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East County Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 7 years ago

COLUMN: East sports stars shine in 2009

by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

Like many of you, I’ve spent the past few weeks running around trying to finish Christmas shopping, wrap presents and write out those cards that I promised myself — the day after Thanksgiving when I bought them — I would get done in a timely fashion this year.

Sure, my closet looks like a tornado went through it, and I’m nowhere close to being ready to board a plane to Ohio for the holidays. But despite the mountain of holiday-related tasks towering over me, I need to take this opportunity to pause and remember the people and stories that captured my heart in 2009.

I’ve ben fortunate enough to cover dozens of historic moments this season, as Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and The Out-of-Door Academy all had teams etch their names into the record books in 2009.

The Pirates crowned their first state champion and captured their first district titles in girls soccer and volleyball. The Lakewood Ranch football team clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2006, and the girls cross country team capped off its season with a second-place finish in the state meet. Finally, ODA defied all expectations this season, capturing district titles in baseball and football and advancing all the way to the regional finals and state semifinals, respectively.

I’ve traveled across the state — from Sarasota to Fort Myers and St. Petersburg to Winter Haven — hoping to capture these historic and record-breaking performances.

But it’s the moments that happened close to home that had the most profound impact, and perhaps no story gripped my attention more than the loss of Braden River assistant coach Doug Garrity, who was killed in a car accident March 21.

At the time, I didn’t know Doug Garrity that well. And yet I struggled, albeit unsuccessfully, to hold back tears as I covered a vigil in Garrity’s honor following the Doug Garrity Pirate Puff Classic.

In the months to follow, I watched as Braden River’s football team rose from its tragedy and found the strength to move on in honor of their beloved coach. And in October, I finally got a chance to get to know Garrity when I sat down with his parents, John and Dehlia Garrity. It was a privilege to tell their inspiring story.

In January, it will be one year since I officially took the sports section for The East County Observer. It’s been an eventful year, and I couldn’t have covered all of the stories I had without the help of the coaches, players and, most importantly, you, the reader. I have been blessed this year personally and professionally, and I’m looking forward to another great year in 2010.

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