Today’s topic is sportsmanship, that quality we all value so highly but speak of so rarely.
Let’s face it. Winning may not be everything, but it tends to be everything we talk about. Coming in second place, even out of an exemplary field of hundreds, is called losing.
Many pro sports figures appear never to have heard of the concept, and maybe it is an outdated notion in a world where embellishing injuries in soccer and chest-thumping after a hard hit in football are the norm.
Schools, however, still honor sportsmanship, even if it might not be apparent in every play at every game, and lessons in courage and compassion still come on the sports field.
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At Hughson High, they came on the basketball court this season, as teammates cheered on senior Pablo Alvarez and even competing teams held back to let the young man with special challenges shoot.
“Some things happen once in your life,” head coach Tony Romero said at the team’s awards dinner in March. “Being able to see the inspiration he brought. Everybody’s different. Everybody’s got their limitations. But to see how he tried makes them think, ‘Well, maybe I can work that much harder.’ ”
I thought of that dinner and the incredible gift those athletes gave one another by their choices when I read a Facebook post by McDaniel College in Maryland about a sportsmanship award won by its swimmers.
I read it with special interest because our son swam on McDaniel’s tiny, Division 3 team this year, counting it among the most memorable experiences of his freshman year and why this Pitman High grad knew he had picked the right college for him.
The Centennial Conference team award for sportsmanship in 2013-14 went to Green Terror swimmers – yep, my Pride is now a Terror – after being nominated by a fellow swim team at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
The nomination was based on the McDaniel team cheering on last-in swimmers from the opposing team during meets. McDaniel head coach Jeff Hiestand is quoted in the post: “I think competition also provides us with the opportunity to help each other be the best we can be. I want our swimmers to understand the best way to help yourself is to help others.”
At the conference championship, McDaniel was the only team to stay through the morning session in support of the other competitors. Bryn Mawr head coach Nikki Whitlock, describing what for her was the defining moment, is quoted in the post. That moment came at the end of the longest racing event, when the stands were all but empty.
“The entire McDaniel swim team and Bryn Mawr team were on the poolside cheering on their teammates in the heat. One of the Bryn Mawr senior swimmers was finishing her last laps of the 66-lap race solo while the rest of the heat had finished.
“This swimmer had a goal time for her final race of her swimming career and she was just on pace to break that time. The Bryn Mawr swimmers were wildly cheering for our swimmer to keep her motivated and on pace. Every McDaniel swimmer and coach joined us! There was a wall of enthusiastic arm-waving athletes making that Bryn Mawr swimmer go faster.
“Our swimmer finished her race and broke her goal time by 4 seconds! Afterward, the McDaniel swimmers joined us in a congratulatory gauntlet on the pool deck. It was such a moment of pure love of the sport and competition. It was a reminder that every athlete counts, and the McDaniel’s swim team showed the true spirit of sportsmanship!” she wrote.
Here in this area, I must add, cheering for the underdog is something swim teams do pretty regularly. Over the years, we’ve had plenty of occasions to stand amazed at the sportsmanship of young athletes.
The future looks bright from the bleachers, and so many compassionate young adults will improve it.