It was somewhere in the middle of boys varsity soccer season last fall when I saw senior Ethan Menges standing on the sidelines.
Ethan, the son of local swim coach Tim Menges, has been among the top swimmers in head coach John Sullivan's Lions' program for years and was on course to make a tremendous run towards a sectional title and possibly make the coveted state meet in 2018-19.
A good all-around athlete and never a slacker, Menges had just come off the pitch after making a tremendous defensive play, sprinting about 50 yards and finishing the long dash off with a sliding tackle to strip the ball away from an opponent.
Ethan was on the sidelines after the game, dirt all over his jersey, while I was searching for soccer coach Jeff Hulshoff for another good quote. I asked Ethan quickly if he was looking forward to his final pool season coming up in just a few more months and I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. Ethan's face lit up like the new scoreboard and he replied that yes, he was indeed looking forward to his senior swim season — that he had been, “waiting for this my whole life.”
A few soccer games later and I had watched in disappointment as a couple of Lions players were assisting Ethan's soccer and swim team teammate junior Carson Tatro off the field with a school year-ending knee injury. The Tatros and LHS swimming go hand-in-hand as you know, so to see his soccer and swim seasons evaporate so suddenly was sad.
Flash forward a few months later and I saw both at the LHS Natatorium, Ethan had been posting consistent individual and relay wins every meet and Tatro, like all LHS athletes worth remembering, remained a positive, active member of the team despite his inability to compete in the pool.
Both were smiling.
Also there competing at the meet was Lions senior swimmer Sean Denniston, a key member of Lockport's Section VI-champion boys volleyball team.
Denniston's sports legacy is as important as any others at LHS. Not always the leading scorer or race winner, Denniston has always shined brightly as the consummate, modest, team player — naturally popular because his specialty is making everyone else around him so much better.
And he was smiling.
Walking from the pool area to the LHS gym a few minutes later I watched as teammates and coaches assisted LHS senior Kourtney Krchniak off the court with a basketball injury.
Krchniak, like her older sister Kat, has been one of the most important faces in the Lady Lions' athletics program in recent years, starring in volleyball, basketball and softball for the past several seasons — a physically dominating presence alone, with added tenacity, dedication and the proper demeanor (quiet, blue collar) that coaches love.
I looked over at Krchniak with huge ice packs being placed on her knee by the great blue and gold trainer Rosalynn Heinemann, and Kourtney was crying. But so was almost everyone else. I know I was. Lady Lions head coach Joe Catalano took it harder than almost anyone.
But the next time I see her, I know she'll be smiling, because she has that gift, like Ethan, Carson and Sean, of knowing what's really most important in life — living.
Menges, Tatro, Denniston and Krchniak —they're a life's lesson for all high school student athletes entering their junior or senior seasons with so much promise, so much hope, so much invincibility.
You can hope and you can dream — and in many cases, you can work extremely hard your whole life, setting the right goals and doing the right things.
Most of the time, things will work out that you plan and work diligently towards, but not always. You just never know what's in store for you in life, which is why a good upbringing and the right attitude can help carry you through not only the best of times, but those days that feel like the worst.
Four athletes, four outcomes, four winners. And there are so many more like them at LHS and at every local school ...
Follow longtime Lockport sports scribe John D'Onofrio on Twitter @johndonofrio7, or respond to him via email at email@example.com.