The moments when character truly counts

Sometimes a loss can be inspiring to witness.

Sounds crazy, I know, but bear with me.

This time of year brings ultimate levels of success and failure to the forefront at a rapid-fire pace. From following our local and area teams as they try to fulfill their postseason dreams to covering the state softball tournament game by game, our staff sees more than its fair share of both elation and heartache in the month of July.

We know all about the winners. They’re the teams and kids who fill the big headlines in the paper. Pictures everywhere. All smiles. Trophies hoisted. Banners raised.

I tend to gravitate to the other side of the field after a champion is crowned – sometimes out of professional obligation, but mostly to study the human condition. There is nothing challenging or difficult about a celebration. It’s flimsy and fun and easy to handle.

Not exactly real-world applicable.

What intrigues me is how these teenagers handle adversity and defeat. They are resilient. They turn to – not on – each other. It may take a while, but they even find perspective and sportsmanship in places adults tend to miss.

Locally, I have watched the Fort Dodge softball and baseball teams suffer crushing defeats recently. Both were one step short of qualifying for the state tournament. Neither made it.

As expected, the aftermath was very raw. The Dodger softball squad sat in stunned disbelief. FDSH baseball players tearfully greeted each other with hugs and high-fives. Neither wanted to let go. And it was obvious that they were in the moment together – thick and thin. Win or lose.

There was no finger-pointing or going their separate ways. If they had to be done, they were walking out side-by-side.

My 9-year-old son made the trip with me to West Des Moines on Wednesday night. He watched as the Dodgers took the time and effort to deal with their loss by leaning on each other. They were emotional, which made him emotional, which made me emotional.

He asked me on the ride home, ”Dad, why were they crying?” I explained to him the concept of real teamwork, and brother (or sister) hood, and the kind of bond you build in sports through offseason workouts, long practices, road trips and everything in between.

And the more I thought about it, the more I started to really miss it.

High school athletics functions in a very competitive environment, as it should. I’m not about to say winning isn’t important. That will always be the main objective.

With that being said, losing doesn’t make these kids losers. Oftentimes, in fact, it shows what kind of winners they truly are.

First and foremost, it’s about the journey. The friendships and trust you create. The character you find from within. The motivation to work hard not just for your own benefit, but to help a teammate or impress a coach or represent your school and community with pride.

How great is that? To discover such meaning at 16 or 17 years old? To believe in yourself and the people around you unconditionally, even after adversity strikes?

I will always remember that talk I had with my son on the way home, and I think he will, too. He may or may not be a varsity athlete someday, but I truly believe that moment will stick with him regardless. He learned a life lesson from a loss, just like his heroes in red and black did.

And that, to me, is inspirational.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at