John F. Russell: High school championships ready to tee off

John F. Russell

— It’s hard to believe it, but next week, the Haymaker Golf Course in Steamboat Springs will host the regional golf tournament.

Forget that feeling that comes as the kids prepare to head back to class at the end of August. It has officially been replaced with the knowledge that the high school sports season has entered a new phase and is already to the point of regional playoffs. In a few short weeks, the first state championship of the season will take place Oct. 5 and 6 in Fort Collins. But first, Steamboat Springs will play host to the top prep golfers in this corner of the state as they vie for a spot to play in a state championship.

The excitement of that event will play out on the lush fairways and smooth greens of Haymaker Golf Course. It’s an exciting time for young golfers, who will put their season on the line and hope their scores are good enough to extend their season by a few more rounds at the state tournament.

Steamboat has several golfers hoping to contend for a state berth, including Britt Walton, Will Firestone and Jack Starkey. A fourth golfer, either Nolan Sankey or Noah Bass, will fill the final spot on the regional team.

Those golfers will take to the course, hoping to land that coveted state berth, and even better, another regional golf title for Steamboat. But there is something about high school playoffs — the realization that this might be a player’s final high school round — and that makes the game more special. It always seems to bring the best out of the players, and the pressure fuels emotions you don’t see in the regular season. Win or lose, the players, fans and media all understand this isn’t just another day on the course; this is something different, something special.

I hate cold, I hate snow and I hate the idea that those things are just around the corner. But I love it when the fall high school sports season moves toward the playoffs. Sure, I know it’s just golf — the sport that begins before classes reconvene and ends before the first snowflakes of the season start to fall in the Yampa Valley — but it’s fun.

The regional and state high school golf championships are the warning bell that playoff season has arrived. Golf will be followed by cross-country, volleyball, boys soccer and football. Not all of those teams will reach the state playoffs, but the games and the experiences that come along the road to the playoffs are a big reason high school students play the games and a big reason those of us who stand along the sidelines like to watch.

I don’t watch simply hoping to see a local boy or girl lift a state trophy high above his or her head. No, I watch to see how the young athletes handle the pressure and see the emotion on their faces and the joy in their eyes as they play the games they love.

Rarely does the journey end in a state title — I’ve only seen it happen a couple of times in my career — but the process of making a state bid is worth the price of admission. It’s hard to believe the first championships of the 2015 fall high school sports season are upon us.

Can snow be far behind?

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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