High school sports have unique lessons for life [Commentary]

I know this paper has designated sports writers, but I hope Randy McRoberts and Dewey Fox will indulge me for writing my own column reflecting on the world of high school sports.

To me, playing sports in high school was a unique experience that doesn't get repeated in life.

Adults might join a local kickball or softball team, but it's not really the same, is it? As adults, we all have to act relatively mature and considerate, and good sportsmanship definitely comes easier when you know you have absolutely no shot at any kind of professional sports career.

Teenagers, meanwhile, are under a lot more pressure to actually perform well on a team, and there is more emotional drama because they're, well, teenagers.

I played badminton (a sport not offered in Harford County schools) in the fall all four years of high school and tennis in the spring for two years.

The badminton team was pretty successful, but badminton was one of the more mocked sports, which shows how the world of high school sports reflects the world of high school itself.

Our football team, for example, was not especially good, but everyone still liked them. The football players could be unsuccessful athletes but still be totally popular with the ladies.

The golf team, meanwhile, had an excellent record, but nobody seemed to care about them. Golf, like badminton, was not a cool sport.

I loved being on the badminton team, however, and it was definitely one of my best experiences in high school, even though I was never an amazing player.

I had a lot of friends on the team and, unlike "cooler" sports, the badminton team never seemed to take itself too seriously.

We had a lot of fun, our coach was fun and some of our players actually ended up being some of the best in the county and the state. (When my sister was on the team, one of her friends was nationally ranked and went to college on a badminton scholarship.)

When a few of the more popular kids (who normally played "real" sports like lacrosse and softball) agreed to join our team, I think they were quickly surprised to find that badminton was not a weak, dorky sport but was actually really athletic and difficult.

The tennis team, meanwhile, was a lot harder to get onto. I think the coach ultimately let me on out of pity, because he was a nice person and I tried really hard to get on the team.

My family sort of pushed me to play the sport, too, because I showed early signs of being "interested in tennis."

In reality, I was mostly interested in hitting a ball against a wall for hours at a time, which is not technically "tennis." I just liked this meditative aspect of the sport, but other people assumed it meant I wanted to play actual tennis games.

So I got on the high school team and played in bona fide competitions, which was not necessarily my forte.

I played doubles with a partner who was generally a lot better than me. I'm not sure how disappointed she was in my performance, but I was usually too busy defending myself from balls flying toward my face to care.

I'm being facetious, though. I had a pretty good time playing actual tennis games, even though I still often longed to just be alone with a racket and a ball, and a wall.

That reminds me of a comment that sports editor Randy McRoberts once made about golf (a sport I've never played, except for the miniature variety). He said what he liked about golf was that ultimately, it wasn't about competing with the other players. When he stepped up to swing, it was all about him and his performance that day.

To me, that's what really makes sports a reflection of life. It doesn't matter how many people are around you; you are ultimately competing only with yourself. And if you let the other people make you mean or depressed or defeatist, then you've already lost.

That's why the best athletes - not the ones scrambling to the top, but the ones who can actually sustain greatness for the long haul - also usually have the best attitudes.

At a time when plenty of professional athletes are getting banned for doping (way to go, Lance Armstrong), running their mouth about not wanting to play with gay people (seriously, Chris Culliver?) and generally making less-than-intelligent choices, I am reminded of the athletes I really admired in high school.

They didn't see others as rungs to be stepped on, and they weren't interested in being cool. They could afford to be great, compassionate, smart people because they knew they had to answer to themselves. They expected the best from themselves, even after the game was over.

And even now that I'm way too old for high school sports, that is a lesson worth remembering!

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad