Current Events

In Losing, These Young Winners Inspire

By Tom Holland February 17, 2023
Girls basketball team at halftime with coach speaking.

At WA, we call it “Type-2 Fun”.  These are the challenging moments, the ones that require grit, determination and fortitude to get through; only to look back and reflect with pride: I did that!  

It’s the uphill slog to the peak, or the day that had torrential downpours.  It’s the windy day on Yellowstone Lake that makes sea kayaking impossible.  After years of working in the world of camp adventures, I have found these struggles are what kids remember.  The memories of these struggles become part of their growth.  Win or lose, they learn who they are and what they are capable of doing.

This year, I have had the opportunity of bearing witness to a group of young people that are immersed in a full season of “Type-2 Fun”.  Because I am a volunteer coach with the Jackson Hole High School Girls Basketball team, of which my eldest daughter is a member, I have been able to observe this “Type-2 Fun” up close and in real time.  The team is now deep into their season, but even before the tip-off of their first game of the season, they knew they were in for a challenging, uphill slog.

Following a tough campaign last year, many girls decided not to go out for the team. Some students moved. A few athletes suffered season ending injuries in the first week of the season.  A new coaching squad inherited a depleted roster of 17 girls for all levels of high school hoops, mostly freshmen and sophomores, with a total of zero minutes of varsity playing time among the entire roster.  Zero! The mountain to climb was steep, but the girls who showed up came ready to face the challenge head on. 

So how much of a “Type-2 Fun” season has it been?

As I write this, the team is 0-17.  The average margin of losing is over 40 points.  When we hit the third and fourth quarters, it is normal for the “mercy rule” to be invoked, and the clock never stops.   When this occurs, the players at times have had feelings of embarrassment and humiliation, which often leads to tears.  

I have been asked why I volunteer to work with these girls.  There are no wins to claim.  No comeback stories.  Our high points are when we slow the opposing team to only a few points in one of the quarters.  The celebratory ‘Hoosiers’ fairytale ending will, in all likelihood, not be a reality for this bunch; we are a long way from Hickory.

At first, as a former teacher and basketball coach, I joined to support my daughter and maybe help the team rebuild for the future.  However, as the season progressed, and the silent car rides mounted, I found myself personally inspired by this group.  I have come to understand their tears are not solely tears of disappointment.  They are tears of caring and commitment. These 14–16-year-olds, with zero varsity experience, who continuously get beat by over 40 points per game, have come back the day after each loss and practice as hard as they can to get better.  

These girls are not naïve. They know their chances of winning every time they step on to the court are slim.  In the face of games against powerhouse teams they play with full gusto and they give their all. They support each other.  High fives are shared all around.  Encouragement is given to the girl in tears who needs a pick-me-up.  They stand and cheer when that made free throw in the 4th quarter cuts the loss to 39.  They are there for each other. 

They are a team.

I stay involved because this team inspires me.  They make me want to be better.  They provide me with motivation.  If I needed a reminder about the promise of the next generation, this team embodies that promise.

Our world has a way of celebrating the ‘winners’.  As a parent, and someone involved in youth development, we never want to see our children go through adversity.  However, there are few things more inspiring than when we see young people like these girls, challenged by adversity–meet it head on.  I am fond of telling my daughter, “If you were 17-0 and vying for the state championship, I do not know if I would be as proud of you as I am this year.”  The way this team has met this challenge makes them winners.  They may not see it today in the win/loss column, but in the game of life, I am certain that one day they will.

At Wilderness Adventures, the outdoors offers a slice of this adversity.  It challenges us and offers us a chance to respond and grow from our response.  While I wish I could clear the trail for all my children, I know they need to struggle at times to grow.  The benefits will be long lasting.  I encourage anyone who doubts our next generation to observe kids on a WA trip…or take in a Jackson Hole Girls High School basketball game to witness firsthand the promise this generation inspires.

The team has a theme that has been central to who they are all season.  It is ‘I see you’.  The girls and coaching staff say this to one another when they do either the little things in basketball or the big things in life.  

Well girls, I see you.  

More importantly, anyone who has tracked your story and been inspired by your team; They see you!