Never Say Never

Some of you know me better than others, so if this is review, bear with me.  I'll get to the point.  My background is in the sport of wrestling, all the way up to and including coaching at the high school level.  I'm not a "rah-rah" guy.  I firmly believe the true value of high school sport is teaching you to deal with heartbreak, adversity, and the need to rise from the ashes of your own scorched dreams to do it all over again.

I had a rival in high school.  Actually longer than that.  We first wrestled each other in kindergarten.  Our last match was at the Nebraska state tournament, in the championship match our senior year (he won, if you are curious).  I didn't like him.  He didn't like me.  Think Sidney/Hamburg, Malvern/Valley, Stanton/Essex, Bedford/Everyone.  It was bad. 

Neither of us have any high moral ground to take.  We both acted like asses in HS.  Not only did we cross paths on the mat, we crossed paths socially too.  Same girls.  Same parties.  Same part of town.  Our distaste was mutual and well warranted.  Never in a million years would i be friends with the guy.  Not because he beat me.  Hell, I disliked him after the matches I won.  I just didn't like him.  Or so I thought.

Last Friday night after the East Mills/Fremont-Mills game, I saw two kids who are obviously far beyond where I was when I was in high school.  I told you my background to frame this story in context.  Walking from the field to my car in Malvern, I stopped near the school to talk to people i know. It's very dark there and my eyes are garbage, but as I was walking away I saw two football players about to cross paths.  One in black and gold, the other in green.   Wordlessly as they passed each other they shook hands.

Simple as that.  One in the clutches of an agonizing loss, the other riding high on euphoria from a thrilling win.  They realized it's not personal.  It's intense.  It's emotional.  It's violent, but it's NOT personal.  They treated each other with dignity.  Dignity that the situation deserved because it was an amazing game that one side couldn't have played without the other.  I couldn't have done that at that age, and it's one of my true regrets.

About five years ago I got a very strange Facebook friend request.  You likely already guessed it was my rival.  More curious than anything else I accepted and it's one of the best choices i have ever made.  We have become friends, and I am stunned to learn that he and I are really exactly the same.  We rarely talk wrestling, and we have never touched on any of our matches or conflicts.  We talk about our kids and our lives.  What we do in our free time and where life has taken us since we tried to kill each other about 25 years ago.

Never is a long time.  Never say never.  It's like a little black spot removed from my soul and it's all part of growing up (which you NEVER stop doing).  When I look back on my athletic career, I don't agonize over the losses.  I don't second guess choices I made in the heat of competition, but I do regret my actions apart from the competition.  I never would have shaken his hand silently in the dark, and I guess that gets me to the point of all this.

I don't care how much you think you dislike your opponent.  He/she is more like you that you can believe.  More like you than you WANT to believe.  You are chasing the same goals and the same hopes and dreams.  Only one of you can have them.  It's not personal.  It's life.  Some people never figure it out.  Look around.  Life is full of adults who haven't let go of what happened in high school, and it holds them back.  Worse yet, it holds the next generation back too.

I turn 45 in a few weeks and I still find myself apologizing for mistreating people in the name of sport over 25 years ago.  It's a humbling experience and one I would have preferred to skip.  I saw two athletes get it right Friday night, and they didn't do it because people were watching.  They did it because they are getting it right.  Let your rival be your inspiration, your catalyst.  Let them motivate you beyond the field and on into the rest of your life.  Don't let it become personal.  Then it's just an anchor around your neck.

I made a new friend, albeit 25 years later than I should have.  It's a good thing.  Makes me happy when I see kids getting it right.  Thanks for reading.  i promise not to be serious very often,