Being part of this year's Avoca Tigers varsity basketball season has been a wild ride, and as I sit here at my desk this morning, two days after a painful loss in the finals of the Section 5 (NYS) tournament, it occurs to me that this word I use a lot, "glory," is used a lot in relation to athletic events. It would seem that winning is synonymous with glory, understood primarily as "fame and achievement," and the losers, well, whatever it is they are left with, glory is not one of them.
Our team and our town proved otherwise this year, however. They were winners in a strong sense: they had a "winning" season and made it to the sectional finals for the first time in 26 years, beating their historic rivals in the semi-finals (after they had been beaten by them earlier in the season). But all of this is only a small part of the glory that was revealed this year.
Mid-season the team lost their coach in what many of us believe was an unjust act. He made a couple mistakes and got fired. Few of us believe those mistakes rose to that level of punishment. He inspired and coached his team into a group of young men who believed in themselves, and, trust me, there was not much "trusting in themselves" that went on for the last few years.
The boys, and all but perhaps one of their parents, were devastated. They were angry. They did not get answers to their questions, and they believed that the school administration simply did not care about them, especially when the administration kept saying "everything is fine, the boys are fine, the parents are fine" when they were not fine at all.
For the most part, I expected things to fall apart, and for a little while it was touch and go. But then what I mean when I use the word "glory" happened. It was mostly about courage and the refusal to give up the sense of family that they had prior to their coach's dismissal. It is not that they did not struggle. They did. That was clear to everyone who was pulling for them. But in the struggle they found they could still believe in themselves. And that, more than any seasonal record or winning or losing the last game of the season, is where this team found glory.
A pause for a personal. unabashedly biased moment. Through all of this turmoil I was so very proud of my nephew, Derick Bulkley. He hurt badly, but he did not let the hurt overcome him in the end, and he proved himself to be a real leader. I am also proud of my family, who stood with him and his team as strongly as any family could. In the past, I have not always been able to be physically present with them through things like this. It was an enormous privilege to be able to do so this year. I hope Derick knows that he is part of a strong tradition not of winning (which we have done from time to time) but of great devotion to one another that has been passed down to us through the generations.
Glory is not about winning. It is about showing up. It is about choosing to believe in yourself, your family, your town, your God no matter what. Glory is had when we get a glimpse of God's dream for us (whether we recognize this as having come from God or not does not matter), to be part of something larger than ourselves, to take the risk that courage often asks of us and to love fiercely come what may.
There are temptations in this story as well, temptations to anger and even hate. We cannot help these feelings from happening, even God knows that. But they can blind us, and often do. We have them, but we can refuse to be controlled by them. That decision, too, is a finding of glory.
Derick, Seth, Brett, Matt, LaDre, Evan, Owen, Nate, Coach Conyers, and Coach Stowe, we are so very proud of you, and, more importantly, grateful for you. In the future you may look back at this basketball season and say, "That was messed up." It was, but there was glory in it anyway, wasn't there? and that has more to do with real life than winning or losing any single game can.