas Eves with me than without me. That, I thought, was profound enough a revelation to wake Lynn and share with her. She mumbled something about my being “crazy” and rolled over and went back to sleep. So much for the female gender being so romantic!

How I remember that first Christmas Lynn and I spent together. Christmas Eve is the major event in Lynn’s family – and has been for decades. It is a tradition that has been passed down from her mom’s side of the family. After dinner has been served and everything is cleaned up, the oldest boy of the family, which is Lynn’s brother Dave, begins passing out gifts – one at a time. There is a protocol to this madness, the youngest in attendance receives the first gift, then the second youngest and so on, until all the children have received at least one present to open. Imagine if you can, my first time experiencing this controlled mayhem in Lynn’s parent’s basement, no more than 500 square feet, if that, crammed with over 20 people and a pile of gifts the likes I had never seen. One by one the kid’s names were called and they were given their gifts. It was nuts! Wrapping paper was flying every which way. Hugs were given out like there was no tomorrow. It was so crowded that once you found your place to sit you dare not move out of fear of loosing a good vantage point. I remember the children that evening, Lynn’s nieces and nephews, and how wide eyed they all were. This wasn’t Santa’s visit, it was bigger and more exciting! I remember thinking to my self, “if I ever get married and have kids, this is how I would want them to spend Christmas – this is it!”

Well, I did, and I have, and they do! Most everyone that was at that Christmas celebration in 1985 will be at Lynn’s mom’s house this Christmas Eve. Some have grown and moved to far away places like Texas and Memphis; sometimes they make it back, sometimes not. Those smiling little children, Lynn’s nieces and nephews are now all in their 20’s; except for Brad and Meghan who were not born yet. They have been replaced by the second generation of Ruthie’s grandchildren – of which my kids are part of. There are two notable absences: Grandpa Bud Kurtz and his brother Uncle Roy, both of whom watch the celebration from heaven. Not that they can be replaced, because they cannot, but someone new has joined the annual celebration, Santa Claus! Yep, every year he stops by and drops off some candy canes, M&M’s, and tells the children to make sure to hurry and go to sleep once they get home. He stays around long enough to have his picture taken with Aunt Elaine, Grandmas Ruthie and Barbie, and pretty much anybody who wished to pose with Santa. For some reason Santa always coaxes Lynn’s nieces Tasha and Meghan, both of whom are in their 20’s, both of whom stand about 5’8” and both of whom would be described as “knock-out blondes,” to sit on Santa’s lap at the same time. At this particular point of the Christmas celebration, Santa has this strange resemblance to Don Oelklaus, especially when Don is assessing the Rams’ cheerleaders. Then again it could just be my imagination. Anyway, my wish from 22 years ago has come true!

Much like the tradition passed down from Ruthie’s family, Family McMurran has started their own Christmas tradition – securing the family Christmas tree. Many of my friends tell stories of how they pack their family into the family vehicle and travel to places like Troy or Warrenton, and cut down their Christmas tree. They explain to me how special it is, and I have no reason to doubt them.

About 20 years or so, when I was a starving university student, I landed a part-time, seasonal job unloading tens of thousands of Christmas trees of off flat-bed trucks. My dear friend John Kozlowski hooked me up with the gig; it was hard work, but we came home smelling like Christmas trees every night, which was a good thing. The nursery we worked for distributed literally tens of thousands of Christmas trees around the entire region. They also kept a few hundred, the very best few hundred, to sell right off their lot, located at the intersection of Broadway and St. Louis Avenue. If you do not know where Broadway and St. Louis Avenue is, don’t worry, It would best be described as “in the ‘hood,” or “in the ghetto.” Yes, those ladies who seem to be walking up and down the street are what you think they are. It is a rough neighborhood – but while on the lot of St. Charles City resident Mike Tremmel’s Glueck’s Nursery, you feel, and are, as safe as if you were walking on Main Street in beautiful downtown Saint Charles, maybe safer!

Anyway, we load up the minivan and travel to the “’hood,” pick out our tree, take a few pictures, and come home. While on the lot Mike always invites me inside for an ice cold drink (or two, or three). There are always snacks for the kids – and here’s the best part: we have the most beautiful Christmas tree you can possibly imagine! Oh sure, much of it has to do with the trimming Lynn and the kids do, but the tree is always so very, very full and beautiful. Seldom do people comment how nice my yard looks, or how nicely pruned the trees in the front yard look, but most everyone who walks into our home comments on how beautiful, how strikingly beautiful our Christmas tree looks. When they ask where I got it, I tell them “the ghetto,” and they think I’m joking. I’m not!

