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March 17, 2011

A Proper Perspective

Derek Shackelford

March Madness has begun. That is the given name to the next three weeks of the college basketball season. This moniker is provided because of the passion that coaches, fans and players display over the games that will be played.


Even the most casual observer may even participate in the office bracket pools that have already been distributed and are due before the first game. What is fascinating about these brackets is that anyone and everyone can play. Picking winners is not based on team chemistry but on whatever the individual decides is the criteria for their selection.


Ah, the fun of March Madness! It is a billion dollar business. You read correctly – a billion dollar business!


One billion dollars and then some is how much CBS and Turner Network affiliates have paid to broadcast the games for the next few years. It is big business and we contribute to it by being tuned in and fashioning our work and leisure schedules around it.


Ah, the wonders of sports. Sports have a way of bringing out the best in us – and the worst in us.


The worst in us is the hypocrisy and greed that permeates our culture. While the colleges get rich, coaches benefit and network ratings rise, the college athlete is the one who benefits the least. Yes there will be some that say: “Well, they do receive a free education." While this is true – do they receive in return the monetary value that is made during the basketball tournament? We did mention a billion dollars, right?


Sports can be used as a tremendous metaphor for life. There are valuable lessons one can learn by participating. Sports can teach us so much. It may be even fair to say – and I share this from personal experience – that sports teaches so many life lessons one cannot learn in a classroom environment.


Sports teaches us how to deal with failure, determination, perseverance, teamwork, how to get along with others, etc., and these are just for starters. During a sports competition, or team experience, an athlete may learn – or have to display – one or all of these attributes at any given time.


The relationships that are developed through being a part of a team are often lifelong. How many of us can remember 10 people who were in our English class our senior year? Many of us can recall each and every member of a team that we were a part of. A sporting relationship is uniquely special. It bonds and brings together so many backgrounds that may not ordinarily have any connection or contact, all for a common purpose – to be a part of something that is bigger than we are individually.


While some athletes are described as selfish, and coaches who may be out just for themselves, there is some value in what we see in the sports world. Take for instance the Fennville (MI) High School basketball team.


Sixteen-year-old player Wes Leonard was a member of that squad. On March 3, 2011, he made the game winning lay-up in the regular season finale. The instant triumph of jubilation turned into sudden tragedy. During the celebration, young Leonard collapsed and died of cardiac arrest. What happened after this could be described as nothing short of an emotional roller coaster for the parents, team and community.


The team subsequently competed in the playoffs and won its next game. The season came to an end when it lost to Schoolcraft.


As 16- and 17-year-old young people they may not be able to understand the ramifications of these events. The strength that was displayed was simply astounding.


There are lessons we can draw from sports and, while this week starts March Madness, we may get caught up in the hoopla of the moment. We should remember it is just a game and life is bigger than the NCAA tournament.


Life’s tragedy has a way of putting sports in its proper perspective. Then again, sports should always be seen in its proper perspective.


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