What comes next is a greater game: the game of life

The day after his last athletic competition for Overton High School senior Timothy Hawkins posted on Facebook that “the second day is always the worst.”

Hoping to cheer him up with a little self-deprecating humor, I mentioned that it had been well over 6,000 days since I last participated in varsity athletics for OHS and it was still something I missed.

The only consolation I could offer at the time was: “it gets better” and indeed it does.

A few days later senior Christopher Harris sprinted his way to a Top 5 finish in the UIL State Meet in Austin. While two gold medals were no doubt his goal, Harris did his town, his school, and himself proud by running among the very best in our great state.

Saturday night the Mustang varsity baseball team was upended by state-ranked Cayuga in a thriller that came down to the wire. Our boys showed a lot of grit and verve to the bitter end, and took the defeat with class.

For seniors Austin McCasland, Dalton Jeffers, Derek Graham, Forrest Lee, Spencer Wright, and Tyler Rhodes it was the last game they’ll ever play in Overton High School uniforms.

With a fourth consecutive post-season appearance it was also the capstone of a brilliant run, a run that began when they were all still little leaguers.

The end has come for another class of senior athletes here in the “Oil Belt.” Something that began (for most of them) in grade school has drawn to a close with great flashes of glory that will shine, like stars, for years after the time has passed.

I remember that feeling. I remember looking at my brother and cousin, both of whom I had also known as teammates, and saying, “It’s over.”

The crushing feeling of finality that accompanied that small utterance didn’t really hit home until the athletic banquet several weeks later. But when it hit, it took the wind right out of me.

You spend so much time with these people, these teammates, these coaches, these parents who make the drive to every game, who linger along the fences during practice. It’s all building toward some great vague something in the future, and then it just… ends. Sometimes it ends with a trophy or a medal and sometimes it ends with an empty locker room, the echoes of the crowd fading into silence.

But, no matter the accomplishment, the ending is always bittersweet.

My advice to you young men and women who have finished your high school athletic careers is to allow yourself to miss it, to allow yourself to feel the ache of its end. Don’t play it cool, and don’t try to pretend it didn’t matter. It did.

Allow yourself to feel the pain of the finality, because it is truly over.

Of course, some of you may be gifted/fortunate enough to go on and play at the next level, but it won’t be the same. Don’t expect it to be. This time in your life is singular.

Nothing you will ever do will ever be the same as the years you have spent wearing Kelly Green or Columbia Blue for your beloved alma mater. But at the same time, do not be so foolish as to think your best years are behind you.

I have so many fond memories of my years wearing the green and white for Overton, we won a lot back then and had some great times. There are guys I knew then that I remain close friends with to this day.

But everything I’ve experienced since has overshadowed everything I enjoyed about high school. Although my memories of high school sports consist of far more highs than lows, I wouldn’t trade the joys and sorrows of the last 15 years for any of them.

With life, not unlike sports, you’ll find that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I think you’ll find that you are rarely defined by the result of your efforts but by how you handle them.

Adversity as well as triumph will each be found in the years to come. Learn from the former and relish the latter.

Understand the greatest lesson that sports can teach you, in the immortal words of famed sportswriter Grantland Rice“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost, but how you played the Game.”

I thank you Seniors of 2012 for the memories, and wish you all the best in the “game of life.”

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