Monday, November 5, 2012

First place and first class...

Liberty Center head coach Tim Atkinson (left) and 
his daughter Brittany (second from top) were guests 
on Fish Report LIVE! back in early October

The Liberty Center Tigers girls cross country program came into the 2012 season as last year's Division III state champions.  Their top runner is last year's individual state champion, sophomore Brittany Atkinson, and their head coach is Brittany's father, Tim Atkinson.  Before this past Saturday's OHSAA State Cross Country Meet, I had never personally met Coach Atkinson or Brittany.  My only previous contact with them was three weeks ago when both were kind enough to do a short telephone interview for my Fish Report LIVE! webcast.  At the time, Coach Atkinson suggested that perhaps we could meet if both Liberty Center and  Russia were fortunate enough to make it to the state meet.  Fortunately, both teams did make it to the state meet and on Saturday Liberty Center managed to defend their title, beating a very good Coldwater team that had just beaten them at the regional meet the week before.  Brittany ran another great race and individually finished second behind super sophomore Sarah Kanney of Coldwater. Since I was doing some reporting work for Fish Report at the state meet, I wanted to get a few post-race comments from Brittany and her coach about their performance.

I found Brittany at the finish chute shortly after the race was over.  She was busy talking to a newspaper reporter and seemed to have a serious demeanor as she answered his questions.  As I waited a couple minutes for her to finish up, I wondered what the chances were she would recall our telephone interview from several weeks ago.  Who? Fish Report?  After Brittany was done with the reporter I approached her and introduced myself.  When I said I was with Fish Report she gave me a big smile and said she remembered our conversation.  The interview went great and I was impressed with her well spoken answers.  I also asked Brittany where I could find her dad and she pointed me in his direction.  Just as she turned to leave I called her attention to a young boy outside the fence that was waiting patiently for her to autograph his souvenir program.  Brittany came over to sign the program as her high school friends behind her shouted "awww" and snapped a picture.

By the time I located Coach Atkinson he was up around the awards podium.  He was getting ready for his top three runners to be honored as All-Ohio, which included his daughter Brittany, senior Kelly Haubert and junior Paige Chamberlain.  Assuming there would be a couple minutes before the awards ceremony started, I thought I might as well take a quick second and just say hello.  I didn't want to take up his time with an interview because after the All-Ohio awards, his team would then be presented with the state champions trophy.  I walked over to Coach Atkinson and extended my hand to offer congratulations.  I told him who I was and mentioned that I interviewed him a few weeks ago for Fish Report.  Coach Atkinson immediately got a smile on his face that reminded me of his daughter's smile a short time ago.  He told me how glad he was to meet me as we talked about the race and another dream season for his team.  Coach Atkinson then told me he had someone he wanted me to meet.  He yelled over to the podium area where his runner Paige Chamberlain was getting ready to be announced All-Ohio.  He told her to come over and introduced me as the guy from Fish Report.  Paige had just ran a time of 19:00, which was 1:28 faster than her regional time the week before.  I asked Paige how in the world someone can improve that much in one week.  Paige had the biggest smile on her face and said she felt like she let her teammates down the week before and didn't want that to happen again today.

Liberty Center's Paige Chamberlain cut 1:28 off her
regional meet time the week before to help the Tigers 
past the 4th-place Russia Raiders

As Paige returned to the podium area Coach Atkinson told me one more thing.  Liberty Center Schools received some sad news a few weeks ago when one of their math teachers was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.  He's a teacher that is very well liked by the team and before the girls left for the state meet, they decided to visit him this past Thursday.  As terrible as his situation is, all he wanted to talk about was the success of the cross country team.  Coach Atkinson said his girls rallied around that and perhaps that's who they ran for on Saturday.

As much as I am a Russia Raiders fan, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with happiness for the Liberty Center Tigers.  I've learned how they went from a program that almost didn't have a team several years ago due to lack of participation, to a two-time state champion.  Coach Atkinson, Brittany and Paige gained at least one fan from Russia this past Saturday and I look forward to hopefully another meeting with my Raiders at next November's state meet.  Until then, congratulations Liberty Center, you're first place and first class!

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