Friday, August 02, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Bullets show more than sportsmanship

Leader sports editor

Life lessons are usually learned the hard way, or at the very least, are hard to learn. The Remington Bullets American Legion baseball team faced one of those lessons during the state tournament last weekend in Harrison, and all indications in the aftermath are they learned it well.

The class and integrity displayed by the Bullets after a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in the championship round wasn’t just a sign of a bunch of good boys whose momma’s raised them right. It was the type of grownup, manly behavior that only comes with experience from hard lessons.

Sadly for this team, one of those hard lessons was learned during the tournament when Chris James, father of two Remington players, Christian and Madison James, passed away at the young age of 51.

The Lonoke-based team took the news hard, and without their friends’ presence, but with their friends’ burden heavy on their heart, played itself into the position of being one of only two teams in the state left standing late Monday night.

Lonoke needed to beat the host team, Harrison, twice because of a similar loss to the McDonald’s sponsored team in the finals of the winners’ bracket.

With a 1-0 lead, two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the final inning, Harrison, which had only two base hits in the previous six innings, somehow managed three in a row to score two runs and win the title.

Most players may have called that kind of a loss a tragedy, or may have felt devastated. But the Bullets had just been through real tragedy.

They had just seen the effect that real loss has on people they care about. And they behaved like they learned from it.

There were no thrown gloves or pouting attitudes. There was no one refusing or even hesitant to shake the victor’s hands. There wasn’t even the cursory effort at post-game sportsmanship that usually comes with such a loss.

There were arms around each other and stern faces that sincerely congratulated their opponent.

There were hugs for teammates and condolences for those closest to the James family who had stayed and given everything they had to win this one for their friends.

Underneath it all was the obvious understanding that it was just a game. How could they be upset about losing a game, even a state championship game, in light of such hardship for their teammates?

Some, no doubt, still would have been upset. Some have attached far too great a significance to success in sports. This group of players from Lonoke and Carlisle has not done so. It was evident even before the disappointing ending.

The Bullets made mistakes throughout the game. There were three errors recorded and maybe should have been four. But after each one, there was only encouragement from teammates.

It might be tempting for a reporter who woke up in Cabot, drove to his place of work in Jacksonville and from there gone to cover an event in Bryant, to bemoan finding out there was still a local team alive in the tournament at Harrison, and that it would be playing at approximately 9 p.m.

But the four-hour drive from Saline County to Boone County became worth every tiring mile when it ended around midnight with something better than watching the local team win the title. It ended with watching a beautiful display of friendship, sportsmanship and maturity. It ended in seeing young men learn, grow and take a huge step towards manhood.

It ended with a reporter on his knees in a Harrison hotel giving thanks for being inconvenienced by an unexpected trip that day.