There is much to be learned from participation in high school athletics. Some of those lessons are much harder than others.
On Nov. 11, just as the Nikiski High School volleyball team was experiencing its greatest triumph by winning a state title, the Bulldogs were also hit with their greatest loss -- that of a teammate. A player on the junior varsity team was killed in a car accident while traveling to Anchorage to watch Nikiski's title match.
"As proud as we are, our thoughts and prayers are with the grieving family," Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen said after winning the state title. "I wish we could celebrate this win. In life, you understand that this (state championship) is sort of insignificant."
Certainly, the scope of Nikiski's victory is impressive. The Bulldogs won their title with a five-game match in the final, the culmination of months of hard work and hours spent in the gym, building on foundations laid in seasons past.
I would guess that every Bulldog would trade every win this season, every moment in the gym, every medal and trophy, every second in the limelight, just to have their teammate back.
Hopefully, those lessons learned along the way will help the Bulldogs heal their wounds.
Hopefully, the Bulldogs can draw from the character that athletics is supposed to develop.
Hopefully, the tight bonds formed through facing adversity together are intact, and each member of the team will have someone else to lean on. That's another one of the lessons athletics can teach, that the whole is greater -- and stronger -- than the sum of its parts.
That's a lot to hope for, especially when a tragedy strikes so close to home. But if all the championship banners hanging in the Nikiski gym say nothing else, they at least prove that, year in and year out, the athletes that don the silver and black know the best to deal with adversity is together.
Most of all, let's hope each Bulldog can still find some meaning in what has been a remarkable season. Let's hope they can look back on this season and recall the thrill of each big play, the camaraderie forged on each road trip, and the sense of accomplishment that only a state championship can bring.
Let's hope they can remember all the little moments along the way -- the shared laughter on the bus, the common determination in the locker room before the match, and the feeling of exhilaration when it all comes together.
"I know, in a couple of months, they'll look at their medals and feel proud," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "But they'll also remember that every moment is precious."
This column is the opinion of Clarion sports reporter Will Morrow. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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