Thank goodness for sports.
Seriously. If it weren’t for the incredible 2016-17 prep sports efforts of Decatur, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer High Schools, this would be a depressing year.
But because of Decatur boys soccer and Federal Way boys basketball, and athletes like Hailey Still, Sunee Schneider and Jose Barbosa, sports was the beacon of light in an otherwise dim year for the city.
The fall sports season kicked off in September, and with it came quite a few gems and surprises. The Jefferson Raiders welcomed freshman Still to the soccer program, and in her very first match she broke the school record for goals scored in a match when she netted seven against Auburn.
Shortly after Still cemented herself as a top striker in the North Puget Sound League, the Beamer Titans kicked off their football season.
After opening the season 1-1, Beamer ripped off seven straight wins behind freshman running back Colin McKay. With McKay carrying the football and returning kicks, Beamer surged into the playoffs after a 6-4 season the year before.
Although the Titans fell in the first round after a season-ending 17-2 loss to Bellarmine Prep, coach Darren McKay is proud of his team’s efforts.
“As time goes on they’ll appreciate it more,” he said of the Titans’ season. “We’ll appreciate it more over time. But we are proud of the season we had.”
Then basketball season arrived. Finally. And what a treat it was.
The Federal Way Eagles returned to the hardwood off their back-to-back state-championship run, and, frankly, looked as good as ever for a three-peat.
The Eagles set a national – yes, national – record, when they won their 62nd straight game, which dated back to Jan. 19, 2015, before falling to Kentwood, Feb. 4.
“Looking back on it now, and even before, it’s a tremendous accomplishment, particularly in the game of basketball,” Eagles coach Jerome Collins said.
But this winter’s best moment wasn’t on the hardwood.
It was no further than the upper gym and track at Jefferson High School, where you’d find Schneider.
She’s both a runner and a gymnast for the Raiders, and she did both this year after missing her sophomore and junior seasons to undergo a double kidney transplant.
She’s had two transplants since 2010, and she may need another at some point down the road.
Dialysis caused her severe depression, but it was the thrill and camaraderie that only sports offered that pulled Schneider out of it.
“When I do gymnastics, the flips and all that, I feel like I’m flying,” Schneider said. “My mind is away from everything. It’s a great feeling when I can do those things.”
This spring, both Decatur and Beamer suddenly transformed Federal Way into a soccer town.
In his first season as manager, Brad Plemons led the Gators to their first postseason appearance since 2014 and first state tournament berth since 2011 after a 12-win season.
Decatur’s tactical play was impressive, but it was the team’s spirit that was far more powerful.
The Gators spent the season playing for things bigger than sports. They dedicated their season to former coach Sean Smith, who died in 2016 of cancer. They coined the season “Smith Strong.”
The team also played for senior goalkeeper Barbosa, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia shortly after Smith’s passing.
Jerod Young is the Mirror’s sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.