In which Kevin learns several invaluable life lessons...
Generally speaking, I don't like to focus too much on athletics in this column because I'm sure you get plenty of that during the week on the TWI Sports pages.
However, I'm making an exception this time around.
Why? Because I witnessed two examples of uncommon courage during my weekly wanderings and I'd like to share them.
Winning & Losing
I learned a valuable lesson about the relationship between winning and losing this week … one that I won't forget anytime soon.
On Wednesday night, I traveled to Kingsley for one of the season's biggest varsity wrestling matches of the year to date.
Mountain View High School played host to this tri-meet, which featured Honesdale and Western Wayne in a battle for the Lackawanna League's Division II championship.
If you didn't see the story I wrote on this one, I'll just briefly say that the match can only be called as an “instant classic.”
Both teams came in undefeated and put on quite a show for an SRO crowd. Remarkably, when the final buzzer sounded, the score stood tied at 32-32.
Out came the PIAA and Lackawanna League handbooks for a review of “criteria” that would determine the match winner.
In the end, the Wildcats were awarded the victory thanks to a 15-10 margin in the eighth criteria down the list (total number of first points scored).
That alone is enough to warrant special mention. However, how we arrived at that point is even more amazing.
Western Wayne's George Les is a freshman who only recently began to participate in organized wrestling.
According to his coach, Dante Terenzio, Lee won just a handful of bouts in junior high last year and things have been equally challenging this year.
George came into the Honesdale match with a lackluster record of 6-13. And, as luck would have it, his bout at 120 pounds was the grand finale.
Western Wayne led 32-28 as George stepped onto the mat … a prohibitive underdog against Jordan Young (16-9).
Lee's mission was simple: avoid a technical fall or pin at all costs. Either one of those outcomes would give Honesdale the match win and the league title.
For the next six minutes ... amid the sweaty, swirling, deafening chaos of that Mountain View gym … George fought with the kind of courage you wouldn't think a 15-year-old could possibly possess.
Young threw absolutely everything at his opponent … even had him on his back a couple of times ... but, Lee survived it all.
When the bout was over, Young had posted a 15-6 major decision. However, it was Lee getting mobbed by joyous teammates as the scoreboard told the more important tale: 32-32.
After about 10 minutes of huddling at the scorer's table, the referee stepped forward and announced that Western Wayne had won on criteria.
To be clear: George Lee lost his bout. However, the heroic way in which he lost ensured that his team would win the match.
Sometimes, winning and losing stand in start contrast to one another. Other times, though, they can be part and parcel of the same thing.
George may not make anyone's all-star team this season, but in individual defeat … at least on this particular night … he was the biggest winner in the gym.
And, we can all learn a lesson from that.
You Never Know
All this week, basketball teams across the region have been participating in “Coaches vs. Cancer.”
It's an annual event that seeks to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
Coaches wear suits and sneakers as a visible symbol of their support. Players don specially-made t-shirts and organize fundraisers so that donations can be made to organizations like Susan B. Komen and the American Cancer Society.
On Monday night I trekked to Wallenpaupack Area for the girls varsity game between the Lady Bucks and Hornets.
At halftime of this contest, both teams gathered at midcourt. The girls formed a giant circle as Paupack alum Bob Kiesendahl took the microphone and invited all cancer survivors in the crowd to be recognized.
About a dozen folks made their way down from the stands, walked out onto the hardwood and received a heartwarming ovation.
All were given a special necklace commemorating their victory over this insidious disease.
After the applause died down, the circle parted so that I and several other media types could take pictures. And, standing right in the middle with a huge smile on her face, was one girl wearing a Lady Bucks uniform … and a necklace.
I hesitated because it took me a few moments to process what I was seeing through the lens.
One of the best players in the entire Lackawanna League is herself a cancer survivor.
I've known her parents for many years and never guessed. Their daughter had apparently fought the biggest battle of her life as a child … and it had nothing whatsoever to do with basketball.
Sitting alone in the stands later on, I couldn't get Hannah out of my mind.
An exciting game was unfolding before me, but all I could think about was the terrors this young lady must have endured on her journey to this night.
I now have a better understanding of the passion with which Hannah plays. She's always been one of my favorite type of players: the kid who takes a charge, attacks the basket, dives headlong into the stands after a loose ball.
I get it now. Hannah's passion. Her reckless abandon. Her courage. It all makes sense.
Every single time she steps onto the court is a re-affirmation of life.
Hannah can play the game joyfully because she's already fought the war. She knows at a very basic level what's important in life and what isn't.
After all, in the grand scheme of things: what's winning or losing a basketball game compared with defeating cancer?