This week brings about some memo ries from a spring like few others anywhere. (You’ll see some in “The Way It Was”.)
The year was 1998. Michael Jordan’s last dance, and in a certain respect, Muskogee’s last dance, or at least a dance unrivaled since.
The month was May, and within no more than a couple weeks’ culmination of a spring sports season, Muskogee had five state champions.
Four were green. Two made the city a capital of softball.
Muskogee and Hilldale, on the same day, won state championships in slowpitch. It was Muskogee’s second, and Hilldale’s first.
It didn’t stop there.
Muskogee’s Susan and Miriam Yoo were No. 1 doubles state tennis champions. They defeated Jenks’ Tara McGuire and Andrea Beard 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than two hours. They finished with a 34-2 record and the first MHS state champions since Rusty Bradley in 1976.
The Roughers’ golf team, fourth at then-Muskogee Country Club as freshmen, capped a step-by-step ascension by winning a state title, again, on their home course.
Muskogee’s boys track team won a regional championship, then Reggie Johnson took it up a level, winning state gold in both the 100 and 200 meter titles at the 5A meet.
It took a defeat at the hands of the 11th-ranked team in the country to deny Muskogee yet another title, that coming on the baseball field. Muskogee made its first state trip in that sport in 15 years.
The secret to the success, said then athletic director Paul Meuser back then, was the shift away from something called an athletic pool, a fancy name for off-season weight lifting, in favor of letting the players train individually with their program’s coach.
Meuser went west after that year. He also credited hires of Debby Abbott for softball, Mike Case in baseball and Kevin McClain in track.
Dan Jefferson, whose complete-game win in the regional championship earned the Rougher baseball team that state ticket, talked about two other factors. He was also formerly a wrestling coach here and football assistant.
“We, all the teams, supported each other,” he said. “I remember finishing a baseball practice the week of state and hustling over to the Country Club to watch our boys win. We went to the soccer and softball games. We were a family and we lit the torch and passed it around from sport to sport.”
Another factor, he said, was having Muskogee alums on staffs, which helped especially if the head coach was new or relatively new.
“(Coach Case) listened to his assistants a lot, more than most head coaches do coming into a new place,” he said. “He set his own ways on some things but there were also times where the assistants had a better pulse on the team.”
It had been 12 years since a last team title. Next year, Muskogee will match that drought. The last state title team being the Lady Rougher softball team in 2009.
Could there be some symmetry here?
Fresh faces have been put into place in a year’s time. Numbers are up in some key sports and in four sports, win percentage improved. Who knows what might have happened in the spring that never was.
But there’s next year. Hopefully. And as we’ve established here, some symmetry.