It has certainly been a remarkable journey over the past 27 years. There have been countless memories from the playing fields and gyms on Long Island. The student-athletes who have risen in those moments have entered my memory forever.
The very first eye-opening moment came in the Suffolk County wrestling championships of 1986. A much-anticipated showdown between Huntington's Drew Jackson and Commack South's Derek Brophy, who did not like each other, was brewing for the 167-pound championship.
It was my very first county final. The Smithtown East gym was abuzz and the wrestling community, I would come to find, was fanatical. They were knowledgeable and passionate and I fell in love with what I consider the toughest of high school sports. It would be my niche for the rest of my career.
And I have Jackson-Brophy to thank for bringing me into a world of dedicated athletes where sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears are real.
The atmosphere was near mayhem as Jackson and Brophy battled into overtime where Jackson would win, 6-3, to earn the title. Brophy finished 31-1 and Jackson went undefeated and captured the state crown.
This was high school sports at its finest. The storied bout turned me completely on to wrestling where the courage to get on the mat precedes the battle that follows -- how could you not love it.
The one athlete who became a game changer for me was Sachem's Nicole Kaczmarski. She emerged as an eighth-grade basketball phenom with a slick handle and a pure jump shot. She packed the gyms everywhere she played, and forever changed the girls basketball landscape.
No one could forget her 39-point effort in a 64-49 win over Bellport in the 1999 Suffolk Class A final. The overflow crowd left more than 1,000 fans turned away at the gate and stuck outside at Longwood High School causing a commotion.
It was one final look at the one known as Kaz, who was voted the National High School player of the year.
While Kaz dominated the headlines through the later part of the nineties, football was becoming increasingly popular with the addition of the Long Island football championships in 1992.
Connetquot quarterback Scott Coppola drove the Thunderbirds the length of the field before hitting Danny Hayes with a short touchdown pass for a 21-20 lead with 58 seconds remaining.
In another Class I football final, Freeport and Commack would become another epic event as the teams waged a fierce battle that went into overtime. It would go down as one of the greatest LIC games of all time. Freeport forged a 20-13 lead on the first possession of overtime before Commack cut the lead to 20-19 on its offensive possession. Commack coach John Foley elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win instead of kicking for the tie. It was a gutsy moment in LIC history. Commack's record-breaking quarterback Mike Prahalis, who threw for 33 touchdowns that season, rolled right on a play-action two-point conversion pass and was swallowed up by linebacker Ed Gordon, setting off a euphoric celebration in Freeport.
One of the most inspiring stories came in 2001. Rohan Murphy, an exceptionally challenged athlete in East Islip, defied the odds and wrestled to the Suffolk wrestling finals.
Murphy, a double leg amputee from the age of three years old, was seconds away from realizing every wrestler's dream of winning a county title. Leading 6-2, Murphy, allowed a five-point move to Brentwood's Tom Finnerty just before time expired and to lose, 7-6.
The crowd reaction was unforgettable, wrongfully booing the winner. Murphy, showing the class of a true champion, acknowledged Finnerty's great comeback and shook his hand despite the utter disappointment.
In the 2000 decade, two football teams went on historic runs. The Floyd football team would go on a record-breaking roll that may never be broken. The Colonials won 42 straight games from 2005-2008, including three undefeated Long Island Class I championships.
While Floyd was destroying the competition in the public schools, St. Anthony's was hammering the CHSFL. The Friars would win 10 of 11 CHSFL titles between 2001-2011. The dominance created a long-standing debate of who would win -- Floyd or St. Anthony's?
The years have given us so many special team moments and so many gifted individuals.