My first trip to Medina is for a major Niagara-Orleans and small-school matchup as Wilson takes its undefeated league record to the Mustangs' gym.
7:20ish p.m.: I walk in the gym after the long trip up here hoping I haven't missed too much action, and I see Levi Pace of Medina score the first basket of the game. I like that.
I drove up and down Mustang Drive (gotta love the street name) outside the school looking for a spot -- the parking lot is jammed. The gym is probably a little more than three-quarters full.
7:31 p.m.: Medina has a 17-8 lead after the first quarter.
7:49 p.m. Medina has a 40-20 lead at halftime and Travis Bloom has hit SIX three-pointers. He just nailed his sixth from the right side and had a big smile as he trotted back up the court.
Adam Hellwig has three more threes for a total of nine for Medina in the first half. Wilson was in a zone the entire half and the Mustangs just kept shooting relatively open shots.
I'm a little bummed that it is a 20-point game at halftime and hoping that Wilson makes it a game. I tucked away the iPhone for the first half to save it for the end, and I missed Bloom going nuts from downtown. After Medina jumped to its big lead, Wilson was making a game of it, closing to withing 22-16, 25-18 and 28-20 with about two minutes left in the first half.
Then it was all Medina, led by Bloom, who hit three of his six threes in the 12-0 half-closing run in the final 1:44.
Just as an FYI, Wilson has three home games coming up after tonight. How do I know that? It's on the shirt on one of the young, knowledgeable fans ("That's four [fouls] on Pace! Yes!") sitting in front of me.
8:13 p.m. After three quarters, Wilson has shown some life and have gone man-to-man.
The field is set, the only question is -- can anyone stop Southwestern? The defending state champions are No. 1 in the small school poll, but can they survive Section VI? North division tough guys Eden and Cleveland Hill both potentially stand in their way.
The Alan R. Elia Sr. Memorial Basketball Tournament, which was known as the Can-Am for many years, will be held in Niagara Falls this weekend -- giving a weekend full of kickoffs a tip-off as well.
Here's a basic schedule and the rosters of local teams. The big news -- on this first day of school for many -- is that Stan Wier, who was an All-Western New York honorable mention as a freshman last year at East Aurora, is listed as Nichols. That confirms what some sources told me recently, that Wier had enrolled at Nichols to complete a transfer from EA.
That certainly gives the Vikings another scoring weapon to a team that returned four starters, and it gives them a serious outside threat -- which may make teams think twice about concentrating on Will Regan and Ron Canestro.
For those who want a hoop fix, there are games all day Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. and the final games scheduled to start at 7 p.m. All those games are at Niagara Falls High.
Sunday's playoffs are at Niagara Catholic. Semifinals at 9 and 10:15 a.m. will be followed by an 11:30 consolation and a 12:45 p.m. championship.
Here are the local teams, which feature Niagara Falls players on all three:
Niagara PAL Chiefs
Ka'ron Briggs (Sweet Home), Keegan Dunlop (St. Francis, Ont.), J.J. Harrington (Lancaster), Davon Marshall (Niagara Falls), Lucas Pachete (North Tonawanda), Joel Pike (Frontier), Dajon Street (Niagara Falls), Sterling Taplin (Williamsville North), Stan Weir (Nichols). Coach: Sal Constantino.
Gelajide Brown (Niagara Falls), Mike Carson (Niagara Falls), Jermaine Crumpton (Niagara Falls), Lorenzo Joseph (Niagara Catholic), Maurice Respress (Niagara Falls), Kenny Stokes (Niagara Falls), Jordan Street (Niagara Falls), J.J. Wilkes (Niagara Falls), Tajay Williams (Niagara Falls). Coach: Carlos Bradberry.
Ethan Baker (Wilson), C.J. Cox (Niagara Falls), Dan Hanbrauch (Newfane), Brennan Moxham (Wilson), Alex Short (Akron), Trevor Short (Akron), Jonas Stalyga (Grand Island), Tyler Truesdale (Wilson), Connor Vandegriff (Nichols), John Cincent (Wilson). Coaches: Jim Vandergriff/Walt Moxham.
The sight of players running pass routes, practicing blocking techniques and simply running wind sprints means football season has officially begun throughout the state.
But Monday was more than the official start of scholastic football season in Wilson. In this community, the event marked a return to normalcy for Bill Atlas.
Atlas officially resumed his career as an educator during the morning practice session. He was appointed to his former job as head varsity football coach last week by the Wilson School Board about a month after being cleared of child endangerment charges stemming from an alleged hazing incident on the Wilson High baseball team bus in April 2008.
While Atlas didn't comment on how significant this practice was in his life -- he had been on paid suspension for more than a year while the legal process played itself out -- he was very optimistic about his team's chances of having a successful season.
"I've got great kids," he said. "This is going to be a great football year. We have some fresh faces on the line. As long as we solidify our lineup, we'll do well."
Atlas has reason to be confident. He guided the program to a rare playoff appearance in 2007, when the Lakemen finished 6-3 after having won just two games the previous two seasons. Wilson, which has won just 20 games this decade, went 2-7 last year under current varsity assistant Al Scarpine, who took the head job on an interim basis until Atlas was cleared to return.
A total of 49 players (27 varsity members) took part in the practice session that ended shortly after noon. To a casual observer, it simply looked like a normal season-opening practice. In reality it was much more.
"It's great to have him (Atlas) back," third-year varsity member and senior quarterback John Vincent said. "I'm just ready to win some football games.
"Actually hearing the coaches scream is the best sound because it helps you become a better player," Vincent said. "Hearing the players joke around, having fun but always pushing each other is always great but the best sound is when the ball hits your hand and you release it and you hear that sound (the one the ball makes as it leaves his hand)."
Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.