If you’ve been around here for a while, you recall that it wasn’t so long ago that Liberty Bell High School’s switch to 8-man football was a matter of contention.
After a 2014 season during which the 11-man program was wracked with injuries that depleted the roster and led to some forfeits, the players themselves went to the school administration to ask for a change to 8-man football. They were tired of getting overwhelmed by bigger schools with more kids, and just weren’t having fun anymore. They wanted a better shot at being competitive, and staying healthy.
There was some community pushback from traditionalists who thought 8-man football somehow demeaned Liberty Bell’s athletic heritage. But the district acknowledged the kids’ concerns and opted for 8-man play in the 2015 season, during which the rejuvenated Mountain Lions went 8-1 and averaged 53 points per game.
The following year, Liberty Bell was back in 11-man play, for a variety of reasons. Here’s how the next three seasons went: 2-6, 3-6, 1-8. After the 2018 season, during which Liberty Bell was outscored by an average of 30 points per game, then-coach Bob Bucsko recommended that the Mountain Lions return to the 8-man format. In the 2019 season, they did just that. The thinking then was that 8-man play would give the program time to rebuild to the point where Liberty Bell could again be competitive in the 11-man arena. They have been impressively rebuilding since.
So, after the Mountain Lions’ convincing 50-12 win over Neah Bay for the state 1B championship last weekend, you have to wonder: Why would this powerhouse program, which followed its first-ever venture into the state playoffs last year with a championship season, want to return to 11-man play? Pride? How much pride was there to be had in a 6-22 record over the previous three years before 8-man returned, compared to what has happened since?
The well-disciplined Liberty Bell program, built on teamwork, sportsmanship and positivity, is in a healthy and competitive position. Take a look at the scores in the four state playoff games: The Mountain Lions prevailed over their opponents (three of them higher-ranked) by a combined score of 236-56, employing something not always found on the 8-man field: sound defense to complement an explosive offense.
That’s something to keep building on with an expectation of continued success that players will want to be part of. Congratulations to the 2022 Mountain Lions for an effort the community should be proud of, and for setting an example of what’s possible.
If you are astonished that another year has nearly passed, think how we feel, looking back over a year’s worth of news, sports and arts coverage for the Methow Valley. As always, there are some stories and issues that carry over from one year to the next, or even year after year. The unpredictable part is what else might happen over 12 months to generate attention. The unexpected adds interest.
As we have for the past several years, we are asking the community to help us identify the valley’s top news stories of the year (for the most part, the top stories about arts and sports will be handled separately, so they get their own deserved attention). We have selected 25 possibilities for our annual ballot, which appears on page A5, and we invited you to look them over and vote your for your favorites. Inevitably, we may have not included some stories you think should be considered; if so, please let us know.
You’re not required to rank the stories in any particular order — the aggregate voting will do that for us. Although some stories clearly stand out, there’s no way to anticipate how the voting will go. It’s an honor system — we ask that you limit yourself to one ballot. There will be no Secretary of State audit, but we assume that our informal system will deliver dependable results.
The ballot will be published in the paper for the next several weeks. We’ll collate the results for the Jan. 4, 2023, Year in Review issue, where we’ll focus on the top 10 vote-getters (it may be a bit more than 10 because of ties). We’ll give separate but extensive coverage to the sports stories of the year, and there is plenty to catalog there.
Last year, the summer’s wildfires were the No. 1 story, according to our voters. That’s not likely this year, but the absence of fires is a story in and of itself, so that’s on the ballot. The No. 2 story of 2021 was what we called the “COVID continuum,” which is also likely to draw fewer votes this year. What story will take the top spot? That’s up to you. As we like to say, make your vote count.