It's tough to lose
November 11, 2020
The hardest part of my job by far is going up to a coach who has just lost a big game. There have been occasions that the loss was so painful, I could see tears in the eyes of the players as they listened to their coach and I honestly could feel the pain these young folk were feeling.
I have even decided it wasn’t the proper time to talk to the coach because there was still so much being processed.
I have been covering high school sports for three and a half years and have been exposed to some real class acts, both coach and player.
I can categorically say; every coach that I have talked over the years, no matter the sport, cares first and foremost about the kids.
I remember clearly when Hanna, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow (HEM) Head Basketball Coach Cliff Jones spoke to a player who just had a bad call put on him.
“You can only play the best you can and if the call is wrong, take it with grace and don’t let it eat away at you,” He said. “Life is not always fair but that doesn’t mean you can’t be.”
“Wow,” I thought to myself as I overheard his words “Cliff just gave a life lesson.”
The Miners lost and, when I interviewed Cliff after the game, I mentioned the bad call and how it changed the momentum of the game. He told me, “adversity happens.” He explained, from his perspective, the key is not to let it get a team or person down to where they get bitter or start to play dirty.
Amen to that.
I have been covering Saratoga High School football since Logan Wright came on board three years ago when he had just eight players try out for the team. Because they were regulated to six-man their first year, the team could not be in playoffs, nor could any player be considered for state honors.
I watched him fight to get his players recognition where he could. When I would interview him after a game over the past three years, win or lose, he always had praise for his players.
The game I remember the strongest was the first at home this year. The Panthers were in the hunt to win almost until the end. What shot them in the foot were penalties. Several un-sportsman like conduct ones.
I hesitated to interview Logan because I knew the loss was tough, but decided to go for it.
The interview had some typical quotes about how the team was still jelling together. Then Logan said something quite poignant.
“Those penalties for un-sportsman like conduct are not who we are,” Logan said. “That is not what we are about and I know it was emotion coming across. I hope to not see it in our games any longer.”
For the Panthers last game, they played well and it was in the playoffs. They almost won against a higher ranked team. There are stats from the players that are mind boggling and the score was a mere 4 point difference.
What really impressed me was there was only one penalty for five yards on the Panthers for the entire game. No personal penalties in that game. The other team was cited for seven penalties as an aside.
When I talked to Logan after the game, what came across was how proud he was of his team for coming from the first game, where there was strong emotion and quite a few penalties out of frustration at starting to lose, to a team that played to the best of their abilities in a total class way.
Another team I have watched for three seasons has been HEM’s high school volleyball team. The Lady Miners went to State Finals the first season I was covering them. They were a young team with mostly sophomores. They might not have won the championship game, but the town of Hanna still gave them a parade when they came back from Casper.
The next year they didn’t go as far as hoped in the playoffs, but the girls always had good attitudes when I interviewed them about their season. Their head coach, Jackie Jones, was always proud of them. This season, she called the team “a pure class act’ as they had a great record this year. Unfortunately, they did not go as far as many hoped but I know Jackie is still proud of them because they weren’t just good players, but excellent human beings that took losses as graciously as wins.
Jackie told the girls as they ended their season, “Whether you win or lose, it does not define who you are as a human.”
She told me small schools have an ebb and flow of numbers and talent and it is hard to win all the time. Jackie remembers back to a time when she had a team that went 0-21.
“I know how to lose,” she said. “I never lost faith in the kids. As soon as a coach does that, it is time for the coach to find something else to do. Winning isn’t that important that you lose your touch with humanity.”
The real test to me, is watching a coach who has a winning team one season, and then has a season that goes in the opposite direction. HEM’s football team did exactly that. Last season, the team played for the State Championship. It was a great game and I saw so much character from the northern Carbon County kids as they accepted defeat with some tears and, again, graciousness. Their coach, Zach Scott, only had praise for the team.
This season, the team had a few wins, but it was not like the year before. The entire season, Zach complimented his team for getting better each game, no matter the score. At the home games, win or lose, Zach was encouraging to his players and told them not to worry about a loss. I had always known Zach to say good things about his players from his winning seasons, but he never was down about a loss. His concern was the kids enjoying the game.
These coaches and team have helped me put in perspective about winning and losing. In the past, I have found myself in bitter tears as my beloved Maryland Terrapin basketball team lost a heartbreaker or a game I believed they should have won. And I was just an observer.
The world doesn’t end when you lose. In the case of sports, there is either the next game or the next season. For seniors it might be different because it might be the last time they play, but I have never seen a Carbon County District No. 2 player lose control because the team didn’t win, especially seniors. If anything, I watch them comfort the younger players.
Personally, I don’t like losing.
I used to play racquetball all the time and, although I tried to keep my temper in place, I hated when I felt I should have won but didn’t. I can say the same about some basketball games I played. I learned life went on afterwards.
I think that is what all the coaches I watched and reported on were trying to get across.
Losing a championship has to be hard. I watched it happen twice, but never did I see any blame go around by players or coaches. I find that very impressive.
It is encouraging as I watch these young people go out into the world equipped with grace and humility by their schools to face whatever comes their way.
I don’t doubt they will do well.
I look forward to when these young people start leading our country.
I know almost all of them won’t try and cheat or take advantage of others. I have already seen several classes graduate and, when I run across a kid from the past, categorically I see them doing good things.