It was the year of high school phenoms.
Seriously, have we ever seen a year like this?
Have we ever lived through 12 months of a single calendar during which the achievements of our high school kids so dominated the sports news in the Peoria area?
Over the decades, we’ve had more than our share of high school state champions. Every school year yields multiple teams and dozens of individuals who win titles or earn state medals. Some become transcendent, like the Manual basketball fourpeat in the 1990s, or Dave Ayoub’s half-mile state record (converted to 1:48.3 for 800 meters) that hasn’t been threatened in the 40 years since he ran it.
But metro Peoria is not a village or small town, where the social fabric of an entire community is woven through the hallways and bleachers of one or two or even 10 high schools. We are bigger than that.
We are not a major-league city, but we have professional sports teams that have won their league championships and an international foot race that produced the fastest 4-mile run in the world and a Division I college basketball program that put this burg on the national sports map nearly 80 years ago. We’re close enough to Chicago and St. Louis that fans here treat the Bears, Cubs, Cardinals, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Blues as their own.
All of these things and more are part of the equation when we review the year and try to sort out which stories had the biggest impact on sports fans in the Peoria area. And while high school sports always snag a few of the spots in the Top 10, they always have hot competition and more often than not get outmuscled in the quest for No. 1.
Not this year.
Have we ever seen a year like this?
Eight of the Top 10 sports stories in the Peoria area during 2017, as voted by the Journal Star sports staff, are direct accomplishments by high school athletes and teams.
And if you want, go ahead and call it a clean sweep for preps, because the other two stories involved young men who made their bones in Peoria-area high school gyms and now play professionally in the NBA.
We had one school win three state team championships and reach the championship game in a fourth sport. We had a wrestler ranked No. 1 in the nation, win international honors and sign to continue his career at NCAA powerhouse Iowa. For the first time, a tennis player from this area won a state championship. A golfer shot 59 in a practice round and smashed all the scoring records at the state tournament, going 13-under par for 36 holes. Keep on going …
Get the picture?
It was a beautiful, bountiful year for high school sports. Around these parts, maybe the best ever.
Kirk Wessler is Journal Star sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KirkWessler.