Long Shots

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to watch and listen to some truly exciting basketball games.

Even though I’m a die-hard basketball fan, I find it hard to keep up with all the area teams. But the games I have had the chance to experience have been memorable.

About eight years ago, a group of young girls and boys stepped onto the basketball court for another year of JAM basketball-Hillsboro’s introductory program for grade-school kids.

This particular group of kids had talent, desire and, most noticeably, heart.

Last Monday I headed to Lyons to watch them take the court once more-as seniors on the Hillsboro girls’ and boys’ teams. I got the privilege to go because our editor, who had covered the teams all season, had to stay behind to meet our production deadlines.

It was tough on him not to make the trip, but I tried to enjoy it for the both of us-and I certainly did.

To start the evening, I watched Hillsboro and Hesston battle it out in the girls’ sub-state finals. It easily was one of the most entertaining games of the year. Although the outcome wasn’t favorable to Trojan fans, it was one of the most intense games I’ve watched in a while.

In the first half, Hillsboro trailed by 21 points, but made a run late in the game to pull within seven points. Just as the Trojans pulled within reach, though, the Swathers regrouped and held on for the win.

Hillsboro coach Becky Carlson said after the game, that the Trojans’ second-half performance was indicative of her seniors’ character.

I noticed the same thing.

The Hillsboro boys followed that game with a thrilling championship game of their own. The Trojans slipped past the Hoisington Cardinals, 64-55, in double overtime.

The win gave Hillsboro a ticket into the state tournament. As we all know by now, the boys fell to Riley County in the first round Wednesday afternoon.

But the boys deserve much more than a pat on the back. Sure, we wanted them to have a shot at the state championship, but things just didn’t go the Trojans’ way. Limited rest and preparation time played a role in the loss.

But just imagine if they had done it. Would we have given them credit for climbing over such enormous obstacles?

One thing is certain, the Trojan boys and girls had a great year and a great run. Unfortunately, as fans, we’ve become spoiled. We congratulate only the champions and not always those who battle hard but fall short.

After the Hoisington win, senior Adam Woods said he was “pumped” about the win, and that he had seen how “fun it is to win the state championship” from those players and teams before him.

Woods’ statement embodies much more than a tradition-it’s a character quality, that all of the players this season have possessed on the basketball court since they were very young.

The season is over, and for many of the players, it was the last basketball game of their career. To most, the season did not bring ultimate satisfaction. But, looking at the determination on the players’ faces was enough to satisfy this once state champion.

Sometimes it’s more important to learn the value of our young people, even in defeat, than to miss it entirely in victory.

The days of JAM basketball have been over for quite some time for these seniors. Starting with varying degrees of talent and desire in their early years, these young people have improved their performance on and off the court. Their talent and desire have been put to the test and they passed-despite falling short of their dream.

However, one trait has remained constant throughout the course of their basketball journey-heart.

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