The culmination of excellence for teams that play in a conference is to go undefeated in that conference - for three teams to do it in one spring, is just special.
It's been that kind of spring for Wheelersburg teams, as its seniors leave with conference crowns and its freshmen finished their first season without ever knowing what it's like to lose in the conference. Baseball went 14-0, softball went 14-0 and tennis went 12-0 in the SOC II. Add those numbers up and the Pirates went for a staggering 40-0 spring in conference play.
The success isn't limited to teams with win-loss records. Both Wheelersburg's boys and girls team won their respective SOC II championships in track.
“I think it's a combination of several factors,” said Wheelersburg tennis coach Jon Lucas. “Obviously you have to have good athletes that are willing to practice. Practice is a big key. We spend a lot of time practicing and I know some schools do as well. My players, and I'm sure the other teams, are definitely dedicated and determined and you know the desire is there. You add in ability and then there is some coaching as well. You can't be weak in any of those departments.”
All three teams were defending champions in the SOC II, though the softball team shared its title with West.
There would be no sharing in softball this year, however, as the girls defeated West twice. The first game - or the first game completed at least - saw Wheelersburg come away with a 1-0 win and the other game, started in early April and finished May 3, was an 18-inning endurance contest that ended with the Lady Pirates taking sole possession of the title that had belonged to West for nine of the last 10 years. Wheelersburg also won a sectional title this season, setting up Thursday's match with West in the district semifinals.
Lady Pirates' coach Gary Bailey said that tradition is key to maintaining success in all sports.
“Most of (our athletes) want to try and outdo the kids that were in front of them and it's expected of them to do that,” said Bailey. “A lot of them put in a lot of work and time. The tradition keeps building years after.”
The tennis team was led to the SOC II crown by the 1-2 punch of junior Chad Pierron and senior Tyler Adams. Neither player lost this season in regular season play and Adams' only loss in the conference came in the SOC II tournament - against Pierron. Both Pierron and Adams qualified for the district tournament in Columbus on Friday.
Baseball came back this season after a trip to the regional final last year and dropped only two games all season en route to conference and sectional titles. Baseball coach Michael Estep gave credit for the group success to the athletes, administration and community.
“It's something that I'm just proud to be a part of,” said Estep. “It's a community expectation of excellence. The kids grow up in that and then when they get to high school, it's something the kids have dreamed of all their life. The community kind of shuts down for that evening and comes and supports them.
“The administration does a good job of being selective in its personnel. There is an expectation community-wide that things are going to be done at the highest level and we have been able to put together a pretty good staff.”
All three coaches credited each other's hard work for the success, and Wheelersburg athletic director Chris Porter directly credited the coaching staffs.
“I think probably the No. 1 factor is we have a great coaching staff,” Porter said. “We have a lot of longevity in our coaches and our programs are established and coaches' expectations are established and along with that we have parental support.”
Another factor necessary for school-wide athletic success is cooperation. While at some schools, coaches might try to get an athlete to play just one sport. The coaches at Wheelersburg don't mind sharing.
“All the coaches at Wheelersburg get along,” said Bailey. “We all understand that they are going to play other sports and all the other coaches are there for you.”
Lucas said that the multi-sport athletes carry their determination to be the best to any sport they play.
“I think that, again we're not all the same coach. A lot of my players played soccer and they have the same goals in soccer,” said Lucas. “I think that does carry over from sport to sport. In high school, I like to see players play multiple sports. They're high school players, not professionals, and they should play what they want to play.”
Porter said that student-athletes need to be proud of the facilities where they compete.
“I think it gives the athletes a sense of pride that it is important to us to have good facilities for their safety and for them to be proud of when they're competing,” said Porter.
But when you look past the facilities, the coaching, the community support and anything else, between the lines, victory or defeat is up to the athletes themselves. Bailey said that the Pirate athletes put in a lot of work in the offseason.
“I think that (the coaches) are just lucky at Wheelersburg,” said Estep. “(Basketball) Coach (Tom) Barrick and I emailed back and forth the other day how lucky we are to have the kids that we do. They develop a winning attitude at an early age.”
Estep told a story about the first day he was hired when a member of the community asked him how it felt to go to a school with such high athletic expectations. His answer?
“Why would I want to go anywhere else?”
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at email@example.com.