Good sports

Posted on Jan 20 2023

Jim Rayphand

During a “timeout” with mere seconds left in an early round game of the Virginia State High School Lacrosse Tournament my senior year, we were up by one goal and our coach called on me for a one-on-one matchup with the opposing team’s senior stud (at least in his mind) attackman (I believe he was their leading scorer as well, although some details of those days escape me); I was a long-stick defenseman. “Jimbo! You take, JP,” our coach said. We knew him by name, not because he was that good—though he might say otherwise—but because our schools were in-state rivals; we’d competed multiple times (maybe twice in a season sometimes) throughout our high school years and, coincidentally, our respective coaches were longtime friends dating back to their college years.

“DON’T LET HIM TOUCH THE BALL!” my coach commanded in no uncertain terms. I had one job. Then in a blur, the ball was inbounded, JP slipped away from me and, in one fluid motion, caught the ball, turned, and fired a shot on goal. He missed by an inch or less. Phew!

The game ended on that shot, my team advanced (only to lose in the semifinal round) and my high school playing days were over. I vaguely recall offering a few consoling words and sharing niceties with a handshake on the field that day, but I more clearly remember a feeling of mutual respect for each other and for the game itself. In that moment, he was devastated and I was…well…relieved, but both of us were good sports. I credit our coaches for that bit of sportsmanship and maturity despite the hubris in our youth.

That game (from a little over 30 years ago now) would mark the beginning of an enduring friendship with JP, who remains one my most trusted friends to this very day (albeit from a half-a-world distance away). In the fall of that same year, we matriculated into the same college, lived in the same dorm, and pledged the same fraternity. Generally we dabbled in much of the same idiocy—you wouldn’t believe me if I told even half of it—for the entirety of our college years (outside of classes and a fairly rigorous lacrosse schedule, of course). At the end of our senior year in college, he and I would play our last game together with a handful of our closest friends (then teammates) at our first appearance in the NCAA Division III Lacrosse Tournament with our team having been Ranked #8 in the nation that year (the lowest seed to make the tournament in those days). We lost in the first round and our four years of playing college ball ended—most of us (many of who had played together all four years) said our goodbyes on the bus that day and have not seen or spoken with each other since.

Flash forward to present day—30-some years older and none the wiser, although exponentially sentimental and soft (pun intended)—I’m an old, “has-been” athlete who has (for lack of a nicer term) “let himself go,” relatively speaking. For example, my once six-minute mile-run is (at best) a grueling 14-plus-minute walk these days—more than double—and let’s just say a few other bodily numbers/percentages have more than doubled over the years, including something that rhymes with hat, cat, and bat. Thank goodness for chubby-chasers and their appreciation for a man they can grab a hold of…big boys need love too.

Speaking of love, there is hardly anything that I love more in this world than watching my children grow; nothing like watching grass grow mind you, never a dull moment. It’s on the occasion these days after my kids’ sports competitions that I most often reminisce and wander down this nostalgic path of days-gone-by. I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to watch them compete no matter the sport and with little regard for whether they win, lose, or draw. Don’t get me wrong. I prefer to see them win, but in the long run they (and we as a community) all win when our kids are able to engage in meaningful opportunities of athletic competition, regardless of the sport and/or scores. You see, even in loss there is something to be gained from healthy competition—at best maybe lifelong friendships and at worst perhaps a lesson in humility, a rare quality these days.

The highs and lows of emotion in youth sports were on full display over the weekend during the CNMI’s Middle School Girls Volleyball Tournament hosted and organized by the Public School System in collaboration with NMI’s Volleyball Association. I dare say the ups and downs were especially prevalent because it was competition among middle school girls, nearly 150 of them I’d guess in that age group. As a more-than-casual parent observer, I can tell you that the see-saw of nervous energy bobbing up and down between happy and sad or excitement and anger was palpable—tears of joy and sadness were on tap for the day. On one play they’d be jumping for joy and the very next dejected beyond recognition. Meanwhile, I looked on like some sort of wacko coddling them (in my mind) and wishing I could give them a hug one minute and the next wishing I could shake the funk out of them (especially my own daughter and nieces). Such is the nature of competitive team sports and, if you ask me, the stuff (both the bitter and sweet emotions) that makes life worth living. You can’t fully appreciate a win if you’ve never known defeat and that’s not just in sports, though I don’t know of better way for our kids to learn it.

It’s easy to talk about sports in the context of wins and losses or the general benefits of exercise and physical activity or even the rivalries between teams (local or otherwise), but that’s the fodder of a small picture view, a few trees in the forest if you will. In the bigger picture, with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of respect for your sport and for the people engaged in it with you (including yourself, your teammates, opponents, coaches, refs and everyone in the cheering sections), what you get are the most solid grounds on which to lay your own footings and the greatest building blocks for the most genuine, lifelong relationships with people in every facet of your life going forward. That’s not to say you will succeed in every relationship—many of us know all too well the agony of defeat—but it’s where we learn to take it in and move forward.

At the final whistle, the most fortunate among us will be standing along the sidelines with our most trusted friends, taking our turns and cheering each other on in this (one and only) life, the greatest game ever known.

Jim Rayphand is a former executive director of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. and recently ventured into a startup fishing business.


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