John F. Russell: Defining character on and off the green |

John F. Russell: Defining character on and off the green

Often times, high school athletes are defined by what they do in the heat of competition.

Fortunately, that’s not always the case.

Take the story of Steamboat Springs golfer Paul Berry and Fruita-Monument golfer Chace Nathe.

Their story begins where it ended – on the second hole of a playoff at the Tiara Rado Golf Course in Grand Junction last Tuesday. Sure, the golfers’ quest for the Warrior Classic tournament title was interesting, but it is what followed the playoff that speaks to the character of sports and the reason we all play the game.

Berry, Nathe and Basalt’s Jim Knous were tied at 72 after the first 18 holes. So the trio headed back out to settle the match. Knous bogeyed the first playoff hole and was eliminated. Nathe and Berry parred the hole to extend their match.

But like I said, this story is not limited to greens and fairways. It’s not important which golfer won. That’s because after tying again on the second playoff hole, Nathe and Berry agreed to end the match.

That day, Berry lugged his golf bag around 20 holes, but he understood that Nathe was carrying baggage heavier than all of his woods and irons combined.

You see, Nathe couldn’t have played a third playoff hole. He needed to leave. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of his best friend, Kyle Proust.

It was a moment that put the importance of the tournament in clear view. So often in our society the importance of high school sports – and winning – is blown out of proportion.

Many times, student athletes view success in terms of wins and losses. They put sports in front of nearly everything else in life – sometimes even in front of family and friends.

But not on this day.

Berry shook off the idea of a coin flip to decide the winner. And he wasn’t going to make Nathe concede the match because he had to leave.

Instead, the two players elected for a draw, and when the time came to hand out the first-place medal, Berry insisted that it be given to Nathe.

It was a small gesture, but it was a classy one.

On that day, Nathe was defined by his courage to carry on with life in the face of incredible sadness. Berry was defined by his compassion.

Berry’s actions last week will last longer than any tournament victory, or being named the best golfer on the Western Slope or winning a state title.

In a single moment of understanding, Berry made an impression that will last a lifetime. He represented the spirit of our community and a level of compassion we should all aspire to.

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