By Lauren Mariacher
At my volleyball banquet my senior year, my coach stood up and said a few nice things about the team, before ending with, "Lauren Mariacher, I know you love high school, and you don't want to leave, but you've really got to give us your jersey back."
While most kids couldn’t wait to get to college, I was perfectly happy in high school, for a lot of reasons. I loved my friends, my teachers and coaches at Iroquois. But really, when it came down to it, I just loved playing sports.
I went on to run cross country in college, but there's just something different about high school sports. There is a freshness, an innocence, a simplicity to the game that seems to fade away in college and professional athletics. There are no scholarships, no NCAA rules and violations, no contracts. For a couple of years you get to play for the place that you call home simply because you want to.
The best coach I ever had and one of the wisest men I’ve ever known, Rich Violanti, used to say, "See that name on the front of your jersey? You play for that name. You represent that name because it's a heck of a lot more important than the name on the back."
A few years later I realized he borrowed those words from a pretty famous Olympic hockey coach, but it still stands as some of the best advice I was given as a teenager. Coach Violanti preached selflessness and unity. He taught us about respecting your town and your teammates.
This week I’ll be saying goodbye to Prep Talk, PrepTalkTV, and The Buffalo News to move to Nebraska with my soon-to-be husband. Believe it or not he’s grown quite fond of Buffalo and our sports (yes, even the Bills) and promises to let me drag him to as many football games as I see fit. I’m counting on Twitter followers to remind him of that promise come midseason.
As I say “see you later” to this place and my spot on Western New York's sidelines, I can't help but reflect on the amazing "team" I have been blessed to be a part of these last four years.
First off, to Prep Talk Nation (#preptalknation for the Twitter folks) -- you are one of a kind. Keith McShea and I have often sat back in awe of the number of results (#preptalkscores) and highlights flooding into our Twitter feeds on a game-packed night around Western New York. Fans around here don't just watch. They cheer, Facebook, tweet, Twitpic, and whatever else you can fit into 140 characters. They care about high school sports, and that means high school sports matter in our community.
Thank you to the coaches and athletes who made my job easy. I know you weren’t used to us newspaper people sticking cameras in your faces, but you never complained (that we know of) and welcomed us at your practices, games, and even in your locker rooms (or dressing room if you’re the musically talented St. Joe’s hockey team).
To the cheerleaders, athletic directors, principals, parents, referees, scorekeepers, athletic trainers, marching bands (Niagara Falls and Williamsville South -- you rock, literally), and student fans, especially Canisius’ Blue Crew, the St. Joe’s Rowdies, Sacred Heart’s Shouties, Williamsville North’s Green Squall and West Seneca East’s most enthusiastic fan, Chris Cronin -- thank you for giving PrepTalkTV the opportunity and material to make it what it is.
To the custodial staff who stayed late time and time again so that Keith and I could finish our work, sometimes well past midnight, THANK YOU. Don’t get too excited though, Keith will still be shutting the place down. I think by now he can locate the light switches.
Speaking of Keith -- Partna! The hardest-working sports reporter I know. It’s not just your dedication to covering hundreds of games each year, but the excitement you bring to each one of them that is most impressive. Yes, I know, you’re “just doing your job,” but you do it better than anyone. Western New York is lucky to have you. Tierra del fuego. (The only Spanish Keith knows.)
And lastly, to The Buffalo News -- thank you for making high school sports a priority in our paper, and on our website. I know you will continue to be the best in the game long after I turn in my jersey.