Wharton: What we learned playing football
Most people measure athletic success on the basis of won-loss records or impressive individual statistics. That is probably the way it should be, especially in professional sports, where participants get paid ridiculous amounts of money.
But what about high-school sports, one of the bastions of true amateurism? Winning certainly is the goal, but too often, parents and fans forget to ask a key question: What is the educational value of sport in the public school system?
I asked that question to Murray football captains Derick Sanders, Justin Adams, Kelton Myrberg and Courtland Adams recently as the Spartans were finishing another losing season.
Their answers were revealing.
Murray's success might not have been reflected in the standings or with an appearance in the state tournament, but it is obvious that these four young men learned some important life lessons about the value of hard work, friendship and not quitting when things get difficult.
The fans who show up Friday nights to cheer their football teams probably have no idea how much work young men put into the game. There are year-round weightlifting programs, summer workouts and hours of practice.
For example, Justin Adams said that on the first day of summer conditioning, the team worked out with some U.S. Marines, an exhausting morning that left many athletes spent and impressed.
"Hard work transfers to anything we do in life," said Sanders. "We are competitors. We are not going to be lazy and slackers."
Plus, there is the subtle improvement players and coaches see.
"Our win-loss record doesn't tell the story," said Myrberg. "We lost two overtime games. We've been a lot more competitive this year."
Sanders said no one on the team quit, a fact that taught him that when you work with good people, trust builds quickly.
This isn't easy, either. Murray does not have a large number of athletes out for football, forcing top players to play offense and defense. Sanders plays fullback and linebacker, Justin Adams quarterback and free safety, Myrberg tight end and linebacker and Courtland Adams wide receiver and safety.
"We don't have a lot of depth," said Sanders. "Lots of us go both ways. We have players who start and play the whole game. You have to be in good shape and be disciplined."
Then there are the lifetime friendships that players bonded by hard work often forge in youth sports.
"There is a love for the game," explained Courtland Adams. "There are the experiences you have with your friends. There is no other feeling like being out there Friday nights."
Adversity also can teach valuable lessons.
"You are always having a good attitude and being positive," said Courtland Adams.
"You never be negative," added Sanders. "That's been a big thing."
Sports sometimes help academically as well. Murray coach Mike Richmond and his staff emphasize getting good grades, and the four senior leaders try to do just that.
Of course, not everything has to be a lesson. You get the impression that these four guys, who began playing together in the third grade, simply keep playing because they love sports in general and football in particular.
They will remember "spaghetti Fridays." They will recall the hard work, intense games under the lights and, perhaps most important, the friendships.
"I can't imagine life without sports," said Justin Adams.
"It's what we live for," added Sanders.
Thus, as their high-school football careers end, it appears that the four Murray seniors ended their career as winners, even if the standings did not reflect that.