Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sports Talk: 15 Reasons I'm Thankful for Sports

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Nov. 27, 2013.  
It's been quite the trend over the past couple of years to do the "30 Days of Thankfulness" on Facebook during the month of November. Obviously, showing and expressing your gratitude for things at this time of year is nothing new. Our lives are blessed in so many ways it's easy to lose track of the small things and take them for granted. 

Sports are often times something we see as just 'fun'' or, on the flip side, we sometimes let sports consume us. We can get carried away with emotion and forget what it should really be all about.

So, in honor of Thanksgiving, here are 15 reasons I'm thankful sports have been a part of the majority of my life.

1. Friendships: I'd say more than half of my friendships have originated with sports and even those whom I did not play sports with, there is likely some sports connection in our friendship. Without sports, I would not have many of the best friendships and memories that have shaped my life and who I am. In addition to teammates, though, I've made many friends who were my opponents that allowed me to branch out and make connections with people across the state and country.

2. Silent camaraderie: Not only have I met so many great people in my life through playing sports, but also being the fan of a like team has nurtured many a relationship in my lifetime. Through attending games or fan events, you meet fellow fans and have an instant connection. Simply seeing a stranger in scarlet and silver and giving them a smile and saying "Go Bucks" or "O-H", only to get an "I-O" in return is something that I have thanks to sports. Sports give us an unspoken bond with complete strangers.

3. Building character: As much as I learned in classrooms, so much of my character and approach to life came from my sports experiences. Working as a team and learning to motivate and encourage one another was a huge part of what made sports fun for me. (See #1... there is a reason friendships easily develop in sports!) Every sport I ever played demanded my hard work, which translated into having personal responsibility and discipline. You truly learn that the best things in life are not attained without some pain and heartbreak along the way.

4. Social fun: I'm thankful for the hours and days of fun I've enjoyed throughout my life at events that revolved around sports. Whether it be Super Bowl parties, tailgating at football games, attending my first baseball game with my Uncle--a special memory I'll always cherish--, or simply cheering on my friends alongside other friends at high school and college games. Sports have given me a great deal of fun.

5. Lifelong competition: Becoming an athlete in my youth instilled an appreciation for competition early in my life and I'm grateful for the ability to continue to compete even past the point of being a high school or college athlete. I've played on intramural sports teams and participated in random pick-up games of all sorts. Friends and I have even planned social events centered around competition. I'm grateful to appreciate and enjoy competition and that even as an adult there are ways to compete.

6. Live games: Obviously live games have to exist with the existence of sports, but just imagine if it didn't; if the only way you'd ever experienced any sport was through radio or television. Being a part of the live action, is something special, whether it be a child's pee wee game or a professional game in an awesome arena. Nothing beats live competition.

7. Travel: Thanks to sports, I have gotten to travel to certain places and see things I may not have seen otherwise. Traveling with teammates is a special memory in general, but getting to go out of state to new places and see new sites is a gift whether it be with your team or to attend a big game in a new place.

8. Sportsmanship: We are taught good sportsmanship from the beginning of our sports careers, but I don't think we always realize it's a lesson that we must learn for life in general. In the end it's really preparing us for so much more than just how to act on the court of field. Down the road, it teaches us a type of self control and professionalism for life.

9. Coaches: Our teammates are one thing to be grateful for, but our coaches are on an entirely different level. Aside from our parents, they may be the only people in our lives that can yell at us or make us cry and we love and respect them more for it. Anyone who has played a sport knows the special place that remains in your heart for your coaches, because they know you in a different way than most. They are special people and I'm glad sports allow them to exist. Who knows, maybe one day I'll have the joy of being one.

10. Fan gear: Who doesn't love to sport (no pun intended!) their favorite team colors? Whether it be getting a new hoodie to wear to games or simply putting together a crazy, creative outfit that is decked in your team's colors, showing off your team spirit in what you're wearing is great and it's always fun to get something new.

11. Food: No sports fan can say they haven't enjoyed some pretty fantastic food thanks to athletics. (I didn't say fantastic for you!) Ballpark food is part of the experience and every great sports gathering is accompanied by excellent finger foods and snacks--if not also a grill! YUM!

12. Numbers: Sound like a silly one? Well, whoever first gave players numbers didn't know what they were starting... Few athletes don't have favorite number; one that is "theirs" and magically brings together all that they are as an athlete. This number becomes important for life. Even as fans, we come to love the number of our favorite players and find ourselves wearing them, painting them on our cheeks or chest and holding up posters to show them off. Numbers gain a whole new level of importance and meaning thanks to sports.

13. Health: Sports help us maintain our health and, oftentimes, learn how to at an early age. Having had to stay in shape for running my entire life, as an adult I still feel the need and importance to keep my body in good shape. Thanks to the workouts I did with sports, I know how to stay in shape. Sports keep us active and healthy and our health is always something to be grateful for.

