Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It Isn't Always About Winning

Johnson shoots a twenty footer at the buzzer against the defender Perez, NET, NOTHING BUT NET, Ravens win by one at the buzzer the crowd goes wild. Johnson’s teammates swarm to him and pile on in joyous victory.

Williams is on the bottom, trailing by 1. Wearing the red singlet the 103 pound wrestler is twisting to the left, twisting to the right. He hits a sit out but Smith is controlling the hips with the spiral ride. Williams quickly bases up, constantly moving. Williams hits a switch to his sweet side, 3 seconds left. Williams hits a hip heist on the switch to quickly turning on his shoulder to get behind Smith, the official quickly shows 2 fingers as time expires, WILLIAMS WINS STATE, WILLIAMS WINS STATE!!!

This time of the year has moments like the above occurring all across the country. I have been honored to be in the corners of some of those athletes coaching them. I have also had the honor of being in the center of the wrestling mat for others, working as an official. What an experience, what a moment for any athlete, parent, coach and fan to experience. While many assume that March Madness is all about basketball, it isn’t, wrestling is also a part of March Madness and I have been honored to enjoy both sports during this maddening time of year.

I grew up playing football and basketball, I loved, and in fact still do love both of those sports, but it is a time of year that I have learned to enjoy another sport, wrestling. My son is a decent wrestler in fact he didn’t lose a state championship he wrestled in from the sixth grade through high school. He missed out on two state tournaments in high school but did win two high school state tournaments, and has won state in Freestyle and Greco since a young man. He just won his second high school state championship and will be going for his 20th, and 21st state championship this summer as he enters into the Freestyle Greco season. The number of state championships since 6th grade includes Freestyle, Greco, Kids, and High School State Championships, some in the same year. That is a rather remarkable accomplishment. Some would think those state championships; those moments are the most memorable events for me in sports as a competitor, coach, or dad. I have to admit, they are memorable, this last years state championship was memorable because of what it meant for him coming of the last 2 years, two years ago as a Sophomore he was 27-1 but did not get to wrestle in the Regional or State Tournament. Last year, while he did get to wrestle Freestyle and Greco, he did not get to wrestle high school due to mistakes on his part. But, while all of this is memorable, the most memorable moments do not always come to and or for, the champion.

I don’t recall the year but I was in the corner of Daniel Smith. Daniel was a junior at Derby High School at The Kansas Kids State Tournament in Topeka Kansas. The Kansas Kids Tournament has wrestlers from the ages of 7 up through the age of 17. These wrestlers all fall in the age divisions from 8 and under to 16 and under. Daniel had one year of high school left and had never placed on any level of a state tournament. My son was wrestling on another mat but I had decided that I had an obligation to the team, not just my son. I think it was the quarter finals and the winners of each match were guaranteed of placing at state. They weren’t guaranteed of winning state, just placing. Daniel knew he had an uphill battle. He was facing a tough kid and he pretty much knew he wasn’t going to win state, there was the hope, but he also had the knowledge that to win state, he would need a few breaks, and the better wrestlers in the division would need to falter along the way.

Prior to the start of the quarter final match I was getting Daniel warmed up, helping him focus, helping him get ready for the next, all important, stressful match. Daniel came to me, “Coach Furches,” he said, “would you pray with me before the start of the match.” “Sure Daniel,” I replied with some level of surprise.

