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My regular readers know that I write about sports frequently. I have such a passion for these contests that column ideas pop into my head often regarding our organized activities that often involve a ball. Sports have provided some of my favorite memories and also some of my more difficult ones, but that’s part of what makes them great.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, for a couple of very different reasons. I was able to attend the Minnesota Football Showcase recently and watched local boy Jack Schultz get to play football with some of the best players in high school football in our state. I got a chance to help behind the scenes and visited one of the locker rooms before the game, as well as walked out on the field postgame.

What I saw that impressed me the most in these situations was not all the action that was on the field during the game. It was the relationships and memories being formed between kids who had only spent a few days together. Many of them had exchanged decals to put all over their football helmets as a sign of camaraderie. There was a lot of good-natured talk pregame and many pictures of diverse groups taken afterward.

These kids all love the sport of football. Not only are they very good at what they do, but they enjoy the work it takes to get to an elite level. I know Jack worked hard to become great, and his love for the game is evident when you talk to him about it. This is sports at its most pure. I can’t imagine Jack’s experience would have been diminished if his team had lost; I saw many players from the losing team smiling and laughing together following the event.

That love and passion have always been integral to me. When I see classmates from high school, we often revisit about games and seasons we played together. Sure, we talk about other things, but sports always seem to make their way around. When I get the chance to see kids who played for me here at NRHEG, we always laugh and reminisce about the fun times we had. There’s a bond there that’s unbreakable. The same goes for many of the parents. I just saw a parent of one of my former basketball players, and I bet we spent 15-20 minutes talking about one season of basketball. I’ve seen groups of former baseball players, and we’ve spent longer than that rehashing the good old days.

The other cause for cogitation was my daughter working on a research paper about declining numbers in some sports in our area and across the state. There are many reasons for this, but I wonder how many kids leave a sport and really regret that decision in the future.

My varsity basketball coach didn’t like me very much and didn’t play me unless the game was a blowout. Yet I never once considered quitting. I enjoyed basketball and knew that my skills were not great. The time I spent with my teammates was irreplaceable, and I was going to bust my tail every day to help make them better, no matter what. Did I want to play more? Of course I did, but I’m really not bitter about it because of that overall love of sports.

I was cut from my varsity baseball team my junior year. But I didn’t give up. I played summer baseball and went back out for school ball my senior year. No way was I walking away from my favorite sport. It was pretty satisfying to have my high school coach have to tell me how he heard about a home run I hit during summer ball after having been cut from his team. A little bitter? Maybe.

Not every kid is going to play three sports; I didn’t play football. But I become distressed when I see small numbers at different schools in football, basketball, and wrestling. These are demanding sports, especially the length of the winter sports seasons. But I’ve known kids who leave a sport and then sit in the stands watching their friends and wishing they’d never left.

When you choose to stop playing a sport, I always hope there are valid reasons. There are kids who play a sport in junior high and you can tell they don’t really like the sport; all their friends play so they do too. Sometimes playing three sports can be difficult when trying to keep your grades up and getting involved in other activities, so you stick to one or two you like best.

Over the years, I’ve heard kids quit because they don’t like the coaches in that sport. I use my example from high school basketball to refute that. I didn’t like him either, but I wasn’t going to stop playing because of him. I was playing for me and my friends, not for him. Unless a coach is abusive, that excuse doesn’t sit well with me.

Many times I’ve listened to kids complain because younger people are pulled up with them or ahead of them. It didn’t feel too good to get cut from baseball when there were players a year younger on the team. But they were better than me. I rededicated myself to become a better baseball player and even learned a new position to make myself more attractive on the field. Use that as motivation to push yourself and prove your coaches wrong.

I always want kids to walk away from sports with the same types of great memories I have made. I love to see kids like Jack Schultz work hard and enjoy the game. I love to see kids work their tails off and have even one great moment in a varsity game. At the very least, it gives you something to talk about at class reunions some day!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is pulchritude, which means beauty, as in, “The pulchritude of sports drew many competitors and spectators.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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