Don’t forget the human athlete

By Karl Terry

It’s good to be a winner, but sometimes we learn more when we fall short of our goal.

Portales experienced both emotions Friday as one of its state-tournament teams won a championship and the other lost a hard-fought semifinal game.

As we continue to celebrate our basketball successes this week as a community we need to put aside any haughty talk of having a dynasty or adopting a title town mentality. Instead we should celebrate the dedication and hard work that a few talented students in our local schools have put on display on a state-wide stage this week. Be proud of all of them, not because they brought home the hardware, but because they focused on a goal and worked hard to achieve it.

That kind of hard work and focus toward a goal is a big part of the makeup of our community. We should all feel gratified that parents, coaches and other community role models respect the community and its young people enough to raise them to the highest levels of competition possible.

With all that said, let’s not forget these kids are humans; they’re teenagers and we shouldn’t put them on too high a pedestal. That same teen who rose above teammates and opponents for a rebound on the floor of The Pit in Albuquerque will still be a teenager who won’t want to get out of bed in time for school next week.

With the arrest of one of the Ram players on the accusation of criminal sexual penetration, we’ve all been reminded that these champions in our midst are really just humans. He and his teammates have had a lot to deal with in the past week. We hope their training has left them with the mental toughness to find a way safely through the emotions.

I’m reminded of a couple of other incidents that have happened with promising athletes in other towns where I’ve lived that were equally as poignant.

In Carbondale, Colo., a few years ago, a week before the district tournament in a season that held the promise of a visit to the big dance, a number of athletes and other students from Roaring Fork High messed up and ruined everything for them and their teammates. All but one of the starters and several other upperclassmen players were caught at a party with alcohol. The team finished that promising season with freshmen and even an eighth-grader on the varsity court while the rest of the team sat out on suspension.

Two good things came out of it though: No one was killed in an alcohol-related accident coming home from the party that night and a group of hard-working athletes, really good kids, learned a valuable life lesson — dreams can evaporate in one misspent night.

Another incident, in Tucumcari, occurred during the spring after a good run through the basketball post-season for the Rattlers. Tragically one day after track practice the star player put a shotgun to his chest in the family’s driveway and shocked the entire state.

It was a lot harder for the community and the boy’s teammates to take a positive lesson from that experience. We certainly learned that day that our mighty hometown warriors were human and that no matter what their achievements we shouldn’t forget their human feelings.

I don’t remember the games or even the exact result of that year’s basketball season in Tucumcari but I’ll never forget the loss the community experienced with that young man’s death.

Celebrate with our returning young gladiators today. But don’t forget to put your arm around ’em and listen to their trials tomorrow.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481 ext. 33 or by e-mail:
karl_terry@link.freedom.com