By Kevin Wilson: CNJ columnist
“Well, I’m going to go man the suicide hotline.”
And with that, one of my colleagues left The Pit’s press room. It was his last word on the Class 1A title game.
Jimmy Apodaca’s final word was, “Never.”
The second-year Springer coach had a lot of talking to do, both with media types like me and the players he’d led to the title game, a heartbreaking 67-66 defeat to the Fort Sumner Foxes.
The heartbreak: Springer’s down three with four seconds left. A barely-open Jesus Urquijo fires up a low-arcing shot that hits off the back iron. Ballgame.
Or not. There’s a foul. And now Urquijo, with :00 on the clock, stands alone at the line. Three free throws. Overtime if he’s perfect; his prep career’s done if he’s anything less.
The first two are good. The third isn’t. Fort Sumner, 67-66.
At state tournaments, coaches and requested players from the winning team are brought in first, followed by coaches and requested players from the losing team. The Foxes acknowledged they might not have survived that overtime. The sobbing outside from Springer’s players suggests they agree.
The Foxes leave. Apodaca enters. Urquijo and others were requested, but no reporter is offended or surprised the kids aren’t ready to talk.
No matter the question or situation, the 29-year-old Apodaca shows wisdom beyond his years talking about the state title experience and his team’s offense, a style I’d affectionately called, “The adults have left the room.”
Once the ball’s upcourt, a Springer player takes about two seconds to decide. Shoot if you have an inch of open space, or pass it to somebody who does. On a good day, the Red Devils are above the 100 point mark with 40 three-point attempts.
On a bad day, Apodaca insists he’ll never change the style. Not when older, wiser people tell him to play conservatively. Not when that style helped them blow a 20-point lead in Thursday’s semifinal against Dora. That commitment, Apodaca said, got them to the state title game when they weren’t expected to get out of district. After graduating from Springer in 1997, he spent eight years as an assistant under Eloy Brazil, waiting to coach his style. Once he got to the prom, he wasn’t changing dance partners.
No doubt, I’m happy for our area team, the Foxes, who kept the Red Devils just off-balance enough for the school’s first title. Fort Sumner, Class 2A boys champ Texico and our area’s 12 other tournament qualifiers have plenty to be proud of.
And so do Urquijo and Springer. The Red Devils accomplished a lot, though Apodaca knows they didn’t realize it on that windy March night.
“It’s a game,” Apodaca said. “My main motivation is to teach them about life.”
The lessons were plenty. On the biggest stages, weaknesses are magnified. Hard work gives you an opportunity, and sometimes everything you have won’t be enough. And there’s value in knowing you don’t have to do things how everyone else does it, just because that’s how everyone else does it.
As we left the interview room, I let myself be a basketball fan. I told Apodaca I hoped he wouldn’t let anybody else change what he and his kids do.
I already told you how he responded. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org