A football barely over a receiver's fingertips. A basketball just past the outstretched fingers of defenders.
You could say Selma High was just a few long fingernails away from turning an excellent sports season into a transcendent one because, in a year that has brought statewide acclaim to our Bears athletes, two of the most riveting performances came in rare losses. Those two playoff games, high-level affairs that featured heroism by both teams, showed us all that Selma could hang with anyone its size in California.
As Selma High basks in well-deserved glory as a CalHi Division IV State School of the Year, this columnist looks back at two events during the California State playoffs that exemplified the essence of athletic competition.
The first occurred in December, when the Bears' Section Champion and undefeated football team hosted Bakersfield Christian for the Southern California championship of Division IV in a packed Stanley Stadium. A win would bring the state title game to Selma the next week.
The Bears led 21-7 at halftime, but BC came roaring back to take a 28-21 lead. Late in the game Selma mounted one final drive and Junior Ramirez found Joel Aranda for a touchdown. Then, gambling with a win-or-lose strategy, Bears coach Matt Logue went for the two-point conversion.
Ramirez's pass was just over the outstretched fingers of Aranda.
The second remembrance came in March, when the Central Section champion Bears advanced to the second round of the state playoffs against Orange Glen of Escondido in a stuffed-to-the-rafters Selma gym.
Will Pallesi sent the Selma faithful into delirium with a clutch 3-pointer for a 61-60 lead with 52 seconds left. but with just 1.3 ticks remaining, Orange Glen's best player, Michael Diaz, lofted a shot over the outstretched hands of three Bears. The ball fell through the hoop to the dismay of the Selma crowd.
I was the sports writer of record for both of those contests. As weekly columnist and occasional reporter, I was filling in during the football and basketball post-seasons.
Covering local sports for the small-town weekly brings you up close and personal with hometown athletes and coaches, and Selma has two of the Valley's best coaches in its two most high-profile sports of football (Matt Logue) and boys basketball (Mike Pallesi).
So, sure, I take a measure of pride in having been a part of Central Section titles in both of those sports, but no more so than most of the regular fans.
High schools and colleges are sometimes chastised for overemphasizing sports. Critics will tell you that schools have so many other things going on, including academics and activities, that deserve equal attention, and that is true.
Yet sports often are the most public avenues of visibility for schools, and a huge source of pride. How many colleges, for instance, owe national reputations based on football (Clemson) or basketball (Gonzaga) programs.
So Selma rightfully can proudly raise the flag as the State School of the Year. It was won by both boys (football, basketball, wrestling) and girls (wrestling, softball) who won section and state titles. Yes, a state title, the second straight for girls wrestling.
The athletes who contributed to those championships include names such as Jordan Dominguez, Will Pallesi, Aly Cerda, Gracie Figueroa and Robert Garcia. Also, Junior Ramirez, Tiveon Stroud, Alleida Martinez, Hailey Garcia and Jace Luchau, and that's just the short list.
Their coaches are Matt Logue, Mike Pallesi, Sam Lopez, Amber Green and Andy Munoz.
Those athletes and coaches have hundreds of co-conspirators, including coaches and athletes from other sports as well as administrators, faculty, staff, students, fans and game officials that made Bears athletics the powerhouse it was in 2016-17.
Because there is no I in team — or in fan, cheerleader, scorekeeper or parent.
So the State School of the Year award is for all of the above, the gang that creates an exemplary high school athletic program. It takes a village.