"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Anissa Hodges walked out into the chill of the October night, already mentally writing up the story of the game. It had been a thriller, but what was new?
It was a long drive back to Spearfish Lake from Moffatt Eastern, where the district playoff games were being held. Anissa could have ridden the fan bus, but she knew she had to get this story written tonight, along with Marlin Sports Talk, the column she did for the Record-Herald. In fact, she figured on heading right back to the office and doing it on one of the computers there, rather than heading home and having to do it over the noise of the TV and the kids. Usually, she waited until the next day to write up a game, when at least some of her kids were in school and things were a little quieter, but with the deadline being tomorrow, she knew Mike would want to have the story the first thing.
It was strange how things had worked out, she thought, not for the first time, or even the thousandth. She’d always been content to be a stay-at-home mom, and, in fact, that was about all she ever wanted to be – and that was fine with Dean, her husband. They’d gotten married right after she graduated from high school, and she had averaged a kid every other year since. Sarah, their second oldest, was one of the kids on this basketball team, which had made it even more enjoyable to go to the games. But then, she’d gone to a lot of Marlin games and didn’t expect to see that change much in the future.
In fact, Anissa had been one of the quintessential Marlin sports nuts from pre-kindergarten age. She and Brandy had been the school’s first girls as twelve-letter athletes, but unlike Brandy she’d stayed in Spearfish Lake and had kept going to the games religiously ever afterwards. It was fun to watch the flow of the game, to see the kids develop their skills; better than TV, any way you cut it.
And then, out of nowhere an opportunity came along. It had been seven years ago, and she’d been sitting in the bleachers, watching a girls’ basketball game, when Mike McMahon came over to her at halftime. She knew Mike from way back when – he was the editor of the Record-Herald, and back when she had been in school, he’d interviewed Brandy and her after the games many times. She’d noticed that he was doing it again, and had guessed that he was again without a sports reporter. That proved to be the case, and he’d noticed that she went to all the varsity games, even though she didn’t have any kids on the team – back then, anyway – and not even any close relatives playing. Somehow, before the halftime was over he’d extracted a promise from her to write up some notes on the game for him, and he’d see how it worked out.
Anissa hadn’t exactly been a star English student in high school, and it had been years since she’d written much more than a note to a teacher. She went home and tried to write up the story of the game, but even she didn’t like it. The next afternoon, she took it by the Record-Herald and showed it to Mike. He clearly didn’t like it, either. "Anissa, I know you can do better than that," he said. "Let’s just sit here, and you tell me what happened at the game."
She sat there, and for the next ten or fifteen minutes, just told him what happened, who stood out, what the exciting plays were, and all the while there was an inexplicable grin on his face. Finally, once she’d worked her way down to the closing buzzer, he’d said. "Much better. Now, go out there, sit down at one of the computers, and put it on the keyboard just like you told me."
Anissa had been a slow typist back then; it took a while, and the story that resulted hadn’t quite had all the detail, so she went through it again. Finally, she was complete. Mike sat down at the keyboard, fixed a few misspellings, made a couple minor changes in the story, and saved it. "Not bad," he said. "You going to the JV football game tonight?"
"I wouldn’t miss it," she said.
" Figured as much. Come in tomorrow and write up the story." He’d paid her twenty bucks a story at first, but before long he had her on salary and doing Marlin Sports Talk, the gossip column about school sports. The neat part about the job was that she didn’t even have to go to work. Well, she dropped into the office once or twice a week, at least one of those times mainly to pick up a paycheck. Most of the time she spent for the Record-Herald was going to the games, which she’d have gone to anyway, and after a while Mike had given her an old computer with a modem and e-mail on it, so she could do the stories at home while Dean was at work. Going to the games after school gave her some time away from the kids – though she often took one or more kids with her – and the paycheck was more than welcome. She couldn’t have imagined a better job for her.
After a while, her writing skills had improved – Mike had worked with her on that, as had several of the junior reporters who had come and gone over the years – and her typing skills had also improved. Now, about all she had to do was to more or less figure out what she was going to say on the way back from the game, and it wouldn’t take long for her to knock it out.
It was quiet and dark in the Record-Herald office when she unlocked it and went in. On the Monday nights that she wrote stories in the office, the junior reporter was there about half the time, but apparently not tonight. She turned on the light and went over to the mostly empty desk that was considered to be hers, although she used it rarely.
While she was waiting for the computer to boot up, she looked up at the big picture of Brenda Hodunk on the wall, receiving the ANA Aherns Award two years before. That was a big deal, the biggest award ever received at the Record-Herald by a long shot. Anissa had fond memories of Brenda – she’d covered the political side of the start of the big basketball/cheerleader dispute, allowing Anissa to mostly stay out of the line of fire and report on the school sports. She was one sharp, hardnosed kid, a real pro; Anissa had learned a lot from her, despite Brenda being ten years younger. She was city editor at the Camden Press now, very young for her job – and very, very competent, even though she was nothing of a sports fan.
