Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why We Love Sports VHSCA All Star games inspire

Sometimes I wonder if the sports media and the sports fans forget why we all love sports in the first place.

Let's face it: nobody becomes a sports writer because they love to wrestle with deadlines and unreturned phone calls and athletes who give only cookie-cutter, bland quotes that add nothing to a story. No, we became sports writers to watch the games we love and share the experience with others via the written word.

At least, that's why I became one.

But everyone takes sports so seriously these days, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that these are just games. Games meant to played and fun meant to be had. Granted, a certain level of professionalism and seriousness are needed once someone starts pulling in millions of dollars annually to play said game, but still ... it's just a game.

And this week was my reminder of that.

All this week I've been covering the Virginia High School Coaches Association (VHSCA) all-star games for my job at Girls and boys basketball, girls and boys soccer, girls volleyball, softball, baseball and football were all on display, showing us some of the finest graduated high school seniors one last time before most of them go off to college.

As of this writing, the East teams had won all but one of these games -- the girls soccer match on Wednesday -- but that's not really what's important here. At least, not to me.

Yeah, winning's nice, but the athletes I've talked to all week just go on and on about having a good time, hanging out with friends and competitors and having fun playing a game they all love.

Because again, it's just a game. No scandals, no controversies. Nothing about a player being paid more than he's worth, nothing about some asanine NCAA rule resulting in the premature death of collegiate program, nothing about alleged performance-enhancing drug use. Just the game itself, unadulterated and in its purest form.

Not only is it fun for the kids playing and the people coaching, but it was fun for me as well.

Just watching these games, talking to the local kids making their last mark on the high school game ... I enjoyed being in an atmosphere where winning wasn't the end-all, be-all for the whole story. During the season we spend so much time focusing on who's winning the district, who's advancing to regionals and eventually onto the state tournament.

But here? In the VHSCA all-star games? It's just the kids playing the game they love to play with peers, sometimes teammates. And there's something innocently simplistic about that.

When Lafayette (Williamsurg, Va.) graduate Mike Scruggs tells me how much fun he's having playing alongside former district rivals in the boys soccer game, it's refreshing.

When Nansemond River (Suffolk, Va.) baseball coach Mark Stuffel goes on and on about how good his former catcher Justin Topping is, it's nice to see the smile of pride on his face -- but not nearly as nice as the smile on Topping's face as he stands there with a bat in his hands.

First Colonial (Virginia Beach, Va.) took the state's Eastern Region girls soccer title this year, and it was something to see teammates Katherine Sautter, Kristina Stewart and Liz Payne get one more chance to play together -- especially since Sautter and Stewart won't be playing in college.

We often forget these are just games, and sometimes we're even guilty of forgetting that sometimes these games are played by kids. Not every high school athlete plays in college, and even most of those who do won't go on to pro careers. They play because it's fun, because it's what they love to do.

And because I love these games too (but don't have the athletic ability to play them), I became a sports writer. And if nothing else, this past week served as a reminder to me of why we play and follow sports.

For a week, the deadlines weren't a nuisance and the threat of overtime didn't make me cringe and groan. For a week, I enjoyed the games with an innocence and wide-eyed wonder I haven't felt since I was a child.

If only more sports writers and fans could have such an epiphany. The world of sports would probably be a much different, much happier, place.

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