Vidakovich column: Two free throws at Fruita

Mike Vidakovich

Just a few weeks back on a crisp, early fall morning, I took a run up to my favorite of all spots above the Glenwood Fish Hatchery. After just a little over a mile, I dipped off the road and down the embankment to where I sit by Mitchell Creek, and I took in the waterfalls near Abbey’s bridge.

I enjoy soaking up the serenity of this heavenly place, and I am always on the lookout for the tiny creatures of nature that sometimes happen by.

My spot on the mountain is the perfect place to think about all things in life, and, with the high-school season fast approaching, my thoughts drifted to one of my favorite subjects to dwell on — basketball.

Taking in a number of games each year at the various high schools in the area and knowing the players each team lost and the ones who are returning, I place in order the top players and teams that I think will shine when the games begin in late November.

Mostly, though, I think back to my younger years and playing for the Demons of Glenwood. From the time I met him in grade school as my PE teacher, I never really wanted anything else than to get to play for Coach Chavez. He was the supreme motivator who had us, at a very young age, jazzed up to someday wear those red and white uniforms.

I thought back on the early autumn day in the fall of 1978 when I was a senior. A group of us who would help lead the varsity that winter saw Coach Chavez at the high school a couple of afternoons each week, so he could have us workout on a new machine he had purchased called “The Leaper.” Truth be told, the only thing the leaper did was hurt my lower back, but it was always good to see coach, so none of us ever missed a session with him in an old ball closet where he stored his magical machine.

One afternoon, coach had a schedule of the upcoming season for each of us. We were anxious to see who we played in the nonleague, as he had told us during the summer that he would schedule the toughest teams available. And, he did.

We were to play all of the bigger schools from the AAA Southwestern League, including Grand Junction, GJ Central, and Delta. The one that caught are eye though, was the biggie: at Fruita Monument.

We knew the Wildcats would be one of the top teams in the state’s largest classification, and they would present the only team on the schedule who we thought could even remotely stay with us. They had a couple of future Division I players in Shaun Smith and Mike Mudry, and we would have to play in front of their home fans.

We confidently told coach that this game was the one. This was the only team who could possibly stop us from our goal of going undefeated. Coach got a little riled up and gave us the usual speech about the other teams weren’t “the sisters of the poor,” but we had heard that many times prior to this day.

As I sat by those waterfalls on Mitchell Creek that morning, I remembered our all-state guard Rick Eccher’s two free throws that sealed the win in the closing seconds at Fruita. When the Wildcats were forced to foul, and Eccher stepped to the line, I walked up beside him and said, “Just pretend we’re at Sayre Park, Ecch.” He knew I was referring to the summer afternoon when he made 51 charity tosses in a row with me, mesmerized, rebounding.

Well, as Ron Milhorn would say on his radio broadcasts, it was splash and splash, as Eccher sent the Wildcats packing. Fruita, as we knew they would, went on that year to the state AAA final four at the Denver Coliseum. We went on to be undefeated.

I think of Eccher often. We used to push each other so hard in every basketball drill you can imagine and games of one on one. He went on to be a star at then Mesa College in Junction and is now a successful businessman in that town.

Two free throws at Fruita. No other team came close to beating us that year, and we knew that would be the case. If you listened to all of us talk back then, you would think you were dealing with a bunch of cocky kids. No, no. It was all based on the hard work we had put in since grade school, and a confidence and camaraderie that was unmatched at the time — and a bit of talent.

By the way, I believe the Glenwood girls will be the premier team in the area this year. They have the talent, depth, and coaching to go a long way in March. It will happen.

Keep an eye also on the young lady hoopsters in Carbondale. The Lady Rams have the ability to sneak up on some folks.

Whatever happens, it’s my favorite season.

Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at

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