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Games are about more than wins and losses

Larry Banman

It was a good week for West Grand High School sports.

The girls volleyball team earned a victory over a longtime nemesis while the football team earned a ton of respect with a hard-fought game against a heavily favored opponent.

For at least the last few decades, North Park and West Grand have been archrivals. Both high schools are in small towns that have a rich agricultural heritage. Generally there is mutual respect between the fans of both towns.

There certainly is a competitiveness to the games, but after the contests are over you will see fans converse with “the other side” in a civil manner. There just isn’t the animosity and sometimes mean-spiritedness that marks some rivalries. It is a classic rivalry where a poor season by one team can be saved with a win over the other, and a good season can be tarnished by a loss to the archrival.

The nature of this particular rivalry has often been that one team enjoys several seasons of dominance over the other. When one of the streaks is finally broken, the team that has been taking it on the chin gets to celebrate with that glorious feeling of vindication. One of those streaks ended on Thursday night.

The Lady Wildcats of North Park have enjoyed a wonderful stretch of success in volleyball and basketball for the past few years. They have had some outstanding athletes and have enjoyed consistent and competent coaching. By the recollection of many, it has been numerous years since West Grand defeated North Park in either sport. There have been a few blowouts during that streak, but often it seemed as if the Mustangs simply couldn’t clear the hurdle and earn a victory. After a while the advantage seemed to be more mental than physical.

Last Thursday, the Mustangs threw the monkey off their back and earned a four-set victory. The fourth game of the match was an overtime thriller, but it may have been the second game when the match was decided.

West Grand had won the first game but trailed by nine points in the second game. In volleyball, that is a huge advantage. Playing in Walden in a game that didn’t count in the league standings seemed a recipe for a loss to the Wildcats. The Lady Mustangs rallied, however, to win that game and ultimately the match.

On Saturday, the West Grand football team traveled to Buena Vista to play the powerhouse Demons. To make matters worse, the Mustangs were without two key players, both of whom had been injured the previous week against Meeker. With slim playoff hopes and facing a team that was physically imposing, it would have been easy to go through the motions. That was far from the case.

The best word to describe the play of West Grand is inspired. How else can you explain the rally from a 20-0 deficit to come within an eyelash of narrowing the gap to 23-21 and setting up an onside kick attempt and the possible Hail Mary pass for an exciting victory?

How else can you explain an undersized offensive line repeatedly gaining an advantage to open holes for running and providing protection for passing?

How else can you explain an offensive attack that gained over 200 yards and a defense that was sometimes knocked over but never out and made several huge plays to stop Demon drives?

There was something else, too.

To the casual observer, there were a few instances where the play of the host team from Buena Vista appeared to cross over the line of good sportsmanship. There was some general “chippiness,” which was odd coming from a team with whom West Grand has no natural rivalry. Truth be told, the Demons have pretty much had their way with the Mustangs for the past several years.

It is a credit to the West Grand coaching staff and players that their behavior never appeared to cross over into the retaliation phase.

It is always a joy to watch pure talent in action. West Grand does have its share of talented players, but what happened on Friday night was inspirational. Even in defeat, the Mustangs gave an excellent account of themselves.

I have always said that high school sports are about a whole lot more than the wins and losses. Last week, the hometown high school heroes experienced both. However, long after the results of those games are forgotten, those involved will remember the memories of how they felt and what lessons they learned. The week was a capsule of why I believe high school sports are about more than playing a game.


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