Our next edition will not be until January 6, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the regular readers of this column Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! Don’t think it doesn’t make me feel special when out of the blue someone walks up to me and tells me how much they enjoy, and look forward to reading my columns. It almost always ends with, “can’t you please write a little more about sports?” I can’t imagine why they would say such a thing.

May all your dreams for the New Year be realized.

High School Basketball
‘Just Like Last Time’
St. Charles West/St. Charles High Rivalry Bigger Than Ever

By Louis J. Launer

It is a rivalry that goes back thirty years in any sport—at least since St. Charles West was built and opened in 1976. This year, the students from both St. Charles High School and St. Charles West are really getting into the cross-town division that highlights the St. Charles city sports scene every fall, winter and spring. This academic year, basketball seems to be the marquee sport for the two schools.

There was only one meeting this year for SCW and SCHS in girls’ volleyball and football. St. Charles West won both matches. In the first boys’ basketball game of the season, the day before Thanksgiving, The St. Charles West Warriors, led by star Kramer Soderberg, defeated the St. Charles Pirates, 74-71 in an overtime thriller that even caught the attention of the St. Louis television stations.

St. Charles West has a lot of talent. Soderberg is only a 5’11” junior, but has become team leader. Many have labeled Soderberg as this decade’s Ryan Robertson, who led the 1994-95 Warriors to its first and only state basketball title. St. Charles West this past week was involved in their annual Warrior Classic tournament. The night before they were to play in the championship game of the tournament, they played one game in the annual Shoot-Out that took place at the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis. The Warriors defeated a talented San Diego Hoover basketball team, which was supposed to include All-American JayDee Luster, 66-55. Unfortunately, Luster sat on the bench due to illness. Soderberg did score thirty points in the victory and opened some eyes that this was no typical Warrior team.

The next night in a packed St. Charles West gymnasium, St. Charles High played St. Charles West for the championship of the St. Charles West Warrior Classic Tournament. It was a rematch from 2 ½ weeks before. Did anyone expect lightning to strike twice?

The students this year for both schools could not be more emotional about this rivalry. It became a fever pitch.

The St. Charles Pirates have a mammoth star of their own. His name is Josh Harrellson. In November, the 6’9”, 265-pound center/forward signed a letter of intent to play basketball next year in Macomb, Illinois at Western Illinois University.

In the first quarter, the St. Charles Pirates began to dominate. The game still remained close with the Pirates holding on to a 12-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The momentum shifted to St. Charles West in the second quarter. But Harrellson continued to be the Warriors number-one problem as they tried to keep the ball away from the Pirates’ leader. Soderberg scored his only three-point field goal early in the second quarter. The Warriors’ Brian Maurer and Alex Bazzell stepped up and scored two 3-point buckets each in the game. The game remained close at halftime, 23-20.

The third quarter was where the Warriors began to dominate. They kept defensive pressure on the Pirates, taking the ball away at any chance they could. But in the game overall, the free-throw percentage for St. Charles West was 88.9%, compared to the Pirates’ 46.2%. Harrellson missed several free throws. But Harrellson did get his time to show as Dean Dillen stole the ball from the Warriors on a fast break, passed it to a running Harrellson for a “peanut butter and jam” slam-dunk. But that didn’t take the thrust away from the Warriors, who won the game 56-46, and winning first place in the Warrior Classic Tournament.

“Just like last time,” shouted the West fans from the bleachers before time ran out. The referral was from the 74-71 Thanksgiving eve overtime game also held at St. Charles West.

Kramer Soderberg scored a total of 102 points throughout the entire week. That included all of the Warrior Classic games he played and the Shoot-Out game in St. Louis. Soderberg scored 22 against the Pirates. Harrellson scored 25 for the Pirates, but had no field goals and was 5 for 11 in free throws.

There will be another rematch, across town at St. Charles High School on the Gene Bartow Court. But it won’t be for another eight weeks and there are several games these two teams have to play, including a number of them against Duchesne. The battle for St. Charles and who goes to the state tournament in February is far from over.