OPINION: Feeling inspired in a sports- minded town

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I know that in a tight-knit community, such as Concordia, a new face might not come around too often. But when mine came to this town of 4,000-plus, I had no idea what to expect. I’m from a “little” town on the southeast border of Kansas City called Raytown (population: 29,000-plus), where I played baseball for four years and basketball, football and soccer for Raytown South Middle School and High School for at least one year each. Almost every school we competed against was bigger than our “tiny” 1,000-1,400 person school. My friends from other schools in the area are always so surprised when I say I “only” graduated with a class of about 215 students (we started with more, but a lot of kids moved to areas with less crime or dropped out).

Perhaps you can imagine the culture shock I experienced when I was offered a baseball scholarship to — and began attending — Missouri Valley College in Marshall back in 2012. At the time, believe it or not, I thought I had just come upon one of the smallest towns this side of the Mississippi River. But as I spent time there over the next five years, I learned much more about the surrounding towns of the area and found out that there are much, much smaller places than Jim-the-Wonder-Dog-ville.

Shortly after my May 2017 graduation, the opportunity to work with The Concordian arose, and while getting interviewed for the position, my soon-to-be boss, Bob Stewart (editor of The Concordian), told me that there were two things that are very important to Concordians: their street fair and their sports.

The opportunity to cover both Concordia High School and Saint Paul Lutheran High School (along with Santa Fe High School in Alma and sometimes Sweet Springs High School) has proven him to be extremely right. Why wouldn’t the people in these areas, with all of the gifted and hardworking athletes in these towns, want quality coverage of their quality teams?

It was a bit foreign to me, as none of the Raytown papers covered our sports very closely (I was featured in the newspaper a lot more for debate than I was for sports), so I didn’t know exactly where to start, but it was obvious it had to be done.

As the fall sports season unfolded, I found myself falling in love with the dynamics small-town sports have to offer. Regardless of what game was being played and where, there was more than a win or loss on the line — there was pride. That is consistent of every team everywhere to some degree, but this kind of pride was different than “school pride.” It felt — and feels — like so much more than that; like, if “our” team loses, the whole town won’t smile until they win again.

Of course, that’s not true — in small towns, I’m learning, when one of us is down, we pick each other up, not allowing each other to stay hurt for long. But even so, that cold beverage the next day won’t seem as bubbly if “we” lose. I saw plenty of people in attendance at games who didn’t have children or grandkids playing, but instead were there because it’s their team, dang it, and if they weren’t there supporting, the squad might not play well.

It is more than inspiring – both to the athletes and to myself, from the outside looking in – to see a community band together behind their fine young men and women. These adolescents will one day be the business owners, community leaders, and perhaps even your child or grandkid’s high school coach, just like Concordia High School football player-turned head football coach J.K. Bayse. I might be new to town, but for people like me who haven’t grown up a product of Concordia’s support system, it’s not very difficult to see the effect it has. Where do the days, weeks and months go? It seems like only yesterday I was at the football Jamboree at Concordia High School, watching talented young men like CHS’s Cameron Cooper and Abram Frerking and SPLHS’s Mark Allen and Jose Alicea II go at it for the very first time. I can remember my raw excitement at the time, and I’m happy to note that, instead of fading away, it only grew larger as I got to meet the people underneath the helmets and on the volleyball courts. We witnessed a lot of wonderful and exciting moments this fall sports season, and it has been both a blessing and an honor to share them with you, our loyal Concordian readers.

I can’t wait to share even more exciting sports news in the coming weeks and months as basketball gets ready to tip-off. For more on the local basketball teams, look for our Winter Sports edition coming in late November.

If our athletes are half as inspired as I am from being around them, we are in for one heck-of-a season.

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