Community is full of champions

Years ago, I remember attending a Champion vs. Liberty boys basketball game being played at Warren G. Harding High School.

Champion and Liberty had a good rivalry going in the old Trumbull AA League in the late 1960s, and for a couple of seasons played their games at neutral, larger sites. If I recall accurately, despite the closeness of the games and the rivalry, the Leopards had won the league title the previous season and were on their way to winning it again.

At this particular game, during the 1970-71 season, some witty Liberty student or students had put a sign on the wall that said “Champion of what?”

As a seventh-grader I appreciated the play on words, and in fact I had often wondered about the name of the school which I attended (I learned at some point that the founder of Champion Township back in the late 1700s was a guy named Henry Champion).

For those competing in the uniforms of the school, there’s always that thought that your opponent might be poking fun, like those Liberty students years ago. What exactly are you the Champion of?

(Obviously, playing with the name Champion on your uniform is better than if the township had been founded by William Loser).

Today, the Champion community can be proud of the fact that Champion is indeed the champion of regional tournaments in both baseball and softball. The Golden Flashes boys and girls both won games Saturday at Massillon Washington High School and advance to the state final four competition this week.

Anyone paying attention to spring sports in Ohio knows that the Champion softball program has been to state tournaments plenty of times in the past and the Golden Flashes have won their share of state titles.

The baseball program hasn’t been that far as often, but has had its share of success over the years, including a trip to the state tournament back in that ’70-71 season when the Flashes also made it to the boys basketball state championship game.

Coaches Cheryl Weaver and Rick Yauger, along with their coaching staffs, obviously deserve much of the credit for guiding these young men and women to the state tournament this season.

But there are plenty of others who also deserve credit, and it’s the same in any community where a school team has success. Those kids who won those regional title games on Saturday all started playing when they were 6, or 7 or 8 years old. Where did they play? In their own community program, in this case the Champion Athletic Club.

The CAC is much like countless other organizations in that they provide a starting point for kids and sports. Especially with baseball and softball — because there are no junior high programs — the community programs are vitally important to success at the high school level.

Sure, most of the kids who end up playing high school softball and baseball have played travel ball once they’ve reached a certain level. Travel ball has an important role in the development of players in that it provides stiffer competition for kids as they mature.

But that starting point is important. There must be an organization in place to allow youngsters an opportunity to get started. Yes, we’ve all heard horror stories about those youth coaches who take things too far and put undue pressure on kids, but for every one of those, there are dozens who do things the right way.

All of these people are volunteers, usually doing the best they can for the kids. And having worked personally with many who have been involved with the Champion Athletic Club — too many to mention names for fear of missing someone — I am certain that they have a certain good feeling in their hearts today.

The accomplishments of the Champion softball and baseball teams this season reflect positively on all those who have worked with Champion youngsters over the years, whether those folks are still with us or not.

Certainly, all those who have done their part are Champions.