Try telling these Oak Harbor High School volleyball players celebrating a win that it’s just a game. (Photo by John Fisken)

Try telling these Oak Harbor High School volleyball players celebrating a win that it’s just a game. (Photo by John Fisken)

Point of impact: Sports play integral part of athletes’ personal development

(Note: When I returned to the Whidbey newspapers in 2009, then-editor Jim Larsen suggested I do a sports column each week. I said I would rather devote the limited space in the newspaper to further coverage of local sporting events. He wasn’t totally convinced but acquiesced. Now, as my time at the paper is nearing its end, finally, Jim, here is one of those columns you requested a decade ago.)

No, it is not just a game.

The impact of athletics goes well beyond a final score.

Numerous studies have shown that students who take part in extracurricular activities have better grades, attendance and behavior and are less likely to take drugs, smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.

It is also well chronicled that athletics are an excellent avenue to teach life lessons such as teamwork, commitment, dedication, communication and work ethic.

In this time of devastating disease and death, it is important that we put in perspective the role athletics play in our lives.

That being said, we cannot brush away the impact of how sports shape us as a person — most often for the better — whether we be a player, coach, fan or family member of an athlete.

Each practice and each game adds an element to our psyche. The wins and loses, the successes and the failures, all help define us as a person.

As a sports writer, I have won statewide awards, and I have misspelled names and listed incorrect scores.

As an athlete in youth sports, I hit a walk-off sacrifice fly in a championship Little League game, and I was caught from behind on a breakaway run just short of the goal line on the last play of the game in a 6-0 football loss.

As a high school athlete, I sank several key free throws in the final minute to keep a perfect basketball season intact, and I committed a critical turnover in the final seconds in a game that ended our 20-game win streak.

As a high school coach, I guided the Oak Harbor baseball team to the state finals, and I coached a freshman basketball team to a winless season.

As a fan, I reveled in the Sonics’ NBA championship in 1979 and mourned when they left for Oklahoma City. I jumped over the coffee table when Edgar hit “The Double,” and I muddled through decades of Mariner failures. I celebrated the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win, and I, well, let’s not go there.

As the son of a coach, I saw my father lead his team to that state tournament, and I cried the year his contract wasn’t renewed.

As a parent of three athletes, I witnessed one throw a key block in a football game against Notre Dame, another hit a home run on his birthday and a third receive the academic award for having the highest grade point average on the varsity basketball team. I also saw them get technical fouls, strikeout and fumble.

All of this has chiseled away at the block of flesh that is me, adding to my bank of memories and molding me into the person I am today.

Are my sons’ athletic feats as important as their first steps or watching one walk across a stage and shake hands with the President of the United States while receiving his college diploma? As important as hearing my wife say “Yes” and “I do,” or as heart warming as the look on her face when she held our newborn children for the first time?

Of course not.

But to say my sons’ and my athletic exploits are insignificant in my development as a person is folly.

All of us involved in sports are impacted by the experience of playing, watching and retelling. We have scars on our knees, scrapbooks in our closets and “12” banners flying from our porches. Trophies line our mantels and memories of failures linger in our hearts.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, yes, it is more than just a game.