The Class of '07 is having opportunities as freshmen that most of their predecessors have not been able to enjoy.
In the 34 seasons in which I have reported on local sports, I don't believe any freshman class has ever played as many important roles in sports as does the current group of ninth graders.
A combination of talent and everything else falling into place as created the unique situation.
Wednesday I watched five freshmen start and play key roles for the Russellville varsity baseball team. Veteran coach Lou Kendall not only is optimist about this year's team but sees great things happening in the three years which will follow.
Baseball strategists talk about the importance of being "strong up the middle," and Kendall had a freshman catching (Kevin Saunders), pitching (Wes Rutherford), playing second (Tyler Meacham) and in centerfield (Ryan Morgan). And Justin Rust, who's as good as any of them, was at third. Fellow freshman Kenny Gonzales would be playing a utility role if he weren't injured.
Saturday I watched Logan County freshman John Kenner get the ball as the pitcher for the Cougars in the championship game of one of the biggest early season tournaments in the state. Midway through the game, freshman Chad Taylor came on to catch. He got three at-bats and Coach Ethan Meguiar showed great confidence in him.
In the final inning with two outs and the bases loaded, Taylor came to the plate as the potential tying run, and Meguiar let him bat.
Another freshman, newcomer Alex Graves, did some nifty base running that kept the Cougar comeback alive. He drew the throw on what would have been a routine groundout at first, dived under the tag, and left both men safe.
There are 12 freshmen on the Cougars' 30-man roster. Most of them won't get the chance to see significant playing time because Meguiar tends to reward older players for having stuck with his program. They are also having to wait their turns behind a talented junior class, just as the RHS boys basketball freshmen have to wait for the Panther roundballers of '05 to complete their careers.
What both the juniors and the freshmen have had going for them is that the senior and sophomore classes are not deep, at least in terms of sports numbers. Logan County had only four senior athletes besides cheerleaders at season's end for winter sports- basketball players Cary Cowan, Amy Scarbrough and Ted Van Zee and swimmer Michael Brown.
Russellville's outstanding boys basketball team had only two seniors, starter Damien Terry and sixth man Demetrius Whitford. The juniors did all the rest of the playing. There were three Lady Panther basketball players, starters Angela Kennedy and Yolanda McKinney and key reserve Von Sydnor.
No upperclassmen swam for RHS. In fact, five freshmen- Alex Koller, Rebekah Epley, Anne Chambers, Taylor Ray and Abby Clark- all made it to state. They may be the most potent unit of all the freshmen in this special class. Many of them are also important to the golf and tennis teams
Freshman Jordan Hinton started for the Cougars in basketball most of the season. So did freshmen Caitlin Reeves and Chloe Elam for the Lady Panthers. Cougars Trey Turner, Blake Meacham, Jeffrey Sydnor and Travis Hooper saw varying amounts of playing time on the varsity and became the nucleus of the JV team. Raschae Daniel was a key reserve for the Lady Panthers.
Becca Grayson not only started for the Logan County volleyball team, but her insertion into the starting lineup at setter may have been the deciding factor in the Lady Cougars winning the district championship and finishing as regional runner-up.
The RHS soccer team as young as several freshmen played key roles. The names Nathan Sindorf and Zack Arnold come to mind.
Josh Thomas was one of the freshmen starters for the LCHS cross country team.
Reeves is expected to be a starter on the Lady Panther softball team.
Freshmen will play key roles on track and tennis teams this spring, I'm sure.
Logan County has only three sophomores who play baseball, the same three who were on the team as freshmen. That opens the door for more freshmen to play, especially on the JV, which will be freshman dominated. The Panther baseball team only has two seniors on the roster, and only two sophomores are among the top 10 or 11 baseball players.
New Logan County softball coach Toby Turpin is beginning a youth movement. Sixteen of his players are freshmen or younger.
In addition to the natural talent in the class and the low numbers of athletes in the senior and sophomore classes, there have been two other factors in the rise to prominence of the freshmen.
One is the exodus of six upper classmen from the Cougar basketball team. That not only opened up varsity spots and playing time, but it also meant that the freshmen became the focal point of the junior varsity team when several sophomores became varsity-only players.
The other is the role that Coach Kim Swift has played in the development of the current 14-16 Russellville age group. His son Tyler is an eighth grader and is both talented and fundamentally sound. Like any other parent, Swift wanted his son to be part of a winner. He also has been very loyal to Russellville High School over the past dozen years. So he has spent the last few years assembling and refining young talent.
As a coach who has access to the playing field and the gymnasium, he has been able to do even more for them than most any other parent could have. This group has gotten to practice with the high school teams in basketball and baseball, they have their own hand-picked baseball team with a high school field at their disposal in the summers, and they have gotten excellent coaching from Swift, Lonnie Winston, Kendall and Phil Todd.
All that has gone together to make them one of the best prepared groups ever to enter high school sports around here.
So what we have in this year's freshmen is a class that has had all its heavenly stars in the right alignment. Opportunity and talent have gone hand in hand to make the Class of 2007 experience a memorable 2004.
It remains to be seen over the next three years if all this combines into championships, but the potential is there for great things.