Remember a few weeks back when I suggested to you that there are heroes and then there are “sports heroes”?
After that hit the front porches and webpages, I got as much reaction from it as I had gotten from any column I have turned in.
Last Friday, we got a prime example of what “sports courage” looks like from the Wawasee Warriors.
No, Wawasee football players didn’t run in to any burning buildings to rescue elderly people. They didn’t bring criminals to justice or provide first aid to earthquake victims.
Nope, they did none of that.
But what they did was pretty impressive, and the most impressive part wasn’t the obvious part.
The obvious part is that they won a football game—a playoff football game at that.
But to appreciate what all they accomplished last Friday we have to peel back the layers of it.
They beat a South Bend Riley team that only lost to a really good New Prairie team in the regular season and won the small-school division of the Northern Indiana Conference.
Great, but let’s go deeper.
The Warriors were 1-8. They had lost their last six games of the regular season. Concord beat them 52-0. They lost “The W Game” with Warsaw again.
And with that record to show for their time and effort, knowing that Wawasee football hadn’t won a playoff game since this year’s seniors were in the first grade, facing a more athletic Riley team who was 8-1 and conference champs…they prepared for what most considered to be their last week of football.
And that, friends, is where the story really begins.
I have said for a long time that teams who approach their postseason games in the same way they do their regular season games have a much better chance of playing the way they want to play.
A lot of teams don’t do that, and their seasons often end early and with much disappointment.
Wawasee did, and they are still playing.
It starts with the coaches, who preached and preached to their guys to “hang in there”, to “stay with it”, to “believe in the process”.
That’s all fine and good, but when you lose every game for a month-and-a-half it’s way too easy to dismiss all that talk of “process” and tune out the people encouraging you to follow it.
Wawasee’s players didn’t, and they are still playing.
Outside of the aforementioned Concord game, Wawasee was competitive in most of their games. I think you can look back at a moment in each of the games they lost (except Concord and Mishawaka) where they needed to make a play to take control of the game, didn’t, and had it get away from them.
They were as physical as any team I saw play this season. They hit you and they hit you hard, then got back up to hit you again.
They never stopped fighting. They never gave up. They never surrendered. And when their opportunity arose to kick the door down on Riley, they didn’t hesitate.
Because they “hung in there”, “stayed with it”, and “believed in the process”!
Again, they had every reason to hang it up and go hunting or get ready for their winter sport.
But they refused.
What can we adults learn from that?
Well, for one thing, the concept of not allowing every team to compete in the state tournament is a pile of garbage. NorthWood won the state title behind Skyler Titus after a 3-6 regular season for crying out loud. Now this? You want to say only teams with .500 records or whatever get to play in the postseason…go soak your head!
But more than that, it reminds us that if we are willing to give up ‘ourselves’ for the greater good of the group, we can achieve so much more. When we don’t care who gets the credit and we make the sacrifice to do whatever we need to do to make the whole effort work, we infuse value into every member, and it unlocks an energy that is tangible and powerful.
Every business, every governmental body, every congregation, every family unit—all of them can make a positive difference if they keep their noses to the grindstone and remember their mission.
Thank you, Warriors, for reminding us of what can be when we just keep going, even when all of the voices around us tell us what fools we are for not cutting our losses and moving on.
That resilience is the sign of leadership and integrity that will benefit them for a lifetime.
And that is what sports are supposed to be about.