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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Christopherson column: Pirate athletic teams lack strength in numbers

  • Are you sitting down? Because you’re about to be shaken to your very foundation: I was never much of an athlete.
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  • Are you sitting down? Because you’re about to be shaken to your very foundation: I was never much of an athlete.
    My hellishly frightening combination of smallish-size and a lack of strength and speed – not to mention a lack of desire to practice hard in an effort to make myself better in any given sport – combined to stack the odds against me. It’s no wonder I got a job washing dishes in a restaurant when I was 14; I had so much spare time on my hands outside of school, I had to do something, right? Did I also mention I had then, and still do today, incredibly small hands? I can barely palm a golf ball. It’s the primary reason I quit guitar lessons, too, as a child – other than that lack of desire to practice thing I mentioned a moment ago: It was about impossible to play a decent G chord with my adorable, dainty, toddler-sized digits.
    I played basically every sport until my freshman year of high school. That’s when I started to realize that the elusive growth spurt I was counting on might be late in arriving, and as it turned out, it never came. I hated/feared getting hit and I hated/feared hitting others on the football field, mostly because getting hit by other guys or hitting other guys hurt. Pain didn’t motivate me or fire me up, it made my cry. So when I sprained my ankle pretty bad, that was my excuse to quit. I was a decent baseball player, too, but I quit the junior varsity team in ninth grade when peer pressure from the golfing kids I was starting to hang with spurred me to put my bat and glove in the closet and start hitting a golf ball, in mostly mediocre fashion. I was an OK basketball player, too, but by freshman year I knew my teammates, who eventually took second in state, were far more talented and dedicated than I was.
    There was no Pirate soccer program back in those days. As a child in Seattle, before my family moved here in 1977, I played soccer because way back then, it was already the trendy sport in the Pacific Northwest. When we moved to Crookston, the hockey pucks and hockey sticks I saw some kids goofing around with were foreign to me, and the same went for them when they saw me kicking and dribbling a soccer ball in my yard.
    We all know what’s become of soccer since then. Everyone across the country, it seems, is trying to convince everyone else – even the strongest naysayers – that soccer is here to stay and that it’s only going to grow.
    Page 2 of 3 - Which concerns me. No, I’m not going to proceed to rip the sport, because I’m not about to pretend there isn’t an art and a beauty to it. There is. But it’s just not my cup of tea, and that’s harder to say now more than ever, considering that our youngest son this fall has given up football in favor of soccer and is having a blast.
    But, even so, Crookston High School offers too many sports. The number of sports offered dates back to when enrollment was significantly higher than it is now, and the problem is magnified in the fall when boys’ and girls’ soccer compete with football and volleyball, respectively. The result? Four Pirate fall athletic teams that lose way more than they win, and often in lopsided fashion. (There’s girls’ swimming in the fall as well, it’s worth noting.)
    For years, as Crookston’s school enrollment dropped before leveling off, athletically we were considered the “smallest of the bigs.” In other words, in many sports, we still competed in conferences occupied by the East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Detroit Lakes of the world, but being consistently competitive became more difficult for the Pirates against those bigger schools.
    But now, Pirate athletics in many instances is the “biggest of the smalls.” We’ve dropped a class due to enrollment, and yet we often lose to towns a fraction of Crookston’s size, and their rosters are still sometimes larger than the Pirates’ squads.
    Why? Mostly because we offer so many sports, a fact that’s especially amplified in the fall. When we watch the football or volleyball team struggle, it’s hard not to wonder how much better they’d be, or at least how much larger their rosters would be, if soccer didn’t exist. If it’s frustrating for Pirate parents, think how tough it must be sometimes for the athletes themselves, to grow so accustomed to a pattern of losing.
    Absolutely, winning isn’t everything. It should go without saying that there is much more to being a quality student-athlete than the results in the win/loss column. But let’s not pretend that winning doesn’t matter much at all, or that “moral victories” – which often transpire when a Pirate team loses but fights hard and avoids a blowout – are just as good as an actual victory on the scoreboard.
    Soccer proponents might agree with much of this column, but, instead, maybe they can’t help but wonder how much better their teams would be if football, volleyball and swimming weren’t Pirate fall athletic options. They’re entirely entitled to let those visions dance in their heads, even if their favored sport was last to arrive at the party.
    Page 3 of 3 - Cutting a sport or two won’t make the Pirates instant champions in any sport. But on some level, the notion that there is strength in numbers rings true, and too often the Pirates lack that strength because they lack the numbers.

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