All too often the thrill of victory takes precedence over all else. Everyone wants to be known as the winner. Isn’t that why we participate in sports: to destroy the competition and win? Playing for the love of the game doesn’t matter as much as winning. If you don’t win, what is the point of even playing?
Winning is everything!
I know, I know! Winning is important. I get that. But there are times when winning just isn’t as important and should take a back seat to something more important.
This past week, two stories caught my eye and restored my faith in an attitude that not only debunks the “winning is everything” motto but also shows that today’s young athletes understand the difference between winning and showing class and professionalism in the face of hardship and tragedy.
The Grandville High School hockey team faced a huge challenge on the ice this past week, but it was not their opponent that had them concerned. Rather, it was the unexpected and shocking death of their captain, 17-year old Ryan Fisher. Fisher, who was recently accepted into West Point, passed away in his sleep from an enlarged heart.
Fisher died last Friday morning, and the team was to play in the state semi-final game against Detroit Catholic Central that night. The team, after talking with Fisher’s parents and at their urging, decided to play that night.
Before the game, Fisher’s father talked to the team in the locker room.
“He just said you came in as a team, you started the season as a team, so many of you grew up together. The best thing to do is move forward and honor him,” said Grandville coach Joel Braezeale.
But it was what the “other” team did that warmed my heart. The Catholic Central fans made posters in support of the Grandville players and, instead of wearing their own school colors, many opted to wear the colors of Grandville.
After the final buzzer sounded and the Grandville Bulldogs were defeated by a score of 3-0, the team gathered together to hug and then knelt in prayer. Seconds later, the entire Catholic Central team surrounded the Bulldogs and prayed with them in a breathtaking show of support.
It should be noted that the students at Catholic Central had gone through a similar situation as a standout football player passed in his sleep last year.
The other story involved two North Dakota wrestlers, Malik Stewart and Mitchell McKee. The two were wrestling against each other in the state title match. McKee won the match and the title, but it was Stewart who gave the crowd a lesson in humanity.
Stewart lost the state championship to McKee, but rather than walk away with a chip on his shoulder and void in his heart, he amazed the crowd with his actions. Stewart walked over the Steve McKee, the father of Mitchell, and embraced him. The elder McKee is battling terminal cancer.
“He won,” said Stewart. “He was pretty proud, and his dad was pretty proud. So I went over there and I shook his hand, embraced him a little bit, and told him to stay strong and everybody loves him.”
Stewart, who lost his own father at the age of seven to a heart attack, shook hands with all of McKee’s coaches as well.
“It was a big match for him, and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot of kids do,” said McKee. “Really respectful.” Stewart put the feelings of his opponent, the one who just beat him, over his own.
Stewart said that his actions came straight from the heart and that he felt that it was the right thing to do.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? The right thing to do? Imagine if the “right thing to do” was always the easiest thing to do. It is easy to get caught up in ourselves and our feelings. It is too easy to WIN and forget that the losers have feelings or to lose and become angry.
While it is sad that these stories came about from illness and tragedy, the life lessons we can take from them ….priceless.