High school sports: What’s really the point? (column)
So, what’s the point?
For the next nine months, everybody and their brother and sister are going to be competing for Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Vail Christian and the Vail Mountain School.
This is not your sports writer having a nervous breakdown, but looking at the bigger picture. What are these schools trying to accomplish with sports and what should the student-athletes themselves be achieving?
Winning is everything?
Yes and no.
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By high school, we’re past the “everybody gets to play and we all go out for pizza” stage. There is a level of expectation, more with different teams at different schools, but expectation, nonetheless.
In a good year, we’ll have one or two state titles.
Battle Mountain girls cross-country repeated as queens of the state last fall. The Huskies’ Elizabeth Constien (5,000 meters), Battle Mountain’s 3,200-meter relay squad and Eagle Valley’s Joslin Blair (1,600) won state titles. (Yes, we also nabbed some state crowns in skiing, but we’re Eagle County. We probably should win.)
Four state titles is an outstanding year, but it doesn’t make every other team that competed last school year “losers.”
There needs to be a balance somewhere between “Gosh, they tried hard” — aka, they really didn’t try hard and stunk on ice — and UCLA’s Red Sander’s (not Vince Lombardi’s) “Winning is the only thing.”
While we’re on quotes, one of my favorites is “Winning, it’s like better than losing,” —“Nuke Laloosh Under the category of “no kidding,” I like seeing how teams, coaches and athletes after a game, win or loss.
Of course, a locker room is a happier place after a W, but you can tell a lot about the people in that room by how they talk and act. Locker room celebrations are A-OK, be it “Ain’t it great to be a Devil” at Eagle Valley, or “Bossy” or “Shout” at Battle Mountain or pontification by Bob Bandoni at Vail Mountain. (Hey, the Red Sox are crushing the Yankees, Bob. Be happy.)
But how do student-athletes talk after a win? Is it “I” or “we?” More importantly, after a loss, how does a team respond? It’s always easy for kid to talk with a reporter after a win, but it’s not fun after a loss.
After said loss, does the student-athlete stay away from “we?” If so, then that team may be going downhill quickly.
How are they interacting after a game? Is the hero sharing credit? Does a team console the player who made the glaring mistake that lost the game?
Yes, academics are the most important function of a school, and students collaborate on a project but sports are a master course on learning how to work together. Egad, sports are one of those educational tools disguised as a fun activity.
Throw 20 students-athletes or so in some sporting activity, and see what happens. It’s great reality TV, folks.
How do different individuals react in a team environment? Do they make the right decisions? These are as basic as organizing one’s studies around the sport and the lovely road trips of the Western Slope to complex as one’s role within the team.
Can a student-athlete who thinks he or she is better than the role assigned within the team sublimate the individual to the team or improve his or her skill set to change the role or rebel?
And about that coach? What if you don’t like him or her? Do you blame everything on said coach, quit outright or figure out a way? Hint: Odds are good you’ll work for someone with whom you don’t get along later in life.
What about a teammate you don’t like? Winners bridge the gap.
How do teams deal with racial and economic differences? One of my favorite aspects about the 2012 edition of Battle Mountain boys soccer was that the white kids spoke Spanish. Not only was that a cool form of intimidation for opponents — it freaked out other sides — but it was a sign that the Huskies were all on one page.
This is “The Point” of it all. This is why high school sports are important and will mark the biggest wins and losses of 2018-19.