They say that time flies when you're having fun, and that when you love what you do, it's not really an occupation, but a vocation. It seems only yesterday that I first stepped foot on the job as sports editor, eyes wide and ignorant of what I would learn, who I would meet and what I would face. Now that a year has elapsed in no time at all and my time on staff is coming to a close, the only way to keep ahead of the nostalgia is to firmly grasp the things that have imprinted themselves on me in the last 10 months.
I played soccer as a youngster, and I watched my older brother participate in cross country meets for years, so fall term left only the unfamiliar sport of volleyball. Throughout the season, the girls along with their head coach Kathie Woods taught me bit by bit what volleyball was about. Mixed in with the shrill cheers between points, the chanting of the bench and the pure technical aspect of the game is something a lot deeper.
They've created a culture that is passed from season to season and team to team. There's a general attitude about the program that even the casual spectator can pick up on, and that is the idea that camaraderie is the greatest victory. At the end of the day, wins will be wins and losses will be losses, but without the close knit friends and partners in crime to fall back on, those W's and L's are just that and no more.
Once the fall sports were finished and with wrestling already underway, Clackamas moved on to something I was much more familiar with: basketball. It was easy to follow the story of each game, to track the stats and know which players to talk to. I got to the point where I knew the players and their style well, and began to analyze what I saw. I noticed what I thought was a flaw in the offense of the women's team, and despite my nature to keep quiet, I wrote a column "exposing" their weaknesses, (notably the refusal to take a jump shot,) and published it a week after a stinging loss at home to Lane Community College.
The reaction was fairly instantaneous. The team was so up in arms that those who hadn't read the piece had at least heard about it and had their own opinion. The bluntness of the article combined with the loss on the home court led to some hostility from players and even coaching staff for several weeks leading up to the NWAACC tournament. Through that experience I had to learn that an opinion isn't just something that we're entitled to, it should be precious to us. If we're not willing to stand up and defend what we think, then what are we really good for?
I was saddened once winter term was over. Baseball and softball were both unfamiliar to me, and track and field is a difficult sport to cover. To make matters worse, a rash of injuries and other wild circumstances surrounding the baseball team meant that they started off the season 0-6 and ended the season with 11 straight losses to finish at 10-32. At one point, they ran out of pitching options and turned to their first baseman who gave up 13 runs in the top of the ninth. As odd as it might sound, there's a lesson here too: no matter how bad things get, just keep playing. There's no sense in giving up because life always has a new inning ahead of you.
The last lesson was the most recent. It was in the top of the fourth inning against Lower Columbia College in the second to last game at the NWAACC championships, and sophomore pitcher McKenzie Marshall had just given up a two-run homer to make it 4-2 in favor of Clackamas. She let loose another pitch, and the batter hit that one out of the park too. In the next inning with two strikes and two outs, Marshall gave up another home run to pull LCC to within one. Smiling, Marshall met with her catcher and her coach to discuss the situation. She closed out the inning, and then handed things off to Noelle Wright, who shut out LCC the rest of the way and moved the Cougars on to the final. A few hours later as Clackamas jumped and celebrated their championship, I realized how important that exchange was. It showed the value of listening to those with experience and wisdom, and displayed the benefits of delegating responsibility in order to accomplish a greater goal.
After so much time traversing Randall Hall and its surrounding facilities, you'd think that I would have picked up sporty lingo, made a bunch of athlete friends and seen a lot of sports scores. Given, I have done all of those things to a fairly good extent, but years down the road I won't remember who beat what team, and how many runs they scored in what inning. I'll remember that friendship is more important than results. I'll remember that opinions are a precious resource. I'll remember to never give up, and I'll remember that it's ok to ask for help. Above all, though, I'll remember the excellent hearts and minds that taught me each of these things. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
To read more from John William Howard, visit "Sports by Joward."