The annual True Grit Awards banquet always has a way of putting things into perspective for me when it comes to sports.
I attended the banquet Tuesday night as a member of the committee that plans the event each year, and the stories about the young athletes were inspiring.
Guest speaker Vicky Bullett, one of the most decorated players in U.S. women’s basketball history, gave the athletes some pearls of wisdom. Then, master of ceremonies Tom Riford read their stories.
This is what sports should be all about.
It is in sharp contrast to what has been going on lately in professional sports, especially pro football, where the revelation of the bounty system by the New Orleans Saints has rocked the integrity of that sport.
In the bounty system, players are paid extra to hurt someone while trying to intentionally put them out of the game with an injury. Money for pain. It’s a dirty business.
I once had a football coach tell our team before a game that he wanted us to hurt a player on the opposing team and knock him out of the game. There was no money involved, but it came as a surprise to a young, naive linebacker.
The player he wanted us to hurt returned kickoffs and punts for the opposing team, and had been scoring touchdowns and putting his team in terrific field position all season long. This kid had great speed, and when he got a step, he was gone. Our coach told us he wanted us to hit him in the knees early in the game and put him out of the game.
This kid was a difference maker.
I recall looking at the coach and thinking, “I’m not going to do that.”
My parents had always taught me to play hard, but when the whistle blew, extend your hand and help the other player up off the ground.
In fact, my dad always taught me to go 100 percent. He said when you don’t go 100 percent, that is when you get hurt. So I was taught to knock the opposing player to the ground, and then extend a hand to help him up.
Now I don’t expect pro football players to extend their hands after each tackle, but would that be the worst thing that ever happened?
Pro football could use some good sportsmanship at this time.
And that’s what makes the True Grit Award so special.
The student-athletes who receive the award are the ones who have overcome adversity or an injury to remain a member of their team. They are not necessarily the stars of their teams, but are the ones who have inspired their teammates and coaches with their grit.
And they do it only out of love for the game.
We heard about players who have sustained serious injury, but have continued to attend each game — and practice — to root for their teammates. There were other stories about students who have fought medical conditions to play, despite the odds against them.
Washington County is fortunate to have a banquet like this each year. It is fantastic that there are local businesses willing to donate $500 to support each athlete and continue to allow these students to be honored.
It is what gives you the hope that the goodness in sports will prevail.