This blog was inspired by the amazing students who participated in the Academic Tournament.
Competition can take many forms, but there will always be winners and losers at the end of the contest. And sometimes, we get so focused on who won and declaring them "champions" that we overlook a critically important part of any competition--the character of the participants.
Last week I attended the Academic Tournament Championship matches. It was an evening filled with intense competition. In fact, the final match came down to the last question in order to determine the champion. A true nail biter! It was the closest match I have seen in the 9 years I have attended this event. Walkersville High School earned the title of Academic Tournament Champions for 2020, but looking around the auditorium, it was apparent there were many other champions in the room.
Throughout the evening, it is traditional for the teams to share a thank you message at the start of each round. It was impressive to hear the frequent acknowledgement of their competitors. Recognizing the hard work of competitors reflects sportsmanship and respect. The acknowledgements of coaches, parents, staff and friends who supported the team reflects gratitude. These are the traits of a true champion.
And then there were the coaches. When a response was disputed, it was done with a calm manner. Yes, it is possible to argue a point without resorting to disrespectful behavior. Acting in a civil manner is the mark of a champion, too.
It was particularly compelling to see the coaches who watched their teams get so close only to lose by 1 or 2 points. It was an excruciatingly painful moment, and yet they embraced their teams and heartily congratulated their opponents. These role models exhibited grace and pride, showing their players what a champion does.
But the ones who impressed me the most were the students. As the final score appeared, there was celebration but no gloating. There were congratulatory gestures and two comments that truly resonated with me:
"Walkersville deserved to win this year."
"We will do better and take the title next year!"
Lastly, there was the team that was eliminated early in the tournament that stayed to cheer, encourage, and support their competitors. Losing with poise, affirming the talents of competitors, and remaining optimistic about improving to return and compete again--these qualities fill the heart of a champion!
As I observed last week, true champions are not just the team taking home the trophy. They are those who exemplify the heart of a champion in their words and actions. And our world needs more of them!