The game story went quickly; it was like a lot of game stories, but this one was important enough that Anissa took her time with it. The football team hadn’t done well this fall, but the way the girls’ basketball team had come back – well, it was nothing short of a miracle.
Then, it was time for Marlin Sports Talk. She stared at the screen for a moment, figuring out how she wanted to start the article, although she knew pretty well what she wanted to say when she got past the start. Oh, hell, write it and get it over with, she thought, and started tapping at the keys.
Marlin Sports Talk
by Anissa Hodges
Record-Herald Sports Editor
Since about the second game of the season, I’ve been calling the Spearfish Lake Lady Marlin basketball team "The Cardiac Seven." With good reason: they should keep an ambulance – at least one! – standing by at their games, since every game they’ve played all season long has been a heartstopper.
I went back and checked the stats: seventeen out of twenty games have been won by two points or less, by either side. Fifteen of those games were decided in the last ten seconds. The biggest blowout of the season – the Lady Marlins won – was by five points.
Yet, when the chips are down – and the stats show that they’ve been down sometime in every game, and sometimes more than once – the Lady Marlins have usually come through.
After the last years of Marlin basketball, two months ago anyone in Spearfish Lake would have been thrilled to see the girls complete the season and get at least one win. No one – this reporter included – expected to see the Lady Marlins end the regular season 18-2, win the first round of the district playoffs, and be the odds-on favorites to take the districts this week. And, on the way, they’ve provided some of the most exciting sports action in Marlin history in years.
No one took the Cardiac Seven seriously when the season began. Well, almost no one – the seven girls and their coach, Brandy (Evachevski) Wine, were about as serious as a heart attack. But, these girls are not last year’s Lady Marlins. By about the third or fourth game of the season, opposing teams knew that when the Cardiac Seven came onto the floor wearing uniforms labeled "Lady Marlin Volleyball", they were in for a tough time.
There are, in fact, new basketball uniforms in the locker room for them, but they’ve stayed in the packages. The girls voted early on to continue wearing the volleyball uniforms they started the season with as a token of their solidarity – and to remind people of how little they were regarded when the season opened, when Spearfish Lake High School could not even bother to provide them with clean basketball uniforms.
It’s typical for basketball teams – at any level – to have one or two or three standouts, with the job of the rest of the team to feed them the ball and get out of their way. Not the Cardiac Seven. There are seven standouts on this team.
To be perfectly honest, none of them would be runaway stars in other conditions – but that’s worked in their favor. Every one of the seven girls has been the high scorer of the game sometime this season; every one of them has been the low scorer. In season totals, there’re about six minutes difference between the most playing time and the least. Each of the girls has areas where she’s better than the others, and each has areas where she’s worse. But the combination doesn’t matter – there are five threats out of five on the floor at any one time. That makes them a little hard to guard against.
Coaching plays a part – and in Coach Wine, the girls have coaching of a caliber and dedication rarely seen before at Spearfish Lake. They still talk about some of the plays that Coach Wine made back in the days long ago when she and I were Lady Marlins – but she’s passed a great deal on to these girls, especially the desire to win and the skills to do it. That’s hard anywhere, but she did have the advantage of starting with seven pieces of raw clay. She didn’t create seven Brandy Evachevskis revisited – but with her guidance, she taught the girls how to be a team.
The result: these seven girls are the best team in any sport that I’ve ever seen in thirty years of following Marlin sports. There have been teams with more success, more glamour – but as the result of standout individuals. These girls made their reputation through sheer teamwork. That’s really rare in high school sports. It takes believing in yourself, but it also takes knowing and believing in each other.
Whatever happens this week and the next two weeks, they’ll all be back, better than this year. Usually, at the end of the season, we find ourselves talking about returning lettermen, by which we mean this year’s juniors. That’s not happening this time, and no doubt has caused a lack of sleep around the region and around the league – not only will they be back next year, but they’ll be around for a while. There are no juniors on this team, no seniors. There are two sophomores and five freshmen. In any other time, any other place, this would be an awesome JV team – but this is the Lady Marlin varsity, and they’re going to be the varsity together for two more years, just getting better and better.
I don’t know if the Lady Marlins are going to Jones Arena this year or not; any reasonable betting person would have to say the odds are against it. But, I won’t rule it out, and I’d be willing to bet good money that we’ll see them there sometime in the next few years.
Whatever happens in the next few days, they’ve demonstrated rare spirit, rare teamwork. This team is going to be remembered for a long time in Spearfish Lake.
For that reason, I’m not going to call them "The Cardiac Seven" any longer. I’m going to call them what they’ve shown they really are – cue the bass guitar – "The Magnificent Seven."