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2023 'Xs and Arrows Year in Review'

Xs and Arrows

The calendar year is closing out and there were several moments and accomplishments in the local sports scene to brag about in 2023.

I will start at the 10,000-foot level with facility improvements for our Tehachapi High School student athletes. What started due to some frankly embarrassing moments during the 2022 fall season led to local advocacy led by the Warrior Booster Club to bring our facilities up to competitive standards. Thankfully, the Tehachapi Unified School District agreed, and spent real dollars on improving historic Coy Burnett Stadium for our fans and students alike. Anyone who visited this past football season or currently for soccer, can see those improvements, some small changes that in fact are making a big difference.

Couple those with the resurfacing of the tennis courts and improvements to the baseball and softball diamonds and we have reached an acceptable level for our teams, but acceptable is just a start, there is plenty more work to be done in terms of practice facilities and long-term solutions. But being present in 2023 to see firsthand the impact those improvements have made was a source of pride for yours truly and plenty of others in our community.

Success was abound in 2023 with a record number of Tehachapi High School teams winning South Yosemite Mountain League championships. Nearly every sport captured a league title in 2023 with more to come this year. Our football team completed an amazing 10-0 season before the CIF Central Section ruined their chance at a section title and a bid for a state playoff game by subjectively seeding Tehachapi in the nine spot in Division II, a division up from our base division. The plus side was we recorded our first ever victory over the Bakersfield High School Drillers, a storied program and a coming-of-age tale for ours. However, making an undefeated team play on the road in the playoffs was a disservice to our student-athletes, our school who lost out on revenue, and our community, who would have blown attendance out of the water had we played at home.

The Central Section has been and continues to be a laughingstock in the CIF, and that will not change until they themselves change their subjective standards. This is in all sports, not just football where Tehachapi teams specifically continue to be penalized for being successful during our league campaign while teams we defeat with lesser records are rewarded with favorable playoff seeds for average regular-season performances.

Our girls basketball team not only won the league in 2023 but advanced to the CIF Central Section Division II championship game at Selland Arena in Fresno, despite logistical challenges due to a snowstorm. Just making it to game day was an accomplishment but the extra effort provided by the school district and even the California Highway Patrol who escorted the team bus during a road closure made the event more memorable. Unfortunately, the Lady Warriors succumbed to the large metro-Bakersfield powerhouse that is Liberty High School, but our team held their own and are on a mission to return based on early results from this current season.

While being loosely affiliated with THS over the last several years, girls wrestling received the nod to become an official team in 2023 with the hiring of a stand-alone coaching staff. The Lady Warrior grapplers have already scored plenty of accolades in early season tournaments are gearing up for the bulk of their slate in 2024. It's one of the fastest growing sports in the nation and several local young ladies have jumped at the chance to be on the mat and learn this valuable athletic craft. On a side note, for the first time in several years THS hosted a home dual meet for boys and girls wrestling earlier this month with a few more on the upcoming schedule. Some of my fondest memories were participating in those home duals. I say if you can wrestle in a gym full of people wearing a singlet, you can pretty much get over any embarrassment in life, especially with the archaic singlets we wore in the mid 1990s at the junior varsity level.

Construction began on a new community sports facility thanks to a grant received by the City of Tehachapi to build Kern County's first publicly available five-a-side soccer park on Valley Boulevard. Neighbors and soccer fans are excited about the opportunity to play the beautiful game on a smaller field with enhanced scoring and slightly different rules. That encouraging feedback should translate into a practical positive response come its opening in 2024.

There was a new league for the Tehachapi Tomahawks as the local youth football organization ended their long-time affiliation with the Golden Empire Youth Football league in favor of joining the upstart Valley Youth Football League. Despite being geographically larger, this new league allows for more local control of our program and provided plenty of stellar competition in 2023. No matter the league, TYF continues their long tradition of developing the next generation of football players for Tehachapi High School.

It seems across the board all local leagues experienced record enrollment for their teams in 2023 as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic got both parents and kids to realize the importance of socialization and athletic participation. For some reason, 2023 seemed to be the culmination of that reality as sports participation exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

This year will be remembered for local accomplishments, changes and records for our local sport scene, all of which are laying the foundation for a stellar 2024 and beyond as we continue to evolve to meet the demands of today's athletes. Change is inevitable, success is earned and we in Tehachapi are no strangers to either reality or are we adverse to meeting those requirements head on.

Call it tenacity, call it dedication, call it love of the game, whatever it is, 2023 was a case study in the "Warrior Way" of doing things around these parts, and I am certain we will have plenty of opportunities to showcase our way of doing things once again in 2024.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter, broadcaster and athletics administrator. He advocates for the value of athletic competition and serves as the President of the Tehachapi Warriors Booster Club. He can be reached at [email protected].