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Champions emerge from game with no score

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Noon Optimist 11U All Stars, from left to right: Gabriel Borunda, McClain Maupin, Patrick Jennings, Sean Steele, Lucas Brown, Eli Cooper, Jay Forchtner, Gael Cordero and Westin Kamper. Not pictured: Colton Overcash. Coaches: James Brown and Paul Maupin. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Most people can relate to the lessons to be learned from participating in youth sports. Even those who were never athletes likely have friends and relatives who were, and can see and appreciate the ways learning to compete in an ethical manner influences a person throughout his or her life.

Sportsmanship is about more than sports and that’s a good thing. Once a person leaves the gridiron, the diamond, the court for the final time, at whatever age that transition comes, the lessons they’ve learned continue. One could say the lessons learned from athletic competition permeate our culture.

But there are situations one never expects an athlete, especially a very young athlete, to encounter in the course of competition. Unfortunately, we’re not always able to choose the time and place a lesson is learned, especially when it involves something as serious as another person’s life.

A group of young baseball players from Roswell, the Noon Optimist 11U All Stars, were faced with such a situation this past week during tournament play in Los Lunas. Prior to a championship game against a team from Carlsbad, Shorthorn Little League All Stars, they received some tragic news, Coach James Brown said. Tournament organizers let the coaches know that a player on the opposing team had passed away.

“We were taking batting practice and the tournament director came and told us that,” Brown said. “We talked about it and didn’t feel like it was right to play that game. … The other team, late that night with the news, didn’t sleep good. I know the players were having a really hard time and the coaches as well, obviously.”

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The game scheduled for that morning was to be for all the marbles — and would have been the third contest between the Roswell and Carlsbad squads. The Roswell team had lost to Carlsbad earlier in the tournament, then fought their way through the loser’s bracket to meet up with them again. Roswell’s kids won that second contest, setting up the anticipated showdown.

But the morning of the game, after hearing the unsettling news from tournament organizers, Brown said, everyone involved felt something different was called for. He let the parents in attendance know what was going on.

“Everybody knew that was the right thing to do,” Brown said.

The Noon Optimist coaches approached the opposing team’s coaches and they agreed to play a game, but not the usual championship contest.

“We ended up kind of just playing a game, not keeping score, just let the kids play … (We said) ‘We’re going to play in the player’s honor,’ and kind of just had a fun game together,” Brown said. “The kids didn’t know each other but they were hugging and cheering each other on. It was kind of a tear-jerker watching them come together and enjoy the game and then realizing the sportsmanship, everything about it …

“You know, there are a lot more important things than baseball and they kind of showed through there. Really proud of them.”

The team had been stressing the importance of sportsmanship in the days leading up to the tournament. It was taught that “Everything we do reflects on our city,” Brown said.

“Once that game started, we kind of talked about it … it was just going to be a fun game. And the kids totally embraced that other team.

“I think they just really learned camaraderie, just compassion, ability to understand you can have fun while playing the game.”

At the end, every player walked off the field a champion, co-champions.

It’s a rare sporting contest in which the players on the field aren’t keeping track of the numbers on the scoreboard, but for the co-champions who emerged from that game on a youth baseball diamond in Los Lunas last week, it made perfect sense. They played for fun, for love of the game, and in that moment of recognizing there are more important things than final scores, they played for each other. That sportsmanship like that continues beyond athletics, the lessons lasting a lifetime, is something we can all take comfort in.

The Noon Optimist 11U All Stars with their co-champions, Carlsbad Shorthorn Little League All Stars. (Submitted Photo)
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