Last week when the 21st Annual Willie Ray Smith Awards for the area’s best offensive and defensive high school football players for the 2012 season were announced, something very different occurred—Vidor’s Montana Quirante was named for both prestigious honors.

That seemed to be the topic of conversation Thursday at many water coolers, workout studios and lunch counters around Southeast Texas.

And not to take anything away from the young man who was the double recipient, but the majority of high school football fans really believed the two separate honors should go to two different people.

However, I strongly defend the decision because Mr. Quirante is quite an impressive individual, both with the pads on and when he’s not on the field. He obviously was a great leader of his Vidor Pirate football team and is quite a guy in street clothes, too.

Instead of listening to all the propaganda delivered by college recruiters about why he should choose their institution at the next football level, Quirante plans to participate in a two-year mission trip with his church and then walk on to a major football school like Brigham Young, which understands his future plans completely.

I understand his plight and situation also because something similar happened to me when I was 12 years old.

I was fortunate to have played shortstop for the Schenectady (N.Y.) all-star team that eventually won the 1954 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. It was quite an honor to know I contributed to the success of our world championship team.

A month after the celebrating of our 10-straight victories en route to the world championship subsided, our league held its annual banquet where awards for the season were handed out.

I nearly passed out when my name was announced as the league’s Most Valuable Player. And many of my all-star teammates had puzzled looks on their faces, too.

Nine years later in 1963 after completing my senior year and four years of baseball eligibility at McNeese State in Lake Charles, the same thing happened again to my surprise and I received the Most Valuable Player Trophy at the Cowboys Athletic Banquet.

Several years later I was visiting my parents in Schenectady and my younger brother Dick and I decided to play golf at the Municipal Course where we both learned how to play.

It was a beautiful day which meant the golf course was crowded to the hilt and we had quite a long wait before we could tee off. Lo and behold, the starter at the golf course was none other than Mike Maietta, our Little League manager who not only won our way to Williamsport, but he also took two other teams there.

Mike was retired from the General Electric Company and with his love for talking sports with people, being the starter at the golf course was a perfect job for him.

He was happy to see me and then he put his arm on my shoulder and asked in a quiet voice, “Kazzy,” that’s what he called me and also my dad when they played ball together, “did you ever wonder why we named you our MVP?” I told him it had been bugging me for almost 20 years.

“You know you weren’t the biggest home run hitter we had on that ’54 team, and you didn’t have the highest batting average and with that wild arm of yours you certainly weren’t our best defensive player, either,” the now-gray-headed baseball genius continued.

“You were what I consider the team clown, which wasn’t bad,” he added. “You kept the guys loose with some of your off-the-wall expressions, especially your chatter on the infield to encourage our pitchers.

“When the inning started you would holler for the pitcher to get that leading lady out. With one out you would hold up one finger and say ‘One dead, two dying’. When the pitcher got into a jam you would holler for him to bow his neck. If the opponent had a runner on first base you would tell the pitcher to throw his ground-ball pitch so we could get two.

“The guys on the team picked up on that and played a lot more relaxed and that certainly made my job and our coaches jobs a lot easier.

“I remember when our bus had just gotten into the city limits of Williamsport and the driver didn’t know how to get to Lycoming College where all the teams stayed during that week.

“The bus driver saw a policeman and asked him how to get to the college. The cop said to take a right turn at the third red light. And you immediately asked, ‘What if the light isn’t red?’ I know you were serious because we never used that expression when giving directions. We would always say the third traffic light or go five blocks and turn right.

“Anyhow, the sports writer from our hometown newspaper happened to be on the bus and wrote about your comment and two days later, it appeared in every newspaper in the country. Things like that are what made you valuable to our team, besides being a real good player,” Mike concluded and added, “You’re up on the No. 1 Tee.”

So besides being an outstanding football player on both sides of the ball Montana Quirante also displays that great big smile that probably keeps his Vidor Pirate teammates loose and makes them play the game better with him on the field leading the way.

KWICKIES…The Houston Astros still haven’t suffered a defeat after two spring training exhibition games in the Grapefruit League. New manager Bo Porter is a firm believer in running and so far the Astros have successfully swiped six bases in the two games. Houston beat Philadelphia 8-3 Saturday and then came back from an early five-run deficit to tie the New York Mets 7-7 Sunday. Monday they played the St. Louis Cardinals and faced big Adam Wainwright, who started for the Redbirds. The Astros’ streak ended as the Cards won 10-2.

Adam Kuchar ran the table last weekend in the Accenture Match Play Championships, defeating fellow American Hunter Mahan in the finals 2 to 1. Australian Jason Day, who lost to Kuchar in the semifinals, defeated England’s Ian Poulter 1-up in the consolation finals.

And while on the topic of professional golfers, Orange’s Scott Sterling finished nine strokes behind winner Kevin Foley in the Tour Panama Claro Championship held last weekend at Panama City. Sterling had a three-under par 281 and collected a check for $3,753.

Danica Patrick made auto racing history last week by winning the pole position for Sunday’s running of the Daytona 500 but finished eighth behind winner Jimmie Johnson, who started the historic race in the No. 9 position. Patrick, who was the first woman to win the pole, also became the first woman to lead the race. She ran inside the Top Ten during most of the race and kept pace with the field. She picked up $357,464 for her eighth-place finish.

West Orange-Stark sophomore defensive back Deionte Thompson verbally committed to play his college football for the Alabama Crimson Tide, which has won three of the last four Bowl Championship Series national titles. Last season Thompson was credited with 55 tackles and six interceptions for the Mustangs. Although verbal commitments are non-binding, Thompson was happy that ‘Bama Head Coach Nick Saban made the scholarship offer.

Orange Community Christian is the only local team still alive in the state basketball tournament. The Lions roared past San Antonio Castle Hill 62-47 last week and met Edinburg Harvest Tuesday at Alvin for the TAPPS 1A Regional championship. Other area teams still playing include the Silsbee Tigers (25-9) who met Houston Yates (29-4) Tuesday in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals, Beaumont Ozen (22-10) which met Crosby and Nederland (27-9) which played Georgetown Tuesday in the Class 4A regional semifinals. East Chambers (23-9) took on Hitchcock (24-5) in the Class 2A regional semifinals Tuesday.

The Lamar baseball team continues to impress in the early going, winning three games of a four-game series over the Washington Huskies last weekend to jump their record for the early season to 7-2. The Cardinals swing back into action Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Columbia of the Ivy League at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont.

The Lamar Lady Cardinals softball team won the consolation title by nipping Utah State 2-1 Sunday behind Tina Schulz’ strong mound performance in last weekend’s Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational. The Lady Cards (5-7) will meet Tulsa (11-4) in the opening round of the UT-Arlington Tournament at 5:05 p.m. on Friday.

JUST BETWEEN US…It’s hard to keep a good man down and I knew it would be just a matter of time before Toby Foreman would land a head coaching job at a big school. Well, it happened last week when the former West Orange-Stark player and later offensive coordinator was named to the Beaumont Central High School head football coaching position. Toby has been around high school football since he first learned to walk, assisting his dad, Mark as the Mustangs’ ball boy until he was big enough to play. And being around the Mustang football program during most of his young life, Toby heeded the advice of Mustangs’ long-time head coach Dan Hooks, whose motto for coaching has always been “Love your kids.” Toby has had success at every level in his coaching career because of the rapport he has with his players. That should continue with the Jaguars this spring.