Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Champions No Matter What

It's basketball playoff season in Maine...

A time when rational people leave warm dwellings, travel through subzero temperatures to gyms and cheer on their local teams as they try to advance to conference championship games.

Tomorrow night, I will sit among a raucous crowd at Erskine Academy who will cheer on the Chelsea girls as they try to win the school's first Sheepscot Valley Conference girls basketball championship since 2001.

For a small school in a small Maine town, this is a big deal.

To put it in proper perspective, about half of the girls on the current team were not yet born when the last championship banner was raised in the old Chelsea School. Others, like my daughter Grace, were a few months old.

When it comes to athletics in a school where often there are just enough kids to field a team, winning seasons - let alone championship ones - are few and far between.

And the girls on that last winning team? I suspect that they've completed college and may be working on advanced degrees or launching careers as young adults.

Tomorrow night also is a big deal because, regardless of the outcome, it will mark the last Chelsea girls basketball game I will watch with a daughter on the team.

In just a few short months, Grace and her friends will leave the school they've called home for the past nine years and disperse to several area high schools.

Some will continue with team sports, others won't or will discover individual sports or other activities that will fuel their passion during their high school years.

They will keep in touch - if only by social media - as they form new friendships and relationships that will carry them to the next chapters of their lives.

Most important, however, is that they will remember their time as middle school teammates...the bonds they created, the laughter, the tears, the arguments and infighting.

They will remember the crushing defeats of their sixth grade year as they played against older and more skilled players from other area schools.

And the ups and downs of their seventh grade season, which ended in a particularly demoralizing 40+ point defeat - also at Erskine - at the hands of a talented group of players from the private school in Augusta.

As parents, we will recall the many one-sided losses that marked the girls' development over three seasons as they transformed themselves from individuals with little basketball knowledge or skills to a "team" capable of advancing to a championship game.

We'll remember how we considered it a victory if our girls scored ten or more points in a game while keeping their opponent's score under 50.

We'll celebrate the wonderful young women they are now and the futures on their horizons that hold so much promise.

And we'll cheer our Lady Eagles, win or lose, for providing us with a season worth remembering.

I truly hope Grace and her friends experience the thrill of victory, of being on a team that was a "winner." Considering where they've all come from, I can't think of a more deserving group.

But I also hope that they never forget the journey they've traveled - individually and together - over the past three seasons.

It is this type of journey, more than a thick-felted banner hanging on a gym wall, that will define them most as people.

Good luck, Lady Eagles, and know that regardless of the final score, you'll always be winners in our eyes.

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