Battleline: Great Times for Falcons - The Missourian: Opinion

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Battleline: Great Times for Falcons

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Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 9:15 am

Is there a better time to be a Falcon?

East Central College seems to be on an athletic surge in recent weeks.

The softball Falcons stunned many observers by winning the NJCAA Division II Region 16 softball title this past weekend.

Honestly, it really shouldn’t be much of a shock. Brad Wallach’s team, despite its 26-30 record, has been playing much better ball in recent weeks. And in the games it hasn’t won, it’s had a chance to win.

A coach always wants his or her team to peak at the right time. And that’s what Wallach’s bunch has done in the last couple of weeks. Seeded third in the regional tournament, the Falcons knocked off second-seeded St. Louis Community College and top-seeded Mineral Area College on the opening day Friday.

The Falcons lost in extra innings to St. Louis Community College Saturday in the first championship game, but came back on a gem by sophomore Brooke Brenton to win the second one and the regional title.

The Falcons will host the District J event Friday and Saturday. If you haven’t been over to Union to see them play, you should head on over. This ECC team could be the first softball squad from the school to reach the national tournament since 1994.

Wallach has done a lot of work to build up the program at ECC. He really worked to build up the program’s reputation and roster. Last season, the team barely had enough players. Despite having only three returning sophomores, this year, the roster finally has been built up to the point to afford some depth. And Wallach has a number of players signed for next year as well.

With a strong coaching staff which includes Debbie Mann-Kurka and Kendra Fennessey, it’s great to see ECC starting to find success.

Wallach has signed some big names from outside the area and has blended in a lot of local talent as well. Kris Stevens (Union) and Jessica Jones (Wright City) have set program marks this season and everyone has stepped up at some point.

Had a chance to meet the new ECC men’s soccer Head Coach Kean Barclay over the weekend as well. He’s got some good ideas to increase the team’s stature within the community.

For example, the Falcons went and mentored at the Special Olympics Saturday in St. Louis. He has other ideas on how to increase the team’s role within the community and hopefully that will pay off with more support for the team.

Brad Bruns, the former ECC volleyball coach, was a master of “building the brand” at ECC. Bruns did a great job of getting his players involved in the community and building up community interest in the program. That paid off in packed gyms and three regional titles in four seasons.

It’s great to see that the school’s athletes continue in being an asset to the community.

Congratulations to Tiffany Borgerding (Washington) and the 1976-77 men’s basketball teams, who are being inducted into the ECC Athletic Hall of Fame this spring.

•••

Congratulations to KLPW’s John Covington, who was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame this past weekend.

John has been with KLPW since 1986, covering high school sports around the area. He’s been honored three times as the Missouri sportscaster of the year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association as well.

I see John at a lot of the events I cover and know he’s a hard worker deserving of this award.

Two others with area connections also honored in among the 10 inducted include Steve Boeh and Chris Ellis.

Steve passed away last year after accepting a role to help with the Pacific program. For 38 years, Steve coached high school basketball and fans in this area saw some of his strong teams at Cuba, Hannibal and Bowling Green. His teams always seemed to make some noise at the Turkey Tournament.

Chris Ellis, currently head coach with the Maryville University women’s team, dominated the Borgia Girls Basketball Tournament with his Webster Groves and Parkway South teams prior to going to the college ranks. Not only did Ellis do great things with the girls he had in the high school program, but he developed a strong system which went into the grade school ranks, ensuring that even after he left, his schools remained strong.

Others inducted were Mike Bissell, Ronald Cook, Bill Goodin, Rick Kirby, Bill Presley, Gary Stanfield and Denny Hunt (Gary Filbert Lifetime Achievement Award).

•••

Condolences to the Norman Eckerle family on his death April 15.

I know Norman was a big sports fan who supported his children and grandchildren in their athletic endeavors. And they have been very successful in many different sports over the years.

