To the point week of 3/1/07

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AND THEN IT WAS OVER. For fans of the Switzerland County Pacer basketball team, hosting this year’s boys sectional tournament was a dream come true. Coach Brian Bowen and his team completed a successful regular season, and the entire Switzerland County community was excited about the Pacer chances of heading to the regional for the second consecutive year.

So what if we had to travel all the way back to Alexandria, at least we all know the way after making the trek last year.

Tuesday finally got here, and after months of planning and preparation, Switzerland County High School was ready to host its first boys basketball sectional ever. After hosting the girls sectional in 2004 that is still held up as one of the best in the state, the school was anxious to put its best foot forward with the boys tournament.

Athletic director Kent Dunning and principal Candis Haskell and all of the volunteers did an outstanding job making sure that no detail was unattended to; and everything on Tuesday ran as smoothly as silk.

And then the game started.

South Ripley and Switzerland County are longtime rivals, and that rivalry hit its boiling point on Tuesday night. Having split their two regular season games – ironically both teams won on the opposing team’s home floor – when the tournament draw was announced, the popular opinion was that whichever team won the Pacer-Raider game on Tuesday night would claim the sectional championship on Saturday night.

That remains to be seen, and North Decatur, Southwestern, and Lawrenceburg all have something to say about that outcome; but this isn’t really a sports column.

It’s a community column.

Our boys team lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, but that – unfortunately – is part of life.

You don’t always win. You don’t always get the girl, and you don’t always find the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes that light is an oncoming train.

For a group of high school boys, their coaches, and their fans, Tuesday night is a hurt that won’t quickly fade – but eventually it will.

What won’t fade is the desire and athleticism and character that the members of the Switzerland County team displayed, not only in defeat on Tuesday night, but also throughout the year.

And it’s not just the boys team. The Lady Pacers made it all the way to the Sectional championship game in spite of tall odds after suffering injuries throughout the year.

No matter when it happens, you don’t like to lose, and although our girls fell to Southwestern in that title game, they walked off of the floor with their heads held high, knowing that they had represented themselves, their school, and their community well.

The unfair thing about a tournament is that you never know when your last game will be. You work and you practice and you plan, and then something happens and it’s all over.

Just like that.

That happened to seven seniors on Tuesday night. They battled and fought and played hurt and worked their tails off for 32 minutes, but in the end some freethrows wouldn’t fall and some shots bounced off and the buzzer sounded way too soon.

To those young men, and to the two senior members of the Lady Pacers, as well, there is an important message.

Athletics is a wonderful thing and is important in your development as an athlete and as a person; but you should never confuse your abilities on a playing field with your character as a person.

Years from now you will remember those final games, but you will also remember the wonderful times that you had with teammates and coaches. Time heals all pain, and time will heal this one, too.

As the team stood in the hallway ready to come out for Tuesday night’s game, I was standing next to Jamie Hayes, a member of the 1988 Pacer team that captured a Sectional crown, and one of my all time favorite players.

We looked at the huge crowd of Pacer fans who had filled one entire side of the Switzerland County gym, and we imagined just what that feeling was going to be to emerge into that gym – your home floor – in front of your home fans, and run around that court.

We both wondered what it would be like to be 17 again, but time passes us by.

Sports is important, but it’s not life. Bruce Springsteen sang about “Glory Days”, of a classmate who never got passed his high school accolades. Too often today we associate the type of person that you are with your ability to throw a ball or shoot a ball or catch a ball.

That’s why people turn their heads when professional athletes commit crimes or act like idiots.

But to the men and women who form the core of Switzerland County athletics, it is my hope that you allow yourselves to put sports in its proper perspective. That you use the tools that have been taught to you in practices and apply them to your life; and that you always value where you’re from and the people you know.

A friend of mine, Latrese Moffitt, was an Olympic high jumper, but she once said that the hardest thing she had to deal with was that, no matter how well she did, her competition always ended in failure.

She could jump higher than everyone else and win the event, but before it came to a close the officials would place the bar higher and higher until it was so high that she would miss three times.

Once she failed, then the competition ended. Her dilemma was dealing with the failure at a time of success. Did she celebrate the win, or did she dwell on the misses?

Pacer athletes: may you always celebrate your wins, both on the court and in life. You made us all very proud on Tuesday night.

No matter what the scoreboard read.