To be totally honest, I don’t really recall what we prayed for. I know it wasn’t to win, I don’t pray to win in any situation, although I have prayed that it would be nice to win but I would prefer that God protect and that God enable the best effort, protect the athletes and that in all things, win or lose, God be glorified. I was somewhat pleased in the prayer; I remember that, because Daniel didn’t just ask me to pray, he prayed as well. This is something I have had the honor of experiencing in the past, which is having numerous athletes asking me to pray with them prior to a match. I reminded a friend last week, there is no greater honor than going before the creator of the universe and speaking to him regarding an important moment in the life of a young athlete. Again, never praying to win, that would be foolish and stupid, but praying to give thanks, both in victory and defeat, now that is something to celebrate.
The prayer was over, Daniel was called to the wrestling mat, I still recall the 10 or so mats on the floor. Daniel’s mat was in one of the far corners of the Expo Center. Gary, another coach with Derby and I went to the corner and to be frank, Daniel was likely out classed in that particular match by looking at the records and experience of the wrestlers before stepping on the mat. Daniel had something though, he had something you can’t coach, he had heart, and he had desire. I will, for long as I live, cherish the moment when Daniel ran to the corner after his close victory, jumping into my arms as he told me, with tears in his eyes, “I’m going to place at State! I’m going to place at State!”

Daniel wasn’t excited about winning state; in fact, he would go on to get beat later in the semi final round. I don’t even recall what he ended up placing at state that year, just that he did place at state and that for him, a major accomplishment was obtained. I pray that God never lets me forget of the importance of this act in Daniel’s life. To have been there, and experienced it with him was nothing short of a major honor. In fact, that moment was more satisfying for me than my son going on to win state that particular year. Nathan had won state before, but I was reminded about something else.

Over the years now I have spoken to Daniel about this many times. It was while speaking to a friend, Jerry today that I was reminded of this story as he told me about a young man wanting to go to whatever tournament that weekend that Coach Dale was going to. As a coach, as an athlete, you don’t forget those moments, if you do, you likely shouldn’t be competing, you likely shouldn’t be coaching. To be there, and to have an impact on a young athlete is an honor that I hope I never forget about when I am coaching or involving myself in the life of a young athlete.

We shouldn’t forget those who are in our corner, those who have helped us along the way. Just yesterday I requested prayer for my family and my son. A lot has gone on since then, but I have heard from people all over America reminding me of their willingness and their willingness of praying for us. Things aren’t perfect as of today, but they are better, God gives peace, but his intervention is still needed. Today, I am grateful for those who have been in my corner, in the corner of my family. We needed you and you have responded, we still need you and we know that you will continue to respond. I know this ministry sometimes requests money as this is my vocation, but I will reiterate, the friendships, the knowledge of knowing we have helped others, and more importantly the prayers are by far, more important than many will ever realize.

As athletes get ready for their respective events, remember those in the corner to coach and help, your practice partner, teammate who sits the bench never getting game or match time, but is at practice busting their butt to make you better. The wrestlers who have been beaten out of state, or have no chance of winning, but are still in the practice room helping you prepare. Your teammate, your practice partner should joy as much in your accomplishments as you because they helped get you there. We talk about lessons in sport that can be carried on in life, but this is one that is easy to forget, unless you have been there to experience a young man, running with tears in his eyes to jump into your arms overjoyed with the knowledge that he has accomplished something. Remember, the accomplishments we celebrate may be different, for some it involves scoring a point or two, maybe getting a steal, it may be just qualifying for state. I will remind, the victory goes to those who overcome, but in that victory there are many along the way that made it possible, the truth is, the victory is just as much for them as it is the one who gets the medal or trophy in the end of the day, because without those helping out, the likelihood of the award would never occur.

Congrats to those who have competed and given their best. Not all can win, but all can try, and in that we should look for victory, we should look for celebration. In that effort, we insure others continue their involvement, and then, we can rest assured that we have taught life lessons that carry on beyond the field of competition.

Now as a closing note and point of clarification. Neither should we ever take anything away from those who are victorious. They have worked hard to earn what they have earned, but in the end, it isn’t always those moments that we have the best memories of. Sometimes it is the ordinary becoming extraordinary, or the weak finding ways to become strong, and sometimes in the obtaining of a small goal. It is in those moments of helping one accomplish the seemingly difficult and impossible, no matter on what level, that we can also find reason to celebrate. Let us all, Celebrate!

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