Brian Hamilton: Sports give support in trying times
STOCKTON – Duane Zauner’s dad didn’t play much ball with his boy in the backyard, but Bear River’s softball coach sure remembers the one time he did.
“He had picked up a glove at a swap meet – he loved swap meets – and brought it home,” Zauner said. “He was catching me and said ‘OK, Duane let one go.’ I did and he moved his glove up and the ball hit him right (in the chest).
“I don’t know where that glove went after that, but that was the last time he played catch with me.”
But that didn’t stop Dale Zauner’s boy from falling in love with sports. In fact, after 21 years at Bear River High School, the coach has more memories than he can count of coaching baseball, football and softball.
On Saturday afternoon, Zauner and his Lady Bruins made a few more memories that will last them all a lifetime, as Bear River claimed its second-straight softball section championship.
Today, however, Zauner will sit that celebration aside as he eulogizes his father at a memorial service in Bakersfield.
Dale Zauner died on May 7, just as the his son’s softball squad was gearing up for another playoff run.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions,” Zauner said, minutes after Bear River had once again beaten East Union for the section crown.
As his dad’s final days were dwindling, Zauner made sure to make the most of the time they would have together, traveling back and forth to Bakersfield over weekends – sometimes leaving before Friday practice sessions had ended.
His girls saw the anguish in their coach’s eyes and decided to let him know that he had their support. They wanted him to know they understood he needed to be with his family through such a tough time.
“So we made him this big card, with everybody signing it,” said Tera Reason, Bear River’s senior third baseman, “and when he came back home that time, we found out that his dad had died. So it was good timing, when we gave him the card. It let him know we were there for him.”
Just as he had always been there for them.
“You girls touched me a couple of weeks ago,” Zauner said to his championship club huddled at his feet after Saturday’s win. “I just want you to know that I appreciate you.”
He didn’t need to say what the Bruins already knew that. Anyone who has worked with Zauner knows how much he enjoys teaching and coaching children. How else do you explain a 21-year career as a junior varsity football coach. I mean, if it was about his own ego, wouldn’t Zauner at some point have left to take a head coaching job?
But it’s not about him at all.
It’s about building relationships and making memories.
One of those memories that will linger long from the second game of Saturday’s championship series was a double play Reason put together at third base. With runners on second and third, and East Union threatening, Reason snagged a sharply hit ball, tagged the runner out at third and threw the ball to first base to complete the DP.
“That’s a play she’ll never forget,” Zauner said. “And it’s a play I’ll never forget.”
And long after that championship banner is left to hang high in McCrory Gymnasium, right alongside the one the Bruins earned last season, that play and all of the other memories the Bruins made – just like that game of catch with his dad – will last lifetimes.
And that, sports fans, is what our games are truly all about.
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