Winning isn't everything in athletics

Nick Davis

I’ve been the sports writer for the News-Herald just over four years and was previously a high school and collegiate athlete. I’ve learned winning isn’t everything.

I attended Heritage High School in the rural part of Maryville and, to put it plainly, we weren’t very good in athletics. We would have the occasional season where the girls basketball team would make a run or someone won the individual bowling state championship, but most of us athletes knew more than likely that we weren’t going to be able to compete for a state championship.

I went on to play tennis at Carson-Newman University. Even at the Division 2 level, we typically were near the bottom of the South Atlantic Conference every season. Winning wasn’t everything because we simply enjoyed playing the sport, forming friendships and growing as people and Christians under former head coach Jean Love.

Whenever I lose any type of competition to this day, it frustrates me because I end up questioning myself on what I could have done differently.

From what I’ve seen over the last four years in my time working with numerous high school athletes in Loudon County, I’ve witnessed players slacking in practices that I’ve visited when the season hits a rough patch.

I sometimes end up asking myself if these players are questioning themselves. Are they out there for the right reasons? Are they giving up just because they’re not having the success they envisioned?

We’re now seeing it at the collegiate level in every sport as thousands of players, some who think they are better than they actually are, are stuck in the transfer portal because they weren’t getting enough playing time or they wanted to transfer to a school that wins.

But that’s just it, they get stuck.

I’ve had several parents come to me off the record at a practice or after a game and complain about how bad the team is, how disappointing the season is or how incompetent another player or coach is. I’ve also seen it numerous times on social media.

I hear the critics from the stands and pressboxes.

And there are the rumors of politics and favoritism running rampant in locker rooms.

It just doesn’t seem right to me when parents raise their children in a community all the way up through their middle school or high school and then decide to send them to a different school away from their friends and the school that they had invested so much time into just so they can pad up their stats for colleges or pursue state championships with a team that’s clearly far better than all the others in the state.

For most of us who have lived in the Knoxville region for most of our lives, we all know there are certain teams in this area that have benefited off the backs of others for years.

I grew up in the Heritage community and developed a love for it over time, despite the fact they weren’t very competitive year in and year out in most sports. That didn’t matter to me, even as a competitor.

What did matter was the friendships I formed during those years, the hard work I put in to earn my way into starting roles and the sense of accomplishment I had in knowing I gave my all for a school and community I loved and invested so much time in. I truly believe I wouldn’t have experienced that had I transferred to another school and rode the bench just so I could have a shiny ring.

This has been an ever-growing issue over the last four years I’ve worked in Loudon County, and I believe it needs to stop for the sake of student-athletes, schools and communities.

I’m aware there are instances where a transfer situation may be justified, but if it’s a decision solely entrenched on winning or based on the spite of a parent toward a school or coach, then I believe that decision needs to be seriously re-evaluated.

I’ve seen firsthand the passion between Loudon and Lenoir City players during the annual Battle of the Bridge football game, and I would honestly say the intensity level is right there with the Alcoa-Maryville rivalry when it comes to community involvement and pride.

I witnessed the joy the Greenback community displayed when the football and baseball teams, comprised of down-to-earth Greenback boys, won state championships in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

I felt the pure emotion and adrenaline that emanated from a homegrown Loudon soccer team that was just a couple of steps away from winning a state championship three years ago.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Greenback, Lenoir City or Loudon get robbed of a talented player or players only to benefit a team in Knoxville or the surrounding area.

Why not keep that passion and excitement here in Loudon County where it belongs?

Greenback competes against small teams in Class 1A and often gets looked down upon, despite their recent success in football, baseball, girls soccer and softball. Lenoir City has been hard pressed in most sports to sustain much success in one of the toughest districts in the state. Loudon teams have to battle against highly talented schools from Chattanooga in the postseason every year.

But most of the coaches I know from all three schools push their players to be the best they can be on and off the playing field, especially when they’re not handed a silver spoon full of success, money and resources like a few other schools in this region.

I hope that someday soon ultra-competitive parents and student-athletes in this area will come to the realization that this community hurts when they leave and that winning at all costs simply isn’t everything in the grand scheme of life.

Nick Davis is a sports writer for the News-Herald. Contact him at nick.davis@news-herald.net.