High school careers come to an end, but lessons learned will not be wasted
Steamboat Springs — It’s one of the the most difficult moments to cover in high school sports.
The season comes to an end, and the tears begin. It’s not the same for every high school athlete, but at some point in the season, especially during a students’ senior year, the realization his or her high school career is nearly over begins to sink in. Sure, some athletes go on to play after high school, whether in college or with a club team, but for many, this moment marks the end of a career stretching back to when they first started playing the game as a young child.
In those early days, making the high school team was the goal, and later on, a few dreamed of landing a state title. But most of the high school athletes I’ve covered over the years were on the field — or the court — for the same, simple reason: They enjoyed playing the game.
And for years, they played the game, never worrying about what would happen after the last practice of their senior season and unconcerned about whether they would ever play again after the final whistle or the final buzzer signaled the end of that final game.
The sad truth is, it doesn’t matter if that sound comes at the end of a regular season game or following a state championship tilt. The sound is final, and in most cases, marks a change for the players who love the games they play.
For the past 25 years, I’ve watched as countless athletes made the journey from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior. For some, that journey was filled with great success; for others, winning proved more elusive. But regardless of the outcome — of a single game or an entire season — the journey is the same.
We normally the athletes crying after they lose the final game, but I’ve also watched a couple of state champion wrestlers and a state championship soccer team shed tears when it all came to an end. When the Steamboat girls soccer team won the state title back in 1998, there were plenty of tears. Some, no doubt, were tears of joy, but I would argue the senior heavy team also shed more than a few tears over the fact that a run that began in local recreational leagues and ended with an epic battle between two Western Slope powerhouses was, indeed, the end of the road for both teams.
Sure, the winning team rode the high for a few days, but eventually, they head to head back home and clean out their soccer bags, the same way the losing team from Palisade did.
At that point, the game became as much a memory as a part of their everyday lives. The funny thing is, as a reporter, I rarely stop to think about what it means. Years of after-school practices, years of driving town-to-town for games and years of trying to be the best they could be: All these things were over.
But the cool thing is, the lessons learned by these athletes on the playing field are equally important to everyday life. It may be true that the competitive game, at least at this level, is over. But the dedication, hard work and sacrifice those players learned on the field can be carried forward into every aspect of their lives to come.
Yes, it’s sad to see a high school student’s athletic career come to a close, but as time passes, the tears will be replaced by smiles that come from knowing they were part of something bigger than themselves.
And the lessons they learned will not have been in vain.
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