I've experienced a wide spectrum of high school sports over the past month.
I've watched athletes compete in almost every arena. I've seen them perform in front of big crowds and in front of almost no one. I've seen them play in preseason events, regular season games and state tournaments.
Regardless of the crowd, regardless of whether their sport is considered a major sport or a minor one, regardless of whether fans were paying to watch them play and regardless of whether they were catching front-page headlines, the athletes all gave it their all and their dedication means the same to themselves, friends, classmates and parents.
Accomplishment is accomplishment. Competition is competition. Improvement is improvement. Effort is effort. In every sport, performing well, playing hard and winning is satisfying. Performing poorly is frustrating and painful. Just because a game isn't played in front of a packed house doesn't mean it's any less significant. Parents of every athlete get goose bumps and suffer near nervous breaks downs just watching their kids compete.
There was one particular day that really made me realize just how important every sport is to every kid and parent. I was standing outside the tennis courts at Timpanogos High School watching the Region 7 girls tennis finals. There were less than 100 people total watching. But I watched classmates, parents and grandparents pulling for someone. I saw the athletes giving as much effort as I've ever seen. High-fives abounded on the courts. Hugs, smiles and tears followed every match.
Toward the end of the day, all eyes focused on one court, where the No. 2 doubles match, a back-and-forth affair, was winding down. It turned out that the region title would be determined by the match's outcome. A match that would normally garner little attention was suddenly in the spotlight. It dawned on me that all high school competition is deserving of being in the spotlight.
Later that night I went to the marquee football game of the year — Springville at Timpview. The electricity in the crowd had my arm hair standing. The Red Devils' side of the stands was just as full as the T-Birds' side. The participants competed hard, and it was a game full of energy. To say the least, the fans, coaches and players were "up" for the game. While standing in the middle of it all, again it dawned on me. This same crowd would have loved to have watched the tennis match that I had seen only hours earlier. Sports fans missed out. The girls who competed in that match missed out. They didn't get the attention they deserved. They represented themselves and their schools admirably.
The same week I stood along the 18th green at Tri City Golf Course and saw Springville's Tyler Weight knock a chip shot a few feet from the cup to beat Spanish Fork's Broden Hughes in sudden death to win the Region 6 medalist crown. I was disappointed that more were not witnessing the accomplishment. A week later I was there when four Orem High golfers teed off on No. 1 at Old Mill Golf Course in sudden death for the state golf title. Again, I was disappointed that more people did not get to see the exuberance of the Tigers team when Ryan Phillips, Conlin Gull, Zack Stratton and Dan Reid rolled in the crown-clinching putts.
A couple of weeks later I walked onto the Lehi soccer field after the Pioneers had defeated Wasatch 1-0 to advance to the state semifinals. Coach Brett Bergholm was almost crying he was so full of happiness for his girls.
Every athlete in every sport should know that their effort, dedication and accomplishments are worthy of recognition. When you walk by them in the halls at school or see them at the grocery store or church, tip them your hat. They deserve to know that proud is proud.