14. Losing: No one is grateful for losing, but I'm grateful that sports have taught me to accept loss and to grow from it. We all must experience failure and loss in life, and call me old fashion, but I've never been a fan of the "everyone's a winner" approach to sports. In life, you do not always win, but when you do fall short, it's important to know how to learn from the loss and still take a step forward. That is how you come out a winner even when you lose. Learning to lose is one of life's most important lessons.

15. That moment: There is an indescribable feeling one can capture in sports--it can happen as an athlete or as a fan. It's that moment of perfection. It's that moment when all you'd worked for and hoped for comes together and sometimes you do not even know it's happening until it's done and you realize what you just achieved. It's the moment of a big comeback or the win you weren't expecting. It's the moment the person you're cheering for accomplishes their dream that you've been watching them work toward for years. Sports bring us unbelievably bright, victorious moments in life.Moments we remember and cherish forever.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sports Talk: Don't Hate Just to Hate

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Nov. 20, 2013.  
I like rivalries. Honestly, would sports be fun without them??

There are different kinds of rivalries. There are the ones that only last a single season or so. These typically spawn from an extremely close game in a pivotal time or some sort of upset. The hard feelings of the losing team usually carry over into the next meeting between the two--sometimes further. Usually this type of rivalry, though, only lasts so many games, before the incident that initiated the rivalry becomes just a memory and part of the history books for both teams.

A good example of this would be last year's Lady Rebel basketball team and the Lincoln County Lady Patriots. Both team returned an identical roster from the 2012 regional championship game (where Lincoln took the title and advanced to state.) The 2012-13 teams were complete with the same roste, same emotions and same fans as the season before, so there was no doubt these two teams were out for each other. As we hoped/expected, the two ended up in the regional final again. Unfortunately, Casey came up just short of the victory and Lincoln repeated their title. The thing is, Casey County and Lincoln County do not regularly "hate" each other and the Lady Pats will be much less of a rival team to the Lady Rebs this year. The rivalry of the past two year's will simply become a memory.

Then there are the long-standing, never going away rivalries. These are hardcore and cold and never cease, even if a decade passes where one of the two competitors repeatedly blows the other out of the water. In many ways, these rivalries stand more because of fans than athletes themselves.

We in the Bluegrass state obviously know a thing or two about this type of rivalry. It's called red versus blue. I have friends who won't even wear the color royal blue or bright red unless they absolutely must. (And doesn't it say something about our mentality in this state when I had trouble even writing that last sentence without using the descriptors 'wildcat blue' and 'cardinal red'?)

But here is what I do find funny and a little ironic about these rivalries and some of its hardest of hardcore fans: they get upset at their opponents rubbing dirt in their faces. I see this on Facebook frequently... one side calls out every flaw of the other--every loss is laughed at, every player who screws up is ridiculed, the coaches are torn apart, and the programs are constantly under scrutiny. Then, I see fans trying to belittle those on the other side for acting in such a way. These people act as if they are above those on the other side because they don't laugh at the losses and failures of their rival and that those who do are lesser than.

But here's my perspective: loving your rivals failures is part of why that team is your rival and not just another opponent. As a fan, you always want your team to win; in turn, this means you always want your current opponent to lose--rival or not. However, you never, not a day in your life, would you ever consider cheering for your rival, no matter what team they are up against. You will never rejoice in their victories.

So while you might say I have a pet peeve for fans who are bothered by their rival fans outing all of their failures, I will admit to another pet peeve that sort of is the reverse of this. While I think it is right and I almost expect a rival fan to give me a hard time when teams, coaches, players or institution screws up, I hate it when someone who is not a fan of my rival decides to hate on my team just for the heck of it.

If I play your school and you beat me... sure, rub it in my face. If you're a true Michigan fan, sure, hate on my Buckeyes all day long. But people who go out of their way to bring up a loss or screw up simply because they know I am a fan of the team--not because they are on the winning side of the failure--that bothers me. That is just someone feeling like being a meanie. (I cannot come up with a more mature way to state that at the moment.)

So, to summarize and get off my soapbox... if you are a Cats fan... don't whine when a Cardinal makes 40-0 jokes... If you're a Cardinal fan... don't act like UK fans are rednecks for making fun of your players' or coaches' faults. As an Ohio State fan, I don't care what Michigan fan talks trash to me, but if you don't know the first thing about college football and simply hear something negative about the Buckeyes, don't choose that moment to jump on the bandwagon for badmouthing a team. Keep sports rivalry fun alive and hate on your current opponents and your rivals... But don't hate just to hate.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sports Talk: Taking Sports to the Woods

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Nov. 13, 2013. 
Snow?? Really?? I suppose the fall athletes should be at least somewhat grateful their seasons have come to an end. It's one thing to play or run on cold nights here and there--that is expected--but snow is supposed to be reserved for winter when we can enjoy the warm comfort of gymnasiums!

