When you start adding it up, a column a month for 19-plus years working for The Oakdale Leader, The Escalon Times and The Riverbank News, I’ve probably covered about all there is – and some topics, more than once.
So forgive me if this sounds somewhat familiar to a piece I did last year about this time, but football is the main theme again. A good friend of mine, in fact, called just the other day and said she was looking at our Oakdale Leader website online and found a column I had done. She said she was eager to read it until she discovered it was about football. “Escalon football!” she exclaimed.
I told her it may have been a story or perhaps she didn’t read far enough into the column to see the Oakdale and Riverbank references, as we use the same ‘Marg-ins’ column for all three papers.
Regardless, Riverbank football was done at the end of the regular season; those players on to basketball and wrestling practices, while Oakdale and Escalon continued deep into the playoffs.
Congratulations to Oakdale for their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title, earned Friday night against Vista del Lago. For Oakdale, it brought to an end a tough stretch of going the two previous years and losing, each time to Del Oro. This year, the third time was the charm and the Mustangs prevailed to bring home the blue Section banner. Now they move on to a NorCal championship game against Clayton Valley of Concord on Saturday night in hopes of representing the community in the State bowl game later this month. A win Saturday would give them the chance to play for a State title.
Escalon, on the other hand, more than met its match in the best team money could buy for Central Catholic and it brought to mind an argument that comes up nearly every time you have private vs. public in the big games. There should be a private school league. With so many private schools now, the option is more viable than ever and it just seems a more fair way to go. Central was no doubt the better team on the field Saturday at Lincoln High and soundly defeated the Cougars in the Section IV championship game. Escalon’s community came out to support the team and did so loudly, through brief wind and rain storms, through the sunshine that broke through, through the cloud cover. There was a little bit of everything thrown in there, and the crowd was cheering from warm-ups to the final play, many even staying after to greet the team as the members exited the locker room to board the buses for the short trip back home.
Central had its sights on Escalon all year. The Cougars have defeated the Raiders the last two seasons, during playoffs, before the final round. This time, Central was on the other side of the bracket and fate had them paired up for the crown. It could be said the Central program was ‘loaded for Cougar’ this year as they went out and recruited to add more weapons to the arsenal.
Top seeded Placer, which Escalon defeated on the road in the second round, would not have beaten Central Catholic.
As much as I would have loved seeing the Cougars win and continue on the playoff road to a possible return to a state bowl game, there is one poignant reason to be happy for the Central Catholic victory.
And it’s not about football.
Coaches will often tell their players, after a big win or a deflating loss, to keep it in perspective. It’s just a game. It may be the biggest thing in your life at this particular moment in time but, as years go by, you realize it is just a game. Just one piece of the big puzzle that is life.
For one Central Catholic player – who lost his father unexpectedly to a stroke the day before the title game – that fact could not have been more clearly brought into focus. Spencer Stark was on the field Saturday because he said his father would have wanted him to be. The Raiders presented their teammate with the game ball following the win. But I guarantee you Spencer would have traded that victory – and every win he’s ever been a part of to have his dad John Stark back with him.
His family tragedy is a reminder to us all that it’s not about the final record or the outcome of any one game. It’s about appreciating the people that are there to love and support you along the way, win or lose, and letting them know how important they are to you.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.