It was the first and only time I have ever broken the sportswriter’s cardinal rule: No cheering in the press box.
I’m not really sure it even qualifies as such. And if so, it’s a minor violation, in my opinion. I’ll let you be the judge.
It was a two years into my career as a sportswriter after finally graduating from The Ohio State University, and the Avon Lake Shoregals were playing Cincinnati Roger Bacon in the 1994 Division II girls basketball state championship game at St. John Arena in Columbus.
That’s pretty big stuff for a young reporter, especially one who grew up in the area and attended Bay High School, Avon Lake’s former Southwestern Conference rival.
How big? Well, when my editor presented me with the task of penning this column, someone, who as Cleveland Indians beat writer since 1997, has covered thousands of Major League Baseball games and, as a sportswriter overall, has covered three national championship football games, NBA playoff games and All-Star Games — still remembered that day, that team and that game, vividly.
Without researching, that same writer was able to come up with the Shoregals’ opponent and four of Avon Lake’s five starters — all-everything guard/forward Megan Chawansky, tiny shooting guard Kelly Coughlin, tough and tenacious point guard Stacey Fifer and tall, athletic post player Beth Lora.
My apologies to the fifth starter, forward Michelle Finefrock, but it’s pretty clear the lasting impression this game had on a young reporter just starting out in the biz.
The way it ended insured as much, and may or may not have provided sufficient evidence to indict me on the most heinous of charges against a sportswriter.
Allow me to attempt to present a defense:
With Chawansky, the Division II Player of the Year as a junior, heading a talented supporting cast — Fifer, a senior and Lorain County Miss Basketball that season — Avon Lake was supposed to be good. State title good? Not out of the question after the Shoregals lost in the semifinals the year before and entered the tournament unbeaten, but certainly not expected.
At that time, few teams in the area were on the state’s elite level in any sport, so this was a substantial moment that hasn’t been matched by a local girls basketball team since.
If Avon Lake had reached the Final Four, it would have been a major accomplishment. But this was larger than that. The Shoregals were on the biggest of stages, with an opportunity to win a state championship.
As history shows, the game was tied at 39 after Roger Bacon missed a free throw and a couple of putback attempts with two minutes left in regulation and Avon Lake gained possession and called time out.
With everyone in the building thinking Chawansky would be the game-winning option, coach Amy Manco drew something up for anyone with an open look. After running the clock down under 10 seconds, Coughlin, a junior sharpshooter, got the first look, but her shot from the top of the key was off the mark. Fifer chased down the rebound on the left baseline, turned around and threw up a prayer just before the final horn sounded.
That’s when all heck broke loose — for Fifer, for the Shoregals, for the thousands in the arena — and for me.
Former longtime Chronicle-Telegram sports editor Jerry Rombach — the man who hired me — was covering the game and seated alongside me. This young reporter, who was on one of his first big assignments, grabbed his boss by both shoulders and started shaking him after Fifer’s improbable attempt found the bottom of the net.
It meant Avon Lake had pulled off the unthinkable and won the state title.
And it meant that at an early stage in my career I had quite possibly committed the worst of offenses. Sure, I didn’t stand up and shout, nor did I drop a high-five on my boss, who would have had more than acceptable grounds to fire me at that point.
But, technically, I did cheer.