Roots and Branches: The competition of spirit

Competition among kids has its pros and cons.

As parents and coaches it is our responsibility to help keep the intensity of competition in check for our kids and provide them with life’s larger lessons. Some of the old adages I learned as a child still ring true: “It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” If there is a winner, your opponent is a loser by its very definition. With good coaches our kids learn how to be winners in every situation, regardless of the final score.

My children had some great coaches who were highly competitive but still kept their eye on that larger prize. My oldest son, Corey, was an all-state football player under the tutelage of coaches Burton and Drew. Don’t get me wrong, those coaches love to win, but they were just as passionate about their teams being good sports, never feeling like losers if they have given their best. A memory I hold dear is when their championship football team awarded their team “assistant” the most improved player award. This young man had struggled with developmental disabilities throughout his life but was an integral part of the team.

Daughter Kim has judged every softball coach on their ability to find something great in each and every young girl who loves to play softball, regardless of their talent, a lesson learned from one of Little League’s greatest softball coaches, Hugh Hinman.

Now my grandchildren are taking centerfield in a variety of athletic and artistic endeavors. Last weekend we watched Auni play on Fred Trujillo’s team, a hodgepodge of tweens and teens who just love to play softball. As the girls have gotten older, the level of competition has increased, which unfortunately provides more opportunities for kids to feel like losers. Like all grandparents, our eyes were on our granddaughter Aunika. We felt pride in her accomplishments, some nice hits and great catches and throws which allowed her to leave the field with her head held high in spite of some really lopsided scores. What happened to the five-run mercy rule? Fortunately the opposing coach instituted it to help keep the teams enthused. And when one girl was injured we were allowed to bring in her little sister from the bleachers to play the final game of the day. After the game, Coach Trujillo congratulated each of the girls on their individual and team accomplishments, keeping their spirits high.

The umpires were supportive as well, encouraging struggling pitchers when they were “off” or catchers when they took a few too many pitches in the gut. He even ran out to first base to high-five Auni when she made a spectacular catch. Perhaps he was just bored, but I believe he wanted to keep the love of playing the game in all of the girl’s hearts.

Who would think that the Oregon Battle of the Books state championship would be more competitive than baseball? In spite of a rotten cold that has been sapping my strength this last week, I headed down to Chemeketa Community College in Salem to watch Kendra and Aunika, Jimena, Nick and super dedicated alternate Ethan go head to head with other regional champions from across the state. Wy’east Middle School sailed through the first two rounds, showing good sportsmanship, camaraderie and understanding in spite of their nerves. As they moved through the Sweet 16 rounds into the ultimate eight, they continued to support one another. I firmly believe that if they hadn’t faced the future state championship team Fern Ridge in that round, they would have gone on to face them in the finals. It was a great competition, leaving no losers in the room. They were matched perfectly, answering question after question, wowing the judges and parents alike. They kept their cool and played their hearts out.

Kendra and Auni will move on to their roles in “Shrek,” with Kendra center stage as Fiona as well as directing and helping choreograph the dancers. Auni will stay behind the scenes, focusing on the sound and lights. Katie will perform in the Hood River Valley High School Choir spring concert. Cooper will play in his first Minors baseball game this Monday, which promises to test the patience of Coach Sal Rivera, but who I am sure will rise to the occasion. And son Corey will continue to inspire his twins and their seven-year-old classmates to enjoy running and throwing catching and hitting, regardless of their understanding of the game.

Exhausted after a weekend of coughing and cheering, I curled up on the couch on Sunday and watched the end of the Masters Golf tournament. There was quite the media hype about the super talented 21 year old Jordan Spieth and his role in bringing back the mania around golf that Tiger Woods had once provided. The young man didn’t appear to buy into all the hype, just playing quietly and determinedly throughout the afternoon winning handily. For me, the previous day’s event when Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear of golf, predicted he would make a hole in one and then did exactly that was truly the most exciting. It wasn’t about the competition and winning or losing, it was how he could still play the game at the age of 75.



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