Basketball is the vehicle, says Nikiski High School girls coach Ward Romans.
"It's a cliche, but what (assistant coach) Vern Kornstad and I coach for goes way beyond basketball," Romans said after his Bulldogs took fourth place at the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A Championships.
"Basketball is the vehicle, but hopefully, what we're teaching is life lessons."
Seven teams from the Kenai Peninsula took their on-the-court lessons to heart and made it to the state tournament this season -- the Soldotna boys and the Kenai girls played in the 4A tournament, the Nikiski and Seward girls teams faced off for fourth place in the 3A tournament, and the Cook Inlet Academy boys and the Ninilchik and Seldovia girls played in the 2A competition. They hit their foul shots, executed on offense and worked hard on defense.
But out of those seven teams, only one was able to secure a state title -- the Ninilchik girls, who defeated a team from Point Hope in the championship game.
The other six, while they were thrilled to be there, also found themselves coming up a little short of their own expectations. The hours spent in the gym that led to a state berth didn't translate into victories at the state tournament -- and therein lies that life lesson that basketball, or any sport, for that matter, can provide -- how to deal with failure.
For the Bulldogs, winning their fourth-place game was small consolation when they had their sights set on another state title.
"Sometimes it's not fair," Nikiski coach Ward Romans said of the tournament. "We did everything correct to be in the title game."
Romans wasn't whining about the situation. He was just pointing out a fact of life: No matter how hard you work, how well you prepare and how bad you want it, you don't always end up reaching your goals.
Take the six peninsula teams that qualified for the state tournament but finished without a state title.
"It was our goal to get here," said Soldotna's Pat Rose as he settled in to watch the championship session after the Stars bowed out in the consolation semifinals. "We accomplished something a lot of teams couldn't do. It would have been the ultimate thing to win it all, but you can't always get what you want."
Still, once a team attains one goal -- reaching the state tournament, in this case -- it's time to set a new one, and winning games at state would be the next logical step.
But, not including Ninilchik's 3-0 mark at state, peninsula teams posted four wins against 11 losses at state, a .267 winning percentage.
Despite the high level of competition, finishing out of the top spot left teams with a feeling of disappointment. Dealing with the disappointment -- a.k.a. "building character" -- that's where the off-the-court lessons come into play.
Everyone will deal with disappointment at some point in their lives, whether it be on the athletic field, in the classroom or during the course of a career. And the lessons learned from failures at the state tournament can help with success in any endeavor -- take disappointment and turn it into motivation to overcome the next obstacle.
"I hope they remember this and use it as motivation to work much harder for next season," CIA coach Tim Keener said. "I always tell them, 'There's always another basketball game to play.'"
Or another homework assignment, or another test, or another job interview.
And sometimes, a little bit of disappointment is necessary before you can reach a goal.
"It'll help the team next year," Kenai's Jessi Reilly said of the experience. "For them to be more successful next year, they had to come this year and get the jitters out."
The Kardinals, or any of the peninsula's teams, might not get 'em next time on the court, but there's always something next.
And if the next time doesn't work out, nobody's going to despair. They'll just do what Romans and the rest of our high school coaches have been building them up to do through four years of a high school career -- pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get ready to give it another try.
Will Morrow covers sports for the Peninsula Clarion. Send comments via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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