Somewhere in this world, a script writer worked overtime to produce this kind of an ending.
When we last left the mess that was the Santa Fe Public Schools seventh grade girls basketball tournament three weeks ago, teams and parents were unhappy, district administrators were chagrined and one particular writer was quite grinchy.
For those who don’t know, the district had to replay one entire side of the postseason bracket when Turquoise Trail Charter School’s middle school team — a conglomeration of fifth through eighth graders — used eighth graders to advance to the tournament championship game.
That was a big no-no, according to New Mexico Activities Association bylaws, and it led to a three-week delay before concluding the season last week with competing teams using no eighth graders.
To the point, there was one particular eighth grader for the Coyotes — their best player — who was the flashpoint for angry parents from Gonzales Community School, which lost to Turquoise Trail 40-39 in the semifinal. Those parents pointed out the violation to SFPS administrators.
When the tournament resumed last week, the teams were legal, and the games were hard-fought. Ultimately, an underdog won the tournament, and it was Gonzales that walked off the court with the district’s seventh-grade title.
Just like it did last month, Gonzales faced off against the Coyotes in the semifinals, but the outcome was much different — 40-22 in favor of the Lobos, according to Gonzales head coach Steve Valdez.
After that, they played Milagro Middle School, the top seed that had been waiting all this time to play the winner of the opposite side of the bracket. During the regular season, Milagro beat Gonzales, but Valdez said the Lobos turned the tables and pulled off a 10-point win to take home the trophy.
It was a great performance by Gonzales, and Valdez should be commended for keeping his team focused and prepared amid the hoopla that accompanied last month’s chaos. In fact, the Lobos should be congratulated for showing how hard work and practice pay off. Valdez said in a conversation in December how much his team had improved from top to bottom over the season, and it clearly showed when it mattered the most.
In an email he sent recounting his team’s heroics, Valdez pointed out the tournament became a healing moment for both teams. Valdez wrote he and Turquoise Trail principal Chris Eide had a good conversation and cleared some things up. He also met the eighth-grade player and called her a “sweet girl” and very respectful.
While it was good to see people move on and show no hard feelings about the events over the past few weeks, I feel like there needs to be some smoothing over of hard feelings by one particular grumpy writer who castigated people about how this episode was handled in a Dec. 20 column.
In short, I was wrong. In talking with Valdez and other people, I was short-sighted in not learning how everything played out. Some of my assumptions about how it was handled — specifically that people took advantage of what should have been a feel-good moment for Turquoise Trail and used it to their own advantage despite everybody agreeing to let eighth graders play — was just inaccurate.
Valdez was one of those who expressed concern about the district letting eighth graders play in the tournament, and he was right to do that. Rules are rules, and even if the intent to bend the rules was not done nefariously, they are there for a reason.
I also must commend Valdez for his thoughtfulness and candor when we talked about what happened. In a world where you occasionally wonder if coaches have the students’ best interest at heart, Valdez seems to be one of them.
It’s a well-deserved championship for Gonzales, the players and Valdez. It also makes for a nice storybook ending for any struggling writer — whether its for a film or a column.