By DAVID GRAVELY
This past week was a pretty good week. The Cougar boys basketball team got their first win of the season, our middle school wrestling and basketball teams are doing some good things, and our Lady Cougar basketball team is starting to get things together as well. With all that good stuff happening, however, we were able to find something even better to focus on for a least a little while.
In 1992, the Pulaski County Cougar football team won the AAA, Division 6 State Championship with a shocking win over Thomas Dale. The Cougars were the underdogs in everyones minds, except for maybe the Cougars themselves. With that win, the players earned something that every player at any level dreams of. They got “The Ring”.
Another Pulaski athlete earned a ring recently, and earlier this week Sydney Anderson was presented with not one ring but two. Assistant Principal Mary Rash presented Anderson with her ring for being selected as this years “Most Valuable Cougar”, and AD Mark Hanks presented her with her State Championship ring for her performance in the VHSL State track and field finals where she finished in first place in the high jump. It was and is a big deal when a kid or a team wins a ring.
I was surprised later that day when someone brought up that Anderson was not the first person since the 1992 team won it all to earn a ring. I was even more surprised when I found out that at least one or two of those who had earned it, never got it. Considering how big of a deal it is, I’m hoping that we find a way to fix that, even if it’s been a few years.
While I can’t speak for every coach, I can tell you what I’ve always told the kids that I’ve coached. Since the day my oldest child began participating in recreation league sports, myself and the other coaches that I’ve worked with have tried to make sure that the players understood that our main goal was to win a state title at Pulaski County High School. Over the years I’ve coached football, basketball (boys and girls), baseball, softball, and soccer. While every sport is different, the one thing that was always the same was the goal that we set. Win.
Football is the only program that has won a team title, and there has been only one. In the 39 years that Pulaski County has fielded a football team, the Cougars have won 16 district titles and made it to the playoffs 22 times. Out of those 22 times, they have won at least one playoff game 15 times. The Cougars have won 7 of 14 region championships they’ve played for, and of the seven times they have made it to the state semifinals, Pulaski has won three. The Cougars played in the State Championship game in 1992 for the win, but also played for it in 1993 and 2001 but lost.
Individually, the Pulaski County track and field program has had several individual athletes win titles, and some of those have won more than one. In 2002, Liz Hager won a state title in discus. Leslie Anderson (Sydneys older sister) won two state championships in 2005, one for the long jump and one for the 400-meter race. Finally, Amber Church won SIX State Championships during her time at PCHS. In 2009-10, Amber won state titles for her performances in the 100-meter hurdles twice, the 300-meter hurdles, the long jump, and the high jump. She capped that off with a state championship in the 55-meter hurdles during the indoor track season.
While we haven’t been able to confirm if Hager got her ring, we do know that Leslie and Amber did not.
In other events, Pulaski County has had two groups win state championships that we know of right now. Our Golden Cougar Marching Band was named as the Virginia Honor Band twelve times (86-87, 91-92, 92-93, 94-95, 95-96, 96-97, 97-98, 99-00, 00-01, 03-04, 07-08, 08-09). On December 29, 2011 they performed at the Champs Sports Bowl in front of a nationwide audience. In 2003 they were named as the Grand Champions at the Amherst Tournament of Bands, and have won the Blue Ribbon Award twice. In the VBODA Concert Assessment, they have been rated at superior six times and Excellent four times. Finally, in 2008 the Cougars traveled to compete in the USSBA Virginia State Championships, and were awarded their very first State Championship in Class 3A.
The PCHS drama department has won a total of three state championships over the years. Two were under the direction of current director Jeff McCoy, and one was under the leadership of Rhonda Welsh. The department is currently working on winning a fourth, with their current production centered around the plight of immigrants to America as they entered New York.
The Pulaski County High School chess team had a strong tradition in the mid to late 1980′s. In 1985 the Cougar team finished second in the national championships by 0.5 points. Pulaski was defeated by Stuyvesant High School of New York City, the final score was 20-19.5. In 1987 the Cougars hosted the National Chess Championships, and in 1998 the Cougars won the Virginia Scholastic State Chess Championship.
So with all that said, and understanding that there have been many other teams that have won district tournaments, district titles, and made their way deep into the playoffs it’s clear that Pulaski County High School has the talent to win.
At a recent basketball game, someone ask me “when are we going to get back to winning some games?” I’d like to think that time is now. I don’t care if it’s football, basketball, softball, baseball, or tiddley winks. Pulaski County has the kids and needs to get back to winning. It all starts with our support. Get behind the kids and let them know that we support them. Get out to some of the games, buy a hotdog, cheer a little bit. If that’s what it takes to get them to work just a little bit harder or to care just a little bit more, then I think it’s well worth it.
Be positive around our kids. Let them know that we want them to win. In todays day and age of “participation” I think we’ve lost some of the important lessons that winning and losing can bring. When we take away how important it is to win, then we lessen how bad it is to lose. If losing isn’t a big deal, then why work hard to avoid it?
Our kids deserve the best, and when they work hard enough to earn a ring it should be a big deal. I’m proud of kids like Sydney Anderson, and I know she’s proud to be a part of the winning tradition at Pulaski County High School that her brother Brandon, he sister Leslie, and former teammates like Amber Church helped to build.