I had just finished a tearful embrace with my son’s High School Basketball Coach, who left the locker room first. Immediately following, the moment I saw my firstborn son Jadon come out of the locker room, I broke into more tears. He was a Senior in High School. They had just lost their playoff basketball game in the State Tournament. The realization that this would be his last High School basketball game, and the last time he ever wore the Mt. Pleasant jersey hit me harder than I anticipated. I was not saddened by the finality of it all. I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude at the entirety of the journey, and the fact that we got to be part of it. These were not tears of sadness, but of thankfulness and joy. The scoreboard above us indicated that we had lost, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
Winning is not a score. We’re taught to believe it is, because in virtually every athletic competition other than golf, the team or individual with the most points on the scoreboard wins. While it’s true that in every competition, there are winners and losers, the scoreboard is only one small, inconsequential part of defining a win. The scoreboard said that we were on the losing end. The truth is that we left the building as winners that night. Not just the players, but their families as well.
Did we drive two hours up and two hours back just to lose this game? No, we drove two hours up and two hours back because we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re part of a community, a family of people with relationships, sharing joy and heartache, wins and setbacks together. Some of those experiences will leave you jumping for joy, while others are heart-wrenching and leave you in tears. But we share them…together, and together matters because it makes you accountable and responsible. You stand together, you fall and you pick each other up together. It’s your town, your team, your kids, together. And you are better because of TOGETHER. Winning is not a score.
Some of these kids started this journey together in Jr. High School. They’ve been doing this together for almost 2,200 days by this time. That’s a long time. They have built relationships and shared experiences where life is lifted above the ordinary. They have worked together, played together, and spilled sweat, blood, and tears together. They may think it’s always going to be the same. But it won’t. Some of their friendships will deepen over the years, but many of them will become a distant memory as they grow apart. But they will always be able to say that they had these moments together. The older they grow, the more they will understand there will never be anything like it…again. They may even play sports at the next level, but none of it will ever be as pure as this. Those memories and that realization will one day drive them to deeper gratitude. And if they’re smart enough, they will grab hold of that moment, and it will lead them to prioritizing thankfulness and humility in their lives. Winning is not a score.
One day, they will find themselves at the end of a receiving line at the funeral home, or at the bottom end of some life crisis. But because of what they shared here with this group and these families, they will look down the end of the line or look up, and find the hand of one of their old teammates reaching out to grab them, embrace them, and help them through one of the darkest times of their life. No scoreboard can equate to that. Winning is not a score.
Their school is not a fortress for High School basketball. Talented kids generally transfer or move out to find better opportunities for themselves elsewhere. They had a few leave, they endured a coaching change, and they have found themselves more often on the underside of respect. But for those who stayed and committed themselves to the process, they learned the value of covenant and commitment. They learned that love, passion, and change are a choice, regardless of your environment. This will matter one day when they’re considering walking out on a marriage or family situation that isn’t meeting their expectations. It will matter when their church didn’t do it the way they thought it should be done. It will matter when it’s not going the way they wanted in every situation of life. They will find the value of sticking it out, working through it, making it better, and everyone around them will be better for it. They will learn that sometimes it’s more important to be in relationship than to always be right. Winning is not a score.
There was the moment in the summer league, before the season even started, when one of their starting seniors went down with a ligament tear in his knee. The realization hit hard that he would not be back and would lose his senior season of basketball. Tears flowed, hearts sunk, it was a blow to the entire team. It was a devastating blow to that family. And yet, all year, they watched that kid show up to every game to sit on the bench and cheer them on, even though he knew he wasn’t getting a minute of playing time on the floor. They watched his family show up to every game to cheer them on, because they’ve been there from the beginning, even though they knew their own son would never set foot on the floor. They even worked the concession stand multiple times. They poured in, gave back, and gave up, as if their son would have been playing. Their posture never changed. Because of this, some of the most memorable moments of the season weren’t even on the hardwood. They happened every time that family showed up to sit in the stands or serve in the concession booth. Together, we all learned that you can remove your adversity or you can redeem it. They chose to redeem theirs, and we were all better for it. Winning is not a score.
Speaking of memorable moments, my son Jadon had plenty of them his senior season. I will never forget those moments. But the moment that will indelibly be etched in my memory for the rest of my days on planet earth is the night another of our starting seniors went to the floor, also with a torn ligament. Now, only a third of the way through the schedule, his season would be lost as well.
As he lay on the floor agonizing in pain, we hoped and prayed for the best, but we knew it was not good. That’s when I watched his dad pick him up off the floor and carry him all the way across the floor to the locker room. I could see it on his face, so many dreams left undone and unrealized. I knew all that he had poured into his son’s basketball journey. The moment he carried his broken son across that floor will never leave me. That could have just as well been me. But that family too came back the next game, and the next, and the next, and the rest of them. That kid sat on the bench and cheered the rest of the team on as well. Adversity redeemed always has more value than adversity removed.
In that moment, I realized that of all the titles I could achieve in life, none would be more valuable than “Dad.” One day, if they’re blessed enough, these boys will have kids who fall down in life and end up with broken situations and circumstances. They may even disappoint. But they’ll have the memory of the night that father carried his broken boy across the floor. And that will remind us all to never give up on our kids or other people, even if it means we have to carry them at times. Winning is not a score.
Finally, they’ll look back one day and realize that they were never supposed to be here. No one expected them to finish third in the Conference and make the State Tournament, particularly with all the adversity they had to face. But they did it. One day they’ll be in another situation with someone telling them that they don’t deserve to be here, and they’ll remember that they’ve done it before, and they can darn sure do it again. They will always fight, always claw, they will never give up. They will realize they are not a failure, no matter what. The fight is always worth it. Their effort matters. Winning is not a score.
They shared all this together. The practices, the bus rides, the pizza, the laughter, the tears, the wins, the losses, the hugs, the high-fives. One day they’ll look back and realize there really isn’t anything like it, and they’ll be thankful they had it. And maybe one day, they’ll be standing at the end of a locker room watching their own kid come out for the last time, and they’ll shed tears they didn’t expect to shed, because they’re overwhelmed with gratitude that it all happened. It won’t matter what the scoreboard says, because winning is not a score.