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The Zak Zone

December 15, 2011

The PAHS basketball and wrestling seasons are officially under way, and boy, am I glad.

In an exciting fashion, the girls' and boys' basketball teams tipped off their seasons at the Marion Center Tip-Off Tournament last Friday and Saturday.

And just last night, the varsity wrestlers earned an impressive 66-9 victory over an under-manned, but talented, Marion Center squad.

Despite battling a bad back and needing a ride from my parents (making me feel like I was in high school all over again), Friday was an exciting day for me because I finally returned to my routine that had grown so familiar of walking into the office, grabbing my notebook and my camera bag and heading out the door to cover real, live events.

I had lots of time to look back on the fall sports season while I was counting what seemed like an endless number of Fall Sports MVP ballots last week.

(Speaking of the MVPs, congratulations to Daniel Triponey and Shaina Reddinger for their special achievements.)

As I looked back over those ballots, though, I reflected on my first full season as a "journalist," which gave me the opportunity to look ahead to my second full sports season with the same title.

In a lot of places, the word reporter might leave a bad taste in people's mouths, but my experience as the town of Punxsutawney's sports reporter has been nothing but positive, making it easy to look forward to the new season.

There have been kind words and compliments for the stories I've written and the pictures I've taken.

The coaches have been kind and understanding as I've gone through my growing pains as a sports reporter after entering this position with no actual journalism experience.

And parents have been supportive, as well, all while hoping their children's pictures are the ones that end up in the paper.

A great majority of what I have learned over my first six months here at The Spirit has prepared me to go forward and continue to bring what I hope is an informative and uplifting version of our local sports to the folks of Punxsutawney.

And now, with the winter season upon us, one thing I have heard in common with this season's teams as I have done interviews for upcoming preview stories (see Friday's edition of The Spirit for those previews) is this: We've got a lot of young talent, but we're a bit inexperienced.

Commonly, when a coach says his team is a bit inexperienced, you can hear in his or her voice a bit of dejection, but that wasn't the case in the interviews I conducted this past week.

In my interview with boys' head basketball coach Dirk Neal, he told me he has a team that is returning just as many seniors as last year's team returned, but also noted that this year's team has fewer playing minutes at the varsity level.

Likewise, as I interviewed girls' head basketball coach Randy Reitz after the team's second preseason scrimmage last Tuesday night, he said his team was young and may be a bit less experienced than some other teams out there.

Yet, neither coach seemed disappointed by the lack of experience their teams have.

Of course, given the choice, any would love to have five returning starters on a basketball team, but there was no sense of disappointment in either coach's voice when he spoke of the team's inexperience, either, much to my surprise.

Both coaches spoke of the excitement that comes with taking each individual piece of the puzzle and figuring out exactly where it fits.

Inexperienced isn't always a negative thing. I watched a volleyball team that was labeled similarly this fall grow and develop into a team that came within points of winning a District IX title.

And even closer to home for me, I've gone through the experience of learning on the fly in my time here, and I hope that most wouldn't argue with the fact that it hasn't been such a bad thing.

Sure, I've made mistakes in my time here at The Spirit, and the boys and girls representing Punxsy on the court and the mat this winter will do the same, but the mistakes end up leading us to the right way to do things.

That sophomore wrestler might make a move that allows his opponent to pin him, but the real story is whether he learns not to make the same mistake again, perhaps at districts.

A freshman basketball player might miss an assignment playing help-side defense early in the season, but through practice and repetition, the weaknesses turn into strengths.

But the fact that we might make some mistakes doesn't mean you shouldn't watch out for us down the line. You never know what those mistakes might have taught us.

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