True Awards

“Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor;

In these are the true awards of manly sport.”

—Hartley Burr Alexander

My kids will never be great athletes.  How could they be?  They’re my kids.  But last Saturday, as my three oldest chattered about the just-concluded first week of spring soccer season, I was reminded of how very much I love sports.

I suppose the genesis of that love is still somewhat of a mystery.  I was an uncoordinated, unathletic child who grew up in a home with sports agnostic parents.  Still, one fall Saturday my younger brother and I flipped on the TV and discovered the wonders of college football on ABC.  My poor parents must have been so ashamed.

Later, my brother and I took to throwing an orange ball through a 10-foot-tall hoop.  We eventually saved our paper route money until we had enough to buy a basketball pole for the driveway.  Then we made our sports-hating father put it up for us.  Dad was such a good sport.  (Pun most definitely intended.)  He didn’t even cuss once while he was doing it.  (For the record, I’ve never heard my dad cuss at all.  The one time my brother made him almost slip remains a cherished childhood memory, but I digress.)

Do sports inhabit too prominent a place in our world?  Perhaps.  Have athletics, in some corners, become a veritable golden calf?  I live in football-crazed Nebraska, so I know it all too well, and yet I love the games all the same.  Why?  Because sports are conflict.  And conflict is story.

There are heroes and villains, triumphs and heartbreak.  There are twists and turns aplenty.  Sports are a journey with a destination unknown and uncertain.  That’s why we play.  That’s why we tune in again and again.

Sports bring us together.  I’m a Nebraska kid who has discovered I can talk to any other Nebraska kid of a certain age and reminisce with ease about the memorable games of my youth.  I probably didn’t know that colleague or co-worker or neighbor 25 years ago, but they were there too – feeling the exact same emotions I was feeling at the exact same moment I was feeling them.

Sports can bring out the best in us too.  A couple years ago, while I was coaching my son’s third grade soccer team, the opposing coach stopped our game in the closing minutes, gathered his team around, and instructed them to let the boy on our team with Down syndrome score a goal.  If you had seen the look of sheer joy on that young man’s face when he kicked the ball into the net, you would never, ever doubt the value of manly sport.

So, I’m not giving up my sports mania anytime soon.  In fact, I’m passing it on to my kids.   At least I’m trying.  There are no athletic scholarships in their futures, but I’m watching them have fun, get exercise, make friends, develop discipline, and discover loyalties.  They’re learning how to lose – and win – with grace.  I think they’ll be better people for it.

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