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‘The opportunity to play’

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PHOTO BY JOHN HANNAHS

By Al Malinowski EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Athletic teams at all levels of competition across our country have been challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic, not knowing if their next game on the schedule will be played, and if so, which of their athletes will be available to participate. Marquee games have been canceled, often at the last minute due to players testing positive for the virus. The cancellations have understandably been made in the interest of the health and safety of the participants and have led some to question whether the seasons should be postponed or altogether canceled.

Legendary Chicago Bears Hall of Fame linebacker, Mike Singletary once acknowledged, “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” Those words could not be more appropriate for many athletes whose opportunity to play has been placed in question or in some cases, abruptly cut short. 

Last year, winter sports regular seasons were played, but most post-season tournaments were not.  The NCAA basketball tournament was canceled a week before it was scheduled to begin, and many elite basketball players had their college careers suddenly and unexpectedly come to an end. 

In Montana, the high school state basketball tournaments were shut down on the day of the championship games, causing the Montana High School Association to crown co-champions in each classification. Likely many of those teams would have preferred to settle the co-champion title on the court, even if it meant doing so in an empty gym.

Practices for this winter sports season for high schools in Montana have begun after a three week delay, and it’s a safe assumption those players must be wondering whether this season will occur.  Coaches are reminding their players of the importance of focusing on what is within their control, and how every successful team has to battle through adversity, meanwhile the seniors are already circling certain games on the schedule, dreaming of finishing their high school careers with a victory over their rivals.

When former athletes reminisce about their careers, they often discuss the biggest games they have played, especially if they had the opportunity to play for a championship. But the most memorable experiences often revolve around spontaneous moments that occurred at practice, on bus rides or other team activities. The value that athletics can have on individual’s education rarely has much to do with the final win-loss record of the team.   

Athletes who transition to other successful endeavors after their athletic careers end, routinely speak of the lessons they learned during their participation in sports.  It’s not only professional athletes who credit athletics for lessons learned, but also many whose sports careers ended when they realized they had other talents that gave them a better chance at making a good living.

The athletes currently preparing for their seasons will have no influence on the number of games they will play this year or how long the season will last. However, because they currently have the opportunity to play, they have the same chance to create those life-long memories, whether this season becomes an abbreviated one or not. Just like every new season, there are lessons within the adversity for those who chose to learn them.

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