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Guest Editorial by Wriley Nelson

School Sports Make Adults of Us

Summer is over. Even as the weather aggressively reminds us that autumn isn’t quite here, it’s easy to pick out the signs that the seasons are changing. School has started. Dreams Park players are gone, as are many of the young hospitality workers that serve them and other area visitors. Otsego County is, on average, much older than it was two weeks ago.

There are other signs that the academic year has started, including the resumption of school sports. In the newsroom, we have seen a spike in the number of youth sporting events to report on; readers will note the sudden reappearance of college and high-school athletics coverage. This is the proper time of year for us to reflect on what school sports mean to us, as individuals and as a community.

It is hard to say anything new on the subject. Heartwarming stories about little league and youth soccer inculcating the values of hard work, sacrifice, comradeship, and working together for a greater goal are a dime a dozen. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true. Maybe an outsider can add a new perspective.

I was a latecomer to high-school sports, or at least to taking any benefit from them. I was unquestionably the worst player on four consecutive organized soccer teams. This was because I never practiced, which in turn was because I had no real interest in the sport. I simply felt that playing soccer was the proper sort of thing for a 14-year-old to do. Because I had always been so bad at sports, and so good at passing classes with minimal effort, I grew up thinking that people were just born with different skills and that you couldn’t change them: some are born athletes, some are born scholars, some are born artists. With this fatalist attitude, I got 85 percent of the way from my birth to my departure for college without ever learning that you have to practice skills to be good at them. I never would have learned that, and would therefore never have become a functioning person, if not for high-school sports.

Fortunately, I found a better fit than soccer. Like any gangly and uncoordinated yet more or less fit teenager, I naturally and inexorably gravitated toward cross country. I prepared for my first pre-season, two full weeks of dawn workouts at the end of August, with a full summer of ice cream on the couch and ignoring the recommended preparation regimen. It was among the worst experiences of my life: endless sores, strains, blisters, cuts, insect bites, early mornings, lost breakfasts, mud, rain, sleet, locusts, hail, darkness and frogs.

Yet something was different from my previous athletic experiences. I was actually getting better. It took me that entire first season, but I was eventually able to gasp my way through a 5K. For the first time in my life, I had set myself on a goal that seemed impossibly far away, and I had knuckled down and hacked my way toward it. It was the first time I ever saw with my own eyes that work could pay off and that talents could be acquired. That was the moment I started to grow up.

The psychologists, philosophers and theologians all tell us that responsibility is the beginning and end of maturity. A child begins to become an adult at the moment when they learn that they are ultimately responsible for their own life and their own happiness, and that they have within them the strength to bear that responsibility. Many of us had that moment, or the first of many such moments, on a field, a court or a track. As we see our community’s young people go back to their sports, academics, theater, art, music, fanfiction writing—in short, whatever gives them a sense of striving, accomplishment and purpose—we would do well to remember how much those things meant to us. We would do well as a community to stand back and appreciate the time, attention, care, and tax dollars of all the parents, coaches, teachers, and community members that made our young adulthood possible, and recommit ourselves to providing those things to the generations to come.


1 Comment

  1. Wriley, I am so pleased by this essay! We’ve put it on our team bulletin board at school, and I read it to the team today. Your old cross country coach. 😉

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