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Victories not sole reward in sports

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For every guy, there is an opportunity to be a lot better than he thought he could be. We can’t all be the star of the team, but we can be a star in our life. That’s where you set your goal. — Sylvester Stallone

All eyes will be on the podium tonight at the Johnson County Athlete of the Year Awards Banquet.

Twenty-four of the county’s best athletes will be honored for their accomplishments on and off the playing field.

That is as it should be. We are blessed with exceptional student-athletes who have pushed themselves to new levels of excellence and set a standard for others to follow.

If, as I have, you have been privileged to be around this fine group of young people, you know how dedicated and inspired they are. To a person, their impressive feats on the field of play are equaled by their scholarship and service to their communities.

They have made us proud, and that is cause for celebration.

Before that moment arrives, though, let’s take time to also celebrate those not under the bright lights that come with athletic success tonight or any night.

Instead, we recognize those who stuck it out as determined athletes and good teammates, even when the positive reinforcement of success was fleeting.

From the golfer whose score seldom made the cut to the cross-country runner who often brought up the pack to the soccer player who only saw the field when the game was not on the line, this moment is very much theirs as well.

Even though they may not have grabbed headlines, scored the winning points or collected a mantle full of trophies as a young athlete, they have a victory tonight every bit as real and tangible as their teammates taking the stage.

The skills learned through athletic competition are not about winning a game but about winning at life. Perseverance, teamwork, dedication, responsibility — these are the career highlights that will carry each of these seniors on into successful lives.

Much of what makes high school sports great cannot be found in a box score. Instead, it is found in the hearts of those who pick up the jersey.

Ability fades over time. Character and integrity do not.

Let’s not limit it to sports. Band members, dancers, thespians and all those who have pushed themselves to do something special with their talents are just as much a part of this group.

Sylvester Stallone, who played the overachieving underdog boxer Rocky of movie fame, captured this thought. We can’t all be a star on the field, but we can be in life.

That is the reward that awaits those who have given their all in their high school pursuits, learning to play with integrity, contribute to a team and push their abilities to higher levels.

It is not always about wins and losses or being the best in a given game or event. It is about the experience.

Jesse Owens, perhaps the greatest athlete of the 20th century, offered this perspective in looking back on his career.

“Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition,” he said. “Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”

What a wonderful thought. And what a wonderful future these Johnson County athletes can look forward to with Owens’ standard. Years from now, the memory of who won what and how will fade, but the experience of sharing and growing in the moments will last a lifetime.

Tonight, the most talented senior athletes will gather to be recognized. They are most deserving.

But they, like the hundreds of other senior athletes who will not share the podium, already have succeeded by a standard far more enduring than points scored or victories won.

The true success of high school athletics is measured not on the scoreboard but by the experience gained.

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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