Vidakovich column: Heck of a play, Aiden
In the late winter of 1975, I was in eighth grade and I went to the high school on a weekend evening to watch the Glenwood Demons battle their big rivals from Carbondale, the Roaring Fork Rams. As was usually the case back then, it was standing room only in the old Glenwood gym when Bob Chavez’s Demons squared off against Sonny Darien’s Rams.
There have been a couple of plays — or moments — that have taken place on that old hardwood floor in Glenwood that I can now, and will forever remember as clearly as if they took place yesterday. One of them happened that night when Demon guard Rob Chavez was all alone heading down the court for what seemed to be an easy fast break layup.
Mike Sutherland, a talented and tough Roaring Fork big man, had no intention of letting Chavez get away that easily though. I watched intently as Sutherland got up a quick head of steam and started to gain on the all-state Demon guard. My jaw dropped, as did many others in the gym when Sutherland left his feet and dove head long forward to tip the ball away from Chavez and out of bounds. A bunch of skin was left on the floor as the gritty Ram slid, tumbled and rolled out of bounds along with the ball.
It wasn’t a game-changing play that took place at the most critical moment in determining the contest’s outcome, and Glenwood retained possession of the ball. But Sutherland’s willingness to sell out and give everything for his team has always stuck with me and made quite an impression on my basketball development.
I was in fourth grade at Glenwood Elementary in 1971 when Glenwood hosted the mighty Steamboat Sailors on a Monday night in late February to determine the Northwestern League champion. The two had tied atop the league standings and there were no coin flips back then. It was a winner-take-all battle with all the chips in the middle of the table.
I present to you now another play that had little bearing on the outcome of the game, in which the Demons went on to win, but it is still as clear as the light of day in my young memory.
There were no alternating possessions back then. A jump ball was used to determine who kept the coveted round ball in their hands after a tie up. I sat in the front row of the old wooden bleachers as 5-foot-9 Glenwood guard Jon Swartzendruber lined up against 6-foot-6 Sailor center Chris Kearns. Everyone in the gym knew that the Demon guard could get off of his feet with ease, but we all gasped when Swartzendruber easily won the tip at the free throw line circle on the north end of the gym. The play left many in the gym shaking their heads that night. I will certainly never forget it.
Ironically, Glenwood beat the Sailors three out of four times that year, but it was Steamboat who ended up taking the AA state championship trophy home from Denver that spring.
In 1979, two of my teammates, Kevin Flohr and Scott Bolitho, had slam dunks that were more than noteworthy. Flohr put down a two-hander against Aspen at home that bent down the front of the rim. This was before the breakaway rim and we were all giddy with excitement, congratulating Kevin, until the referee came over and told Coach Chavez that if the rim couldn’t be fixed, we would have to forfeit.
Well, 23-0 never became 22-1 because Coach Stubler got a ladder out of the storage room and our managers, Ed Brady and Tim Thulson, climbed up and bent the rim back to an acceptable angle of straight. The game continued and all was well with the world.
Bolitho tossed down a tomahawk dunk in our 85-54 regional playoff win at home against Olathe that elicited deafening crowd noise. I gave Scotty the assisting pass on the play, so I had a bird’s eye view of the unforgettable spectacle.
Last Tuesday, I was sitting in the bleachers at GSHS just behind the scorer’s table with Rifle girls’ coach Eric Caro watching the Bears and Demons engage in another white knuckle game. Another historic Demon play for my memory bank is not what I expected as I watched Glenwood junior guard Aiden Nieslanik race toward a loose ball that was doomed for the out of bounds line on the west baseline. Before I knew what happened, Nieslanik left his feet and was parallel to the floor. As he skidded and screeched along the floor, Nieslanik managed to tip the ball back in fair play and into the waiting arms of fellow junior Reid Swanson. Swanson took a couple of dribbles and spotted Aiden’s cousin, Blake Nieslanik, open at the 3-point line. Blake squared his body and drained the trey.
Following Aiden’s gutsy, selfless play, Caro and I both looked at each other and said almost in unison, “That was a heck of a play!” I think you know what I mean when I say we really didn’t use the word heck.
Another great play by some great young men that I will never let leave on my strolls down amnesia lane.
In closing, I do have to mention that current Demon coach Fred Heisel threw down several thunder dunks during his ’88 senior season. If Philadelphia 76’er Daryl Dawkins was Chocolate Thunder during his days, I have to say my good friend Big Fred was Vanilla Thunder!
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com
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