The trophy harvest began last October and November with another astonishing haul of Section 2 championships, but the preparation for success began perhaps as far back as the beginning of the decade.
"Eighty-two percent of our students in grades 4 through 8 participate in a sports program," Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Athletic Director Bob McGuire said last week. "It's not about winning, it's about fun. The competitive aspect can come later."
Most of those graduates of Junior Spartans programs remain active during their high school years. McGuire says 70 percent of high school athletes participate in sports, whether it's high-visibility action like football or lesser-known rowing, which isn't an interscholastic sport but nevertheless attracted 110 participants this spring.
The enthusiasm to participate and consequently excel adds up to a special honor: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is the overall winner of the inaugural New York State Sportswriters Association All-Sport Championship for the 2008-09 school year.
The NYSSWA All-Sport Championship is modeled in part after the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup presented annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the colleges and universities with the most success in athletics. The NYSSWA calculated points earned in 14 boys and 13 girls sports at New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournaments and championship meets during the fall, winter and spring. All NYSPHSAA members were eligible for consideration; the NYSPHSAA is not affiliated with the awards.
The NYSPHSAA has compiled the top five schools (plus ties) for boys, girls and combined programs. BH-BL scored points in five sports, winning boys and girls cross country championships in Class A last fall, en route to 49.33 points to edge Honeoye Falls-Lima (45.17).
In fact, the fall was a bonanza for the Spartans as they earned seven sectional championships, with the football team reaching the state finals and the girls volleyball team advancing to the final four in Glens Falls. In all, BH-BL scored 11 sectional championships for the year, and that doesn't even begin to reflect the fact that 30 of 31 varsity teams won scholar-athlete accolades from the NYSPHSAA or comparable recognition.
"It's been a good year, but not as good as last year," McGuire said, almost apologetically.
Not to worry, however, because there's always next year.
"Knock on wood," said McGuire, wrapping up his 13th year as AD, "there's a lot of talent coming back."
The talent, however, is spread as thin as a budget that is supplemented by approximately $175,000 of fund-raising by boosters. Though BH-BL is a good-sized Class A program with a BEDS number of 849, there are 79 teams at the modified, junior varsity or varsity levels. Each, of course, has coaches. And it's the coaches that the AD regards as the special ingredient in the success. McGuire says most maintain regular contact with participants in the Junior Spartans programs and offer whatever help and encouragement they can.
Interestingly, fifth-year Honeoye Falls-Lima AD Brian Donohue also readily points to outreach by coaches as a factor in the Cougars scoring in seven sports in the NYSSWA All-Sport Championship.
"I know you hear it all the time," Donohue said, "but the coaches have an unbelievable work ethic. They're always working with their colleagues and at the youth level. There aren't a lot of 9-to-5 coaches. They live their sports."
The shake-your-head-in-disbelief poster child for