JACKSON TWP.  A great year or the best year ever?

It’s a subjective topic, but it’s hard to argue that the 2016-17 school year wasn’t the best in the history of Jackson High School sports.

The raw numbers are staggering: two state championships, a state runner-up finish, a regional finals berth, a team with its first playoff appearance in 12 years, a team winning its fourth straight league titles for the first time in program history and seven league titles overall.

It began in mid-August with golf and cross country kicking off the year and it ended in the center of the diamond at Huntington Park in Columbus with the baseball team hoisting its second Division I state championship trophy in program history.

Ranking it against other years in the decades of the school’s sports history is tough, even for those who have been a part of the district for a while now.

“I have only been the AD for 15 years of the school's existence, so it would not really be fair for me to try to state whether or not the 2016-17 sports seasons were the best ever,” veteran athletic director Terry Peterson said. “I would say when you put two state titles, a state runner-up and win the All League Sports Trophy by 27.5 points - the largest margin in recent years, if not ever - I would say it was a pretty good year and would definitely rank up near the top, if not at the top, as the best sport year ever.”

Jackson baseball coach Bill Gamble, who led his team to its second state title in four seasons earlier this month, pointed not only to what his squad and the boys basketball team did in capturing their respective second state championships, but what happened in the classroom and community this past school year.

“You also have to put in there and outstanding academic year with the speech and debate winning a state title,” Gamble said. “It all shows how well this community supports its programs … it’s an outstanding cool district with outstanding leadership from the top with (superintendent) Chris Diloreto, Terry Peterson and all of our other administrators. Purple nation is loud and proud and with so many underclassmen playing a part in our title, we call it our 401(k) because it’s investing for next year and beyond.”

Peterson noted that the senior class that was a central part of this year’s memorable campaign was around for the baseball team’s 2014 title, but none of this year’s seniors were members of the varsity team that year. Still, they were able to absorb the lessons they learned from the veterans that year and apply them when they finally had their own chance to lead. He attributed much of the success Jackson enjoyed across the board over the past nine months or so to the leadership those seniors provided.

It’s a message echoed by one of two seniors and several players who were part of both the basketball and baseball state titles this season, Kyle Nicolas, who is headed to Ball State this fall to play baseball but was able to participate in a senior year that couldn’t have been scripted any better from an athletic standpoint.

“It feels amazing; both teams, basketball and baseball, just worked so hard,” Nicolas said. “It's really awesome just to be a part of that, seeing what everyone does and how much work everyone puts in, sacrificing for it.”

Nicolas noted that he and fellow senior Dillon Dingler, who also played on Jackson’s two title teams this season, were among those who saw how the 2010 boys basketball team and 2014 baseball team went about their business. He was also able to watch his friend Dingler play a starring role on a Jackson football team that won seven games and made its first playoff appearance since 2004.

Cross country and assistant coach Kevin Walsh has been coaching in the district since 1995 and while he, like Peterson, can’t compare this season to the ones in the district’s distant past, but Walsh says without equivocation that this was the best year he’s seen for Jackson sports since he started coaching with the Polar Bears. 

“Hands down this has been the most successful sports year that we have experienced, highlighted with the two state championships,” Walsh said. “During my tenure at Jackson I have witnessed a steady growth of success with the entire athletic program. This is a remarkable feet because when I first arrived our sports programs were very solid.”

Walsh, like Gamble, pointed to the consistent support for Jackson teams across the board, from volleyball to boys tennis and gymnastics to bowling. Add all of those ingredients up and you have a year that created a litany of memories for players, coaches, parents, administrators, fans and the community as a whole. Asked which ones stood out to an administrator who spent time at a wide range of sporting events over the course of the year, Peterson pointed first to the sheer jubilation of the five players on the floor for the final buzzer of the boys basketball team’s one-point win over Cincinnati Moeller in March. 

The second, according to Peterson, was being in the dugout for the final two innings of the baseball team’s 8-2 championship game win over Strongsville. He recalled seeing coach Tom Yingling, who has spent 35 years coaching baseball in the district, but took a short sabbatical from coaching and missed the 2014 title run. Peterson remembers seeing Yingling sitting in the stands, enjoying the 2014 title win, but noticing that there was something missing in the veteran coach’s reaction.

“Coach Ying should have been part of that celebration and he was not,” Peterson said. “I saw coach Yingling standing along the dugout screen Saturday night and I went over to him to stand with him for the last two outs. I know I will forever remember the sure pride in his voice and eyes as we made the last out of the game.”

The team was aware of that pride as well and made sure that Yingling was the first one to hold up the championship trophy, putting an exclamation point on a sports year that has as strong an argument as any to stand atop the list of the best in Jackson history. Now, the challenge is for future teams and athletes to try to top it and write their own names in the history books. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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