Tough losses reveal strong character with high school athletes

Today's youth gets a bad rap at times.

They're addicted to phones and social media. They can't hold a decent conversation. They won't look you in the eyes.

Us “old-timers” see these examples daily.

But after covering my first high school basketball games in more than 25 years, my faith in our kids has been restored a bit.

The poise displayed by both Fenton and York players after their basketball teams were eliminated from the postseason was extremely impressive. Both squads suffered crushing losses — Fenton losing to Notre Dame in overtime in a regional final, and York seeing its dreams dashed by Glenbard North on a last-second 3-pointer in a sectional final.

Tears flowed freely, but every kid composed themselves and delivered some truly memorable quotes.

“Honestly, it just hurts that it's all over. I love all these guys,” Fenton's Xavior Gonzalez said. “I wanted that regional championship really bad, but I'm going to keep my head up.

“We were 28-5. We did all we could and we had a really special group. And I loved every moment of it.”

Then there was York's AJ Levine, who severely sprained his left ankle with 3:55 remaining. Somehow he returned but then had to hop off. Yet he came back again. Not only that, but he drilled a 3-pointer in the final minute to give the Dukes a 41-40 lead.

“I was like, 'No way he just made that,'” teammate Kyle Waltz said.

Moments later, however, Glenbard North's Jack Schager ended York's season.

A broken-up Levine had to pause for a moment during our interview, then delivered like the leader he was all season.

“Last year we just didn't want it enough,” Levine said. “This year we came together. We've all played together since we were little and we knew if we did that we could make something special.”

Down the road, you just know these kids are going to develop into something special.

That goes for more than just the stars. Everyone involved in high school sports has the opportunity to grow in myriad ways under the tutelage of inspiring coaches.

I clearly remember sitting in PE class as a freshman at Hinsdale Central when the cross country coach came in to deliver a short recruitment speech.

His best line? “Don't be an 8 to 3er.”

That was it. He reeled me in.

Almost 30 years later, our son ran cross country and track during his first three years at Hinsdale Central. He desperately wanted to make the golf team but just wasn't good enough to qualify for a program that won seven straight state titles from 2013-19.

The summer before his senior year, he shot a 74 at Cog Hill's No. 1 course, prompting me to say: “Wow. Do you think you could make the team?”

He did — and a primary reason revolved around the core strength he built during those three years of running. He was hitting every iron 20 yards farther than the year before.

So for those of you who haven't made a team, don't give up. And for those who get cut, don't despair.

Find another sport. Maybe cross country and track.

Pour yourself into extracurriculars and I guarantee you won't regret it.

It will be difficult at times, and many of you, or your teams, will experience a heartbreaking loss.

But looking back, you’ll cherish the relationships you built and the effort you put forth, regardless of the outcome.

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