By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline coach Sonny Dyke will be the first to tell you just how lucky he is.
He is lucky to have assistant coaches Steve Haines, Jacob Bates and Larry Fox by his side. He is lucky to have nine players earn all-academic recognition, meaning they had a 3.5 GPA or higher throughout the basketball season. He is lucky to have a group of players who are willing to work together to achieve success.
"I am the luckiest coach in the state," Dyke said. "I just feel so fortunate."
With all that luck, though, comes a man who has been coaching in the Warren County school system for 28 years. A coach who gets the most out of his players, even if they aren't the most talented team in a very tough Northwestern District.
A coach who started this season with only three players returning from last year's squad, only one of whom saw much playing time the previous year. A coach who stayed patient with his team's slow start this year and guided it to a strong finish, including a first-place tie in the district. And a coach who earned The Northern Virginia Daily's 2009-10 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year honor.
"It's really nice to see him get recognition for what I've known all these years," Haines said. "Sonny is a great coach. I don't think he always gets recognized for the job he does. I've seen him work his people skills, and how he gets the players' attention. The kids really listen to him."
This season was one like no other for Dyke and his coaching staff. Last year the Hawks made it to the Region II, Division 3 semifinals, but lost almost the entire squad to graduation.
Skyline, which is only in its third year of existence, had three seniors this season, but only Luke Pingley saw a decent amount of playing time last year. The Hawks did have a solid JV squad last year, so Dyke said he knew there was some potential with his younger players. However, he also knew it would take time for them to adjust to playing at the varsity level.
"It took more than a month for our kids to learn how to practice," Dyke said. "It took us a long, long time just to get the kids to learn how to practice. Then you got to teach kids how to win as well. It was probably the most challenging preseason I've had. Definitely the mostly challenging time I've had before Christmas, as well."
The Hawks went 21 days without playing in a stretch over December and January. The team fell to 2-10 in early January. Dyke said despite the losses, he noticed his team was getting better.
"We had kept seeing our kids get better and better, but they weren't getting any rewards for it," Dyke said. "We kept preaching that to them. We're seeing it in practice every day."
On Jan. 23, the Hawks beat Warren County and they followed that up with a win over Fauquier on Jan. 26. The win over Fauquier may have been their biggest of the season.
"We were down pretty big and actually came back and won that," Dyke said. "That seems like an insignificant game to most people, but it kind of assured our guys that what the coach has been telling us -- it's happening.
"[Fauquier was] 8-4 at the time. And to come back here the way we did I think it kind of gave our guys a boost of confidence, that maybe something special is starting to happen."
Something special was happening. The Hawks then won four more games, all in the district. The four wins, one each over the other teams in the district, tied the Hawks for first place and helped secure another regional berth.
The players didn't let all the distractions, with numerous snowstorms postponing games and practices, stand in the way of winning a piece of the title.
"That's probably one of the things I'm most proud of with those kids is that they knew they had to win those last four games," Dyke said. "And they were able to go out and do it. They responded so well to pressure."
The Hawks finished 8-13 and lost to Handley in the Region II, Division 3 quarterfinals. However, with such a young squad Dyke was very pleased with the overall results of the year.
"We've dealt with great kids both here and [at] Warren County," Dyke said. "These kids ... to accomplish what they did, when they were picked to finish last, and to tie for first is not just rewarding, but extremely, extremely rewarding.
"I just feel like I'm extremely lucky."