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Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake well-versed in finishing first
   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


NYSSWA All-Sport Championship
2008-09 top overall school scores
Class-by-class boys | Class-by-class girls
More about the NYSSWA All-Sport Championship

enthusiasm and expertise may very well be Bernie Gardner. Beginning in 1998, his girls cross country squad ran off seven straight state championships, a NYSPHSAA record for a team in any sport. This year, his runners and nordic skiers accounted for 27.67 points in the NYSSWA All-Sport Championship competition, outscoring all but 10 schools in the entire state.

   "We don't have indoor track," Donohue pointed out. "Bernie's such a fitness guru that he doesn't want indoor track. He prefers skiing because it works a different set of muscles. He's a perpetual learner."

   The whole staff will face a little bit of a learning curve beginning in September when HF-L migrates from the Livingston County League to Monroe County, composed primarily of larger schools than what the Cougars took on in past regular seasons. Though he'll miss some of the old rivalries, Donohue anticipates that competing with larger schools while eliminating some of the lengthier bus rides can pull HF-L's 61 teams up to new success beyond the eight Section 5 championships earned in 2008-09.

   "We're already competing with those schools," he says. "We're leaving a great league . . . but it's the right decision."

A few facts

  • Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake scored its points in boys cross country, girls cross country, football, girls volleyball and girls alpine skiing. Honeoye Falls-Lima earned its points from boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls nordic skiing, girls lacrosse and girls alpine skiing.

  • Cornwall had widespread success by scoring in football, boys basketball and five girls sports (volleyball, cross country, soccer, softball, basketball).

  • Domination is a foreign concept overall. Nine schools had first-place finishes in two sports, but no one pulled a hat trick. To give that a little bit of perspective, consider that calculates that Honolulu Punahou won 17 Hawaii state championships a year ago and 21 in the just-concluded year. And that doesn't even include alum Barack Obama sweeping his way into the White House.

  • A quick look at schools finishing in the top five in the combined boys and girls scoring indicates that only S.S. Seward will likely be changing classes next year. The school was right at the Class D limit and appears to be moving up to Class C this fall according to BEDS data.

  • We do intend to re-name this annual competition as the "Kerr Cup" at some future date as a tribute to NYSSWA jack of all trades Neil Kerr, the dean of high school sports reporters in New York. For now, we wanted to spare him the awkwardness of possibly having to write about the "Kerr Cup" as part of his duties at The Post-Standard.

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