It’s tempting to call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Except it’s not. For many — for most — it’s an opportunity that never comes.
Today, three local basketball teams will be playing for a state title. The Mount Airy girls’ team will play for the 1A state championship in Chapel Hill this afternoon, while the North Surry boys’ and girls’ teams will be looking to stake their claim to the respective 2A titles.
There are hundreds of varsity high school basketball teams across North Carolina, one of the nation’s hotbeds for basketball. Thousands of athletes participate in the sport at the high school level each year. Yet, when you consider the four divisions in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, along with a handful of division among private, home school, and Christian school associations, you find probably no more than a dozen teams that wear the mantel of state champ at the end of the year.
Most high school athletes will never play college ball, and certainly not enjoy any professional basketball career. A state title is the pinnacle of their athletic achievement, a goal they’ve chased since first walking on the court in pee wee leagues — even if they didn’t realize it at the time.
Getting to this game is not an easy task. Mount Airy has never been there, despite having one of the strongest programs in the state year in and year out. Same for the North Surry girls, while the North Surry boys program, with four titles to its credit, hasn’t won a state crown in 28 years.
Although some folks talk about state title this or state title that, as if they were simply another trophy or just another game, they are exceedingly difficult to win, nearly as hard to even get there, to appear in the game.
To be where these teams are today takes a little luck, a few things falling your way, staying healthy (or at least getting healthy at the right time), and a tremendous amount of hard work. These teams aren’t playing today simply because they beat someone else a week ago to advance to the game.
These teams are playing today because of the dedicated work put in by the players every day at practice; because of the extra work put in by many of the players on weekends, or over the summer months; they are playing today because of the consistent commitment these players have had to that hard work, that extra time, year after year, season after season, maybe even when they weren’t getting a lot of playing time initially, or their teams weren’t winning as much as they’d like.
It takes dedicated, committed coaches who will put in extra time to make their players better, to learn more about the game; it takes parents willing to drive their kids to extra practices, willing to spend that money on their kids to play and go to camps and be able to do what they need for the team.
But most of all, it takes that work and leadership and drive by the players, who have earned the right to be walking on the court today, ready to battle for the state title.
Today, to the players we say when you walk in that gym, when you go to the locker room, when you take the court, soak it on all. The crowds may be bigger and louder, the intensity will be greater. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it in, enjoy it, then go out and play the best games of your lives.
Win or lose today, each of you have represented your schools and your communities well. You’ve made everyone proud.
But while you’re there, might as well grab that trophy and bring it back with you.