I was tempted to steal from Netflix and call this column “Stranger Things” because some of the things you witness as a reporter, if you do it long enough, are well, strange.
But other moments you experience are just magical.
Anyway, here’s a sampling from somebody who’s been at this for over four decades:
OWEN HAS HART: The latest edition to the list occurred in Hononegah’s thrilling 54-51 victory over Rockford East in the IHSA Rockford Guilford Regional final in what seems like ions ago.
The Indians called timeout with 1.1 seconds still on the clock, tied 51-all, and three-quarters of the court to cover. Surely long range gunners Chris Akelaitis or Trent DeVries would fire up a last shot.
Nope. Cagey coach Mike Miller used them as decoys to create a passing lane for inbound man Gabe Roessler to hit sophomore Owen Hart deep in the corner. The perfect pitch, catch and toss ended up with a swish and an amazing victory for the No. 8-seeded Indians.
It was Hart’s only basket of the game. Now that’s magical.
PLAY IT AGAIN KAM: As a football player, Kam Sallee is one of Beloit College’s all-time best, hands-down.
Sallee also was a pretty fair baseball player. His senior year in 2017 the Buccaneers were playing Monmouth at The Ballpark at Strong Stadium.
Sallee stepped to the plate and hammered a long grand slam home run down the left field line. The crowd went wild. As he was circling the bases, the Scots coaches started arguing with the umpires and at all of a sudden the shot, initially ruled fair, became a foul ball. Sallee calmly went back to the batter’s box. No George Brett moment here.
Sallee merely picked out another pitch and hammered it over the fence just as far and a whole lot fairer. That was Kam Sallee in a nutshell.
THE FUMBLE: It’s a real rarity when you can say a fumble actually helped you. For one Beloit Memorial football team, a miscue was a God-send.
It occurred Sept. 27, 1991 at Jacobson Field. Beloit trailed Sun Prairie 21-17 and had the ball at the Cardinals’ 5-yard line with 4 seconds left in the game.
Coach John Heineke called for a waggle pass and quarterback Kirk Owens rolled to his left with guard Chris Cornell leading the way. Owens decided to take his chances and took off for the goal line. He was met violently at the 1-yard line.
Quarterback and football were quickly separated. The ball rolled into the end zone where Beloit’s Phil Pulliam pounced on it for the winning touchdown in a wild 23-21 comeback.
Sun Prairie coach Mike Hahn credited Owens with a heads-up play, but said the fumble amounted to a forward pass. Owens disagreed.
“My intention was to cross the goal line,” he said. “I didn’t make it. I got smacked in the ribs, the ball rolled forward and I thought I’d lost the game because I didn’t get in.
“It turned out it was the greatest fumble I’ve ever seen in my life.”
TERRIFIC TALTON: By the time Ty Talton emerged on the scene at Turner, the Talton name was already well-established by siblings Travis and Anthony.
Ty, however, was pretty special himself. I once saw him put up 47 points in a regional semifinal win over Brodhead after scoring 43 three days before. Football? Heck, he was good enough to play in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
My wow moment for Ty, however, came June 4, 1994 when he capped his prep career by taking three trips to the awards stand at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse. He was third in the 110-meter high hurdles, then captured two state titles, winning the 200 dash and the 300 intermediate hurdles.
A lot of athletes will try to take the easier road. Not Ty. His competitive spirit was so great it cost him a shot at a third gold in the 100 meters. He had defeated during the regular season the sprinter who won the state title, Brodhead’s Jared Arn. But Ty and Clinton’s Brad Schut had their own battle going in the hurdles and Ty chose to go head-to-head with him in the postseason hurdles races and pass up the 100.
Schut ended up winning the 110 highs, but Ty got him in the 300 intermediates. Schut was runnerup. I doubt if Ty ever gave his decision a second thought.
The Rock Valley Conference had plenty to be proud of that day. Brodhead finished first in D-2 while Clinton was second and Turner fifth.
FIVE STRIKEOUTS: OK, what’s the big deal with five strikeouts? Guys do that all the time. Just not in one inning.
That’s what Beloit Brewers pitcher Kelly Wunsch accomplished in the third inning against Springfield at Pohlman Field on April 15, 1994. The left-hander was known for having great stuff on the mound, but not always great command of it.
This was one of those occasions where batter’s were swinging and missing, but so was the catcher. Wunsch walked the leadoff batter, who reached third on an error when he stole second. Wunch then struck out the next two batters. He gave up an RBI double, then recorded a strikeout, but the batter reached on a wild pitch. The same thing happened with the next batter. Strikeout, wild pitch and a run scored. Finally the fifth strikeout ended it.
Wunsch ended up the loser in a 7-3 decision, allowing five earned runs in four innings. But his hat ended up in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame to commemorate a fete that had only happened on two other occasions, both in the minors, in 1946 and 1952.
THE BIONIC WOMAN: There just didn’t seem like anything Courtney Clayton couldn’t accomplish as a runner at Hononegah.
The two-time IHSA Class 3A state champion broke a 29-year Illinois state record in 2013 in the 800. She held the Hononegah school record in the 800, 1600 and 3200, not to mention the three miles in cross country.
The crazy thing about Clayton, though, was seeing the distance champ also blow away the top sprinters in the NIC-10. Of her 23 NIC-10 titles, two came in the 200 meters. In the same meet, she won the 200, 400, 800 and 3200. Was she bionic?