Picking up the real 'wins' in sports


“Keep your hands up
Get ‘em in the sky for the homies
that didn’t make it
and my folks locked down”
“All I Do Is Win” — DJ Khaled

This verse, delivered by the rapper Ludacris in the midst of the DJ Khaled’s mix, discusses celebrating life’s wins, and the full lyrics of the verse are not relevant to the point of today’s piece, but let’s just say that the celebration is about conquests that lead to bed notches and bank account growth.

The song was released in 2010 on Khaled’s fourth studio album, “Victory.” While “All I Do Is Win” peaked at the No. 24 spot in the Billboard Hot 100, it has enjoyed a much longer legacy as an anthem for sports teams, and the catchy chorus has been heard everywhere, from middle school and high school athletic endeavors, to the NBA and MLB.

If you want to see an amazing rendition lip synced of the song, do a YouTube search for Emma Stone’s performance when she was on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon from a decade ago. Stone utilized the cameras in the studio and had a lot of fun with the song.

That’s really what high school sports should be about, right? Fun should be the goal of high school athletics first and foremost.

Lessons on teamwork and sacrificing self for the good of others are important, along with the reward of extra effort in preparation showing up in added performance on game day. Those are all great skills to carry into life.

One that ebbs and flows in its importance in the game is sportsmanship.

Sure, helping your teammate up after a hard foul in basketball or after being tackled is part of being a good teammate, but what about helping up the guy that you just tackled? Helping up the girl that you just knocked to the court?

Those things take some time away from the flow of the game when you could be helping your team win, and unfortunately, covering high school sports has led to hearing more and more coaches who get after their players for spending that moment to assist an opponent.

My high school playing career began 30 years ago this fall, which is incredible to consider, but that’s a whole other column. I was one of the nearly 50% of students in a given year in South Dakota who participate in at least one high school sport. The number fluctuates from about 48% to 51%, but it typically hovers around that range, usually placing the state around 10th in the nation in participation rates.

Where South Dakota usually shines is in those who play multiple sports.

Of those who play one sport, in the last decade, as many as 63% played a second school sport as well. That’s a number that has ranked as high as second in the nation at various points in the last decade.

Sports are part of our upbringing in the state, for better or worse…so let’s work to make them better!

One thing I took pride in throughout my high school years (and still enjoy today) is hearing from opposing coaches and opposing players tell me that they loved/hated playing against me because of the way I played.

In one of my games in football, I had more than 20 pancake blocks. The opposing coach spoke with me later at a track meet, and reflecting on the game, he said, “Ben, you were kicking our butt, but it was hard to get mad at you because I’d see our guy on his back and the next second, you’d be over offering him a hand to get up.”

Similar things were told me by guys I played against in high school and scrimmage partners in college. Though I played with coaches absolutely dedicated to winning, I don’t ever remember being chastised for helping an opponent up when I was behind the play on the court or field.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I saw on Monday while covering the 281 Conference boys’ tournament.

Two players who had a very good back-and-forth all game, complimenting one another on strong plays and checking on the other after a hard foul, ended up tangled up in a play that led to a fast break for one’s team.

Rather than joining the break as a trailer immediately, he took a moment and helped up his opponent.

The coach, rather than focusing on his team’s execution of the fast break, spent his focus and energy yelling at his own player for helping up an opponent. “Get down there!” he screamed, gesturing toward the offensive end of the court where the play was already over by that point.

I happened to find myself sitting in front of that team on the bleachers later in the afternoon, and they were talking about the game. The focus turned toward complimenting players for how they played the game, not just raw talent.

They began to cheer an underdog player on one of the teams on the court to get a basket, letting out a loud, collective cheer when he finally put a ball through.

That’s what high school sports should be about. Winning is fun, but I have fun memories from seasons of high school sports with zero games won. Ultimately, what you remember of a game is almost never going to be the final score - or even necessarily who won, outside of particular games of importance - but little moments like what I witnessed Monday are what stick in your mind as you age, and it’s certainly what many fans remember about the player.

I heard from a person who was in the stands during one of my high school games about watching me help up a guy that I had just tackled. They stated that they read my articles today in part because of remembering that act on the field, and I know other people who have heard similar things when on a job interview, based on actions on a sporting field - not scoring 40 points or throwing a game-winning touchdown, but how the game was played.

When we focus on the great lessons that sports can teach rather than a temporary gain in won/loss record, we truly do win, win, win, as DJ Khaled would say, but in the game of life, not the game on the court or field at the time.