Six years ago I had the fortunate opportunity to become the Boys’ Varsity Basketball Coach at Canton Central. Most people know that prior to that I was an Assistant Basketball Coach at SUNY Canton for the four years. Some people know I was a Graduate Assistant Football Coach at St. Lawrence prior to my experience at SUNY Canton. Fewer people know I was a two sport athlete at St. Lawrence as an undergraduate student athlete, but most of our families don’t know that I was a three sport athlete at Ogdensburg Free Academy. That is where my story of what sports mean to me started.
Growing up athletics were always a large part of my life. My father exposed to me to nearly everything a young boy could play. By the time I reached 3rd grade I settled on playing football, basketball and baseball. My father never put a whole lot of pressure on me during youth sports to win or be the best, but to always have fun and enjoy the experience. It wasn’t until I began playing for OFA that I really had coaches that pushed me. Those coaches were teaching me what it meant to COMPETE, and why it was important to be a competitive person. As I became more competitive, my father began to push me harder at home. Some of my favorite memories are doing drill work with my father. He never turned me away when I wanted to play catch or play one on one. When going on vacation I would bring my glove and a baseball, and he would bring his catcher’s mit.
Our coaches pushed us every way possible. Practices were often more difficult than games. Our coaches were our teachers, so academic competition wasn’t questioned. I have memories of my group of friends telling each other our grades and being upset or proud about where I stood amongst my peers. Our coaches/teachers demanded that we pushed ourselves to the limits of our ability (and sometimes beyond). We were always chasing the title of “being the best.” This lead to losing to the State Champions in the state playoffs 5 out of 6 varsity seasons I competed in. Athletics taught me to compete every day of my life, nothing is handed out, and everything is earned. I cannot express how grateful I am for this life lesson.
Similar to Coach Porter, I have met so many great people through athletics. I have had so many awesome mentors that have given me advice, and made me think critically about my impact on others. The word that comes to mind is camaraderie. To this day, I have two groups of friends that I communicate with multiple times daily. There is an unbreakable bond that is formed through athletics. The memories that are made are cherished by those involved for a lifetime, and those memories are retold over and over again. No one involved in making those memories get sick of hearing the memories retold.
One of the memories that I will hold dear forever is maybe one that no one in our community has ever heard. During the 2016-2017 season, we had the fortunate opportunity to advance to the State Championship game. We had beat the #1 team in the state in the quarterfinals, then beat a charter school from Buffalo in the semi-finals. We were in uncharted territory for Canton basketball for sure. The night before the State Championship game myself, Coach Porter, Coach Gordon, and Coach Kinnon stayed up to prepare for State Championship, mostly in disbelief what our guys had accomplished, and hoping not the screw it up as coaches. The next day was March 18, 2017, we played Westhill and lost in the final game of the year. Personally my sixth time losing to a state champion.
It was an extremely tough locker room environment after the game. I had an extremely difficult time controlling my own emotions because of the pain our guys were feeling having made it to the top of mountain only to feel like they couldn’t take the last few steps to reach the summit. In the moment I would do almost anything to take that pain away for them. Our community embraced this group immediately after this heartbreaking experience.
On the way home I was still riding the rollercoaster of the entire experience. We stopped for food at a grocery store. After all of the guys returned to the bus, and we continued our trip home. Moments later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around with all our guys watching as Declan Porter gave me a birthday cake. I had completely forgotten that the day we played the State Championship game was my birthday………..but the team hadn’t. That is what I think of when camaraderie is brought up in conversation. It is being selfless and experiencing something that is bigger than an individual.
I look forward to getting back in the gym to develop the positive characteristics our student athletes are developing as young men. I look forward to competing against our rival schools in Section 10, and I look forward to creating life long memories through my relationships with our students.
We want to hear from you! Feel free to send in your personal story regarding the role which athletics played in your life. We can submit write-ups anonymously if you would prefer. Simply request it. Thank you. Send stories to Bill Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org .