Norman, and his wife Joan, also have been very kind in their support of us who cover the sports. Multiple times over the years they have sent cards of thanks and encouragement here supporting our efforts.

We spend our time covering the athletes, but get to know some of the fans as well. There will be a void at area sporting events without Norman.

•••

Congratulations to Borgia graduate Matt Pickens, who recorded his 36th career Major League Soccer shutout Sunday, beating Chivas USA, 4-0.

Pickens now has 25 shutouts with the Colorado Rapids, equaling Joe Cannon’s franchise record.

Pickens has had a busy season so far, being tested more often than in recent years and he’s been up to the task. When the final words are written, it looks like Pickens will be one of the most successful professional athletes to come out of this area. He’s won an MLS Cup with the Rapids and helped the Chicago Fire win the 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

•••

Remember another area name, Kayla Eckelkamp.

The Borgia graduate continues to excel with the Maryville University women’s golf team.

Competing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament this past weekend at Annbriar Golf Course in Waterloo, Ill., Kayla placed third with rounds of 76 and 72 and qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament May 5-8 in Ohio. It’s the first Division II national tournament trip for her as Maryville was ineligible to compete the past two seasons as part of its transition from Division III

Kayla recently was selected Maryville’s female athlete of the year while winning four of the six tournaments she entered this season. She was second once and third at the league meet.

It’s been a magical year for Eckelkamp, who last summer finished second in the Missouri Women’s Golf Association Amateur championships, breaking a course record at Bellerive Country Club.

•••

Last week, I had the chance to travel with Franklin County Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., and back in a day.

If you’re not familiar with the program, Honor Flight takes veterans to Washington, D.C., so that they can see their memorials. Originally, this was mainly for World War II veterans and the World War II Memorial, but it now includes Korean and Vietnam veterans.

Things which stuck out:

• I was impressed with how many people came up to the veterans and thanked them for their service. At the Baltimore airport and at the World War II Memorial, groups were lined up to greet the veterans as they arrived. The same happened as the group was departing the World War II Memorial.

• It was refreshing to see Sen. Roy Blunt and Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer take time out of their busy schedules to greet the group at the World War II Memorial.

• There was a lot of emotion shown not only at the World War II Memorial, but also at the Vietnam Memorial. One of the group was able to make a rubbing of his buddy’s name on the Vietnam Memorial wall.

• I was amazed at how much energy the veterans had at the end of a long day. There were more vacant wheelchairs at the end of the trip than at the beginning.

• Locally, I was impressed with folks from this area. Motorcycle riders met the bus in Pacific around 1 a.m. and escorted it back to the Washington area and then stayed around to thank the veterans one more time.

• There was a sports side to the trip. One of the World War II veterans on the trip, Bob Samel, played baseball on the 76th Infantry Division Onaways team in 1945. Bob also played in the St. Louis Browns organization.

•••

Former ECC soccer players Nickardo Blake and Lionel Brown are teammates once again with the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

The pair played together at the University of Connecticut after leaving ECC and now are in the pros together.

Nickardo was drafted by MLS side Toronto FC, but did not make that roster out of training camp.

•••

Looks like despite some negative publicity, Race Across America is coming back through Washington in the summer of 2012.

I was unaware just how negative the view of our state was until I read an article in the Del Rio, Texas, newspaper this spring.

By looking at the time stations, it would appear the route is the same as last year. Racers will come from Jefferson City to Hermann via Highway 94, from Hermann to Washington via Highway 100, Washington to Dutzow via Highways 47 and 94 and then up into Warren and St. Charles counties on Highways TT and T.

Some of the coast-to-coast bicycle racing teams complained about how they were treated last year in Missouri. Let’s make sure that the experience isn’t the same in 2012. Be aware of when the riders are coming through. Show courtesy and encouragement to the racers and the teams. Wave if you see them.

A lot of folks from around the world follow this event and there is a bump for the local economy. Show kindness to the racers and it will pay off in the future.

/opinion