Over the eight years of my journalism career, I feel I have stayed relatively unbiased in my coverage of high school athletes.
I try not to become attached to any one team, and even with a one-school paper, I try to treat each program with the same objective approach to their season and their opponents.
In that aspect, I failed masterfully in 2010.
I didn’t realize this until the fourth quarter of Oakdale’s section championship football loss to Del Oro on Saturday, specifically when a Golden Eagle defender launched himself at Spencer Thomas’ knees well after he was far out of bounds on a first-down run.
My initial reaction was a sort of half-scream, half-seizure along the Mustang sideline, mostly in response to the lack of a flag for what I felt was an outrageously dangerous play by the Del Oro tackler.
It took every ounce of my self control to not voice this opinion to nearby officials, who proceeded to make me more furious when they called Oakdale penalties for chop-blocks at the line of scrimmage during trap plays designed to follow these (should-have-been) legal blocks.
I’m normally not so critical of poor officiating, but 14 weeks of watching this team play has done serious damage to the objective side of my brain.
I loved watching Oakdale run, I loved watching them pass, and when the Mustang defense squared off with 11 of the best players I have ever seen, I considered swiping an Oakdale jersey and running onto the field.
This year’s group of Mustangs was truly inspiring, and I honestly feel that each of one of them is destined for greatness, both on and off the football field.
If any team could ever personify Oakdale’s creed of “mind, body and spirit” it’s this one. They played brilliantly, passionately and worked as hard as any group of high school athletes possibly could.
At each Oakdale game I was always guaranteed a few things, the first of which was a long distance wave and sort of tribal yell from Mark Brown (A.C.’s father). The elder Brown’s ponytail makes up for the lack of hair up top, and his son’s bone-jarring collisions with opposing quarterbacks made up for all those times QBs were allowed to sit out team tackling drills.
I was also guaranteed a few highlight reel moments from likes of Daniel Linder, Vince Thompson and Justin Martin, whose magnificent plays on the gridiron represent some of the most prolific memories of my football-watching history across any level of play.
Oakdale sophomores played well beyond their years, juniors like workhorse Marcus Hernandez did all the little things right and seniors made me wish the season would never end.
Their exploits were far greater than anything I could describe on paper, and they did more to break down my unbiased approach than any team I have covered.
But for that failure I owe them my thanks, because the only thing that made this season more special was my own one-sided emotions. I may have mourned the loss to Del Oro, but I also enjoyed my own mud-soaked celebration in Auburn, just one high point in a truly incredible year on the sidelines.
Ike Dodson is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.