All Points West: Finding a champ in you
     2016-03-25      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
Is it the sign of the apocalypse when Gering sports teams continue to lose?

This past week, the boys’ soccer team gave up six goals, the margin of defeat against North Platte, ideally not the way any coach wants to start a season, at 0-2. Nowhere to go but up. Seasonal you might say. These things go in cycles. There are very few exceptional athletes who appear on the map, and given west Nebraska’s small-town predicament, the odds are stacked against athletes rising to stardom, numbers wise. There’s very little likelihood Gering will ever see the likes of Pele on the soccer field, or Kobe Bryant on the hardwood, or Peyton Manning on the gridiron. Improbable, but not impossible.

Well, this year, starting with the football team winning zero games, or having also rans in girls’ softball, girls’ volleyball, boys’ basketball and three qualifiers for the state wrestling tournament, the Gering Bulldogs boast zero champions. Lest I sound like I’m being hyper critical about Gering’s kids, I am proud of them for being courageous enough to step out onto a playing field, mat, or arena.

Surprisingly, almost half of Gering’s will. In fact, they might find themselves winners in other ways.

An increasing number, for the past 25 years up to 2014, have slipped on a jersey, bounced a ball, scampered around a diamond, golf course, or track. According to the National Federation of State High Schools, which conducted on athletic participation survey of young teens, a record total of 7.8 million competed in high school sports of some kind, up by 82,081 from the previous school year.

Compare this with the number of overall attendance by students in general. In the fall of 2015, 50.1 million, slightly more than in 2014, enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 14.9 million students attended high school, not including the 4.9 million in private schools.

Dozens of athletes at Scottsbluff and Gering High Schools this past school year have signed letters of intent to play at the college level, though not all are four-year universities or colleges, some are junior colleges. Nevertheless, they are headed toward a higher level of learning and competition. The latest, three Bearcats, Eseah Ingram, Owen Parra, and Jackson Thomas inked letters of intent on Tuesday to play soccer for West Nebraska Community College Cougars (See story on Page B1). And local standout, the Seacat’s Anna Yanke signed to swim at the University of Nebraska - Kearney next school year.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reports of the nearly 8 million athletes in current competition, only 460,000 will rise to the level of NCAA schools. The NCAA goes onto say, and I agree, “the experiences of college athletics and the life lessons they learn along the way will help them as they pursue careers in other fields … overall, the student-athletes graduate at higher rates than their peers each year.” If you were curious, the University of Nebraska graduated 86 percent of student-athletes this past year, up 3 percent from a year ago. Seven Husker teams were perfect – women’s basketball, women’s golf, women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics, softball, volleyball and men’s tennis. Notice a trend? This says nothing about the one-and-done phenomena in college basketball, and the money-driven showcasing during March Madness, which I’m sure leaves a bad taste in the mouths of true competitors – those kids playing for the sheer joy, and the experiences that build character, not to mention the kind of commitment it takes to finish a four-year degree.

The numbers diminish greatly from the college to pros. The NCAA rates the percentage of making the NFL or other pro league is 1.6 percent, while baseball and hockey players have a better chance at 8.6 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. Women’s basketball ranks the lowest at just under 1 percent.

There is no real conception or dream of anyone I know that said they would go on to make a living in sports. My best friends David Simpson and Mike Favreau from Ganesha H.S. (Pomona, Calif.) played football at UCLA and UC Berkley, respectively, knowing it was the end of the road, having no unrealistic expectations of ever making it to the NFL. Tony Dungy, in his book, “Quiet Strength, Men’s Bible Study,” which is an autobiographical glimpse into his career as a coach and player, said he was told by his football coach at Minnesota that only two or three players on his team would go on to the big league. He was one of them, and ended up finding success on the sidelines as a coach, and now an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America.

My friends at UCLA and Cal. Well, they found success in their own way, one as a Los Angeles County sheriff deputy, and the other owning and running his own business near Houston, Texas. Though both continue to feel the pains of playing in their joints, primarily their knees, both say, they would have regretted missing one down of football – the challenges, the hard work, the deafening arenas, all of it.

In a way, lacing up the cleats is the best thing that ever happened to them. It was how they played the game. To them, it was all about winning in a sense, though the scoreboard might have said something else, not unlike Gering’s soccer team on Tuesday night.

If finding a way to make it in life was their goal, they achieved it, and more.

In their lives, they became champions.

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