So the fall sports came to a close and basketball is taking off. Last week's excitement over the first college games of the season was evident through my Facebook feed. However, while we're waiting on our own local Rebel hoops seasons to begin, last weekend marked the beginning of another sport--and one that isn't held indoors avoid of weather: hunting season.

I myself have never been hunting and wonder when that first time experience might be. (I've seen plenty of friends post online just this year bragging about taking on their first hunting excursion... living here it's bound to happen for me sometime, right?)

In addition to the UK/UofL basketball chatter on social media, I also saw the surfacing of many friends in their camo gear and neon orange and many of them were accompanied by their prize shot--already! Opening weekend and you've already gotten something? That's impressive to me... It seems the people I know or ever talk to who plan to hunt never have that kind of luck.

I remember my dad hunting when I was much younger and was always excited about the idea and I'm not even sure what it was that I found so cool about deer season. Maybe it was simply that he was doing something besides working his garden or splitting wood... But I think it was more thef knowing that he was out there somewhere. When I'd hear shots fire off in our valley I'd wonder if it was him or a neighboring hunter. I'd then wait to see if he showed up any time soon with big news.

But it wasn't just the thought of him bringing home a buck that intrigued me about hunting. It was the whole ordeal. He would get up so, so early--when it was still so cold even if there wasn't snow on the ground. He'd suit up and have extra gizmos to wear and strap on to help keep him warm, knowing he'd be sitting still for hours possibly. It was like preparing for a camping trip but more intense even if it was for a condensed time period. Usually he was gone by the time I awoke and I just knew he was out there among the trees, perched high in his stand, patiently waiting.

I think dealing with the cold would be the biggest struggle for me, but aside from that, I believe the opportunity to sit among the natural world and observe is a special thing. We reside in such a beautiful part of this world and there is so much to take in and appreciate about God's work. Having never hunted myself I cannot say I know anything to be true, but I would guess hunting tries your patience as well, but can also calm the spirit.

In addition to the time demand of hunting, one of the main reasons I've never taken up the sport is the aftermath. I'm not someone who is bothered by the idea of shooting and killing an animal. It's not like I fool myself into thinking the meat I eat everyday was not once alive and then killed for my feasting pleasure. It's more the fact a deer is a LOT of meat and I wouldn't want it to go to waste but I surely would not want to have to deal with it. I also do not know what on earth I would do with that much meat. (A lot of jerky, probably... I love that stuff!)

Well, this year will not be the one I get out and have my first hunting experience, but  that's OK for now. I'll just be sure to wear my hunter orange when I'm out and about. I'll keep up with my friends who are lurking among the perfectly wooded terrain we have in this area and see who has luck so I know who to go to for advice when my time comes. Good hunting, friends!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sports Talk: Soid Finale to Casey County Fall Sports

 As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Nov. 6, 2013.
Casey County athletics may not be a sports powerhouse recognized across the Bluegrass, but the beauty in that is the excitement we can all have over the week to week and season to season victories. Last week, three of Casey's sports teams had those victories that continue to make me proud to be a Rebel. 

Cross Country
: The girls' team qualified for the state meet, something nobody saw coming at the start of the year. The "team" was really only an individual runner last year, but thanks to Kelsey Arthur sticking with it and the motivational efforts of new coach Jon Vaughn, not only did the girls grow by enough to have a full team (at least five runners), but they had eight runners who steadily improved their times throughout the season. Coming from the girl who ran cross country solo before Casey had a team, I'm so proud of these young ladies and their coach and the direction of this program.

Football: Never count out this program. It's so easy to look at the Rebels' record or some of the game scores and write them off, but that's because we forget just how hard our district is and that we must compete in tough games that are not mandatory for other teams in other districts. While we definitely had some games we all wish had been "W's" (Taylor County... Metcalfe County...), the team's win over Adair County last week in their last regular season game showed just how this team is improving and that their record is not a reflection of their capabilities. Adair was a 4-5 team going into the game and hoping to be 5-5. Beating the 1-8 Rebels probably seemed like a cake walk to the Indians, but instead we dominated from start to finish. I love the positive attitude coach Sam Marple continues to instill in his team, knowing the future is bright.

Volleyball: After falling in the district championship game in a less than stellar performance, it was nice that the VolleyRebs still had the opportunity to continue on to the 12th Region tournament and end their season on a high--and that they did. Sure, they ended on a loss--all but one team will--but there is a major difference in ending on a game your proud of as opposed to one you yearn to redo. The eight dedicated seniors led this team through a fantastic season right to the end when they fell to Wayne County, who went on to be the regional champions. It was a semifinal game, the furthest than the VolleyRebs have made it in the regional tournament since moving from the 45th District to the 47th District. It was a great season for the team and it's hard to imagine them hitting the court next year without those eight talented girls.