For the past nine months, we have celebrated with them for every victory, but we’ve also been the shoulder for them to cry on in every defeat. They’ve made us feel young and invincible again, but they’ve also reminded us that everything — no matter how glorious — must eventually come to an end.
They have brought communities together, carrying our hopes and dreams on their teenage shoulders. They have given us brief glimpses into their lives — as much as one can possibly glean from what we see on the athletic fields, anyway — as they go through some of the most important moments of their lives in the most public fashion possible.
We should consider ourselves lucky they let us come along for the ride.
Last August, the high school sports season began as fall sports teams began grueling practices under the blistering sun. Tennis and golf seasons kicked off the 2014-15 high school sports season in earnest, with soccer, football, cross country and volleyball soon to follow.
It wasn’t long before those scorching contests played in late August rolled right into the frigid playoff games of November, as Gatorade was exchanged for hot chocolate and tank tops, and flip flops gave way to stadium blankets.
And just as quickly as it started, the fall sports season was over and it was time to move indoors — which, considering the winter we all were forced to survive, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The plink of a basketball hitting a hardwood floor inside a stuffy gymnasium offered a warm and welcome respite to the howling winds and icy roads just outside our doors.
And, once again, just as quickly as the winter season began, it was again over. For many student-athletes, a lifetime of memories were made in just a few short months.
Spring certainly took its sweet time in arriving — who could forget the first weekend of scheduled baseball and softball games actually being snowed out — but once it did, it injected all of us with a dose of life and youthful exuberance, chasing away the seemingly permanent chill winter had provided.
Just as the the boys and girls of fall and winter did, the athletes of spring were again there to provide us with inexpensive entertainment mixed with heavy doses of pathos and perspiration. And, just like the fall and winter sports, the spring sports seemingly were over just as they seemed to be kicking into high gear.
Has it really been nine months since this journey started and ended for the hundreds of area high school athletes? The moments so many of them have been working tirelessly toward their entire lives … gone in the blink of an eye. Truthfully, that is one of the cruelest things about being a high school athlete. The countless hours of dedication — the early morning weightlifting before school starts or the sun rises, followed by the after-school practices that usually don’t end until the dinner is cold and the sun has set — are paid off with just a few short weeks or months of actual competition.
There may not be a more unbalanced ledger in terms of time invested vs. glory given.
Few things in this world are harder than watching a season come to an end for a team or athlete — particularly if it happens to be a senior who knows he or she will never again play the sport they have grown to love. In Ohio, only a handful of athletes know the joy of ending the season a winner by hoisting a state championship trophy. For thousands of others, it ends in a loss that, for many of them, is the most devastating thing they’ve ever had to go through in their entire lives.
And even for those who are fortunate enough to win it all, fame and adulation is fleeting. Sure, there’s scrapbooks to hold the press clippings, trophy cases to house hardware and memories to cling to for a lifetime, but eventually, time marches on and a new season will be upon us.
And it will be time for an entirely new set of dreamers to chase the ultimate goal.
Which is why we, the fans, truly are the lucky ones. We may not be out there competing, but for us, there’s always “next year.” If things don’t end the way a high school senior had hoped, he or she has to live with that. For the rest of us, there’s always a new class of seniors on the way — all of whom are eager for us to live vicariously through them.
So as one season ends — and we all know the next one will be here before we’ve even put our swim trunks away for the summer — let’s take a moment to thank all the high school athletes and coaches have made the past nine months so memorable.
Before this season fades seamlessly into next season, soak in what this season has meant to you — and what it most certainly must have meant to the bumper crop of athletes we’ve been so fortunate to watch this past year.
For all they’ve given us, it’s the very least we can do.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong