AFTER THE WHISTLE

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— Fare thee well

I still remember the stiff, cool spring wind that ripped across the blue track at the Air Force Academy a couple of years ago.

It was late in the afternoon and I had just finished watching former Steamboat Springs high jumper Ron Schnackenberg place third at the Colorado Track and Field Championships which were held in Colorado Springs that year.

I approached him to get a few quotes for my story as he waited in the middle of the track for the high jump awards presentation.

As I talked with him I realized that he was reflecting on more than just this one meet, just this one finish. In his words I could hear the disappointment and a since of finality. Not about his finish but because this was his final event as a Steamboat Springs Sailor.

In the next couple of weeks, many more Steamboat Springs athletes will be faced with similar feelings. It's an annual right of passage in the life of a high school athlete. A passage that will be followed by another next fall when a new group of seniors steps in to go through the same year-long process.

As a reporter it is always fun, and occasionally a little sad, to watch these young athletes grow on the playing fields, courts and gyms at the high school. Somewhere between the words of a game story lies the true meaning of why these students choose to compete and it has very little to do with winning and losing or even state titles.

I know this because I've watched some of these young men and women rise up to claim state titles and others struggle with the knowledge they will never capture that ultimate goal.

But the thing that has always struck me is the way most Steamboat athletes carry themselves both in success and in failure.

I got to see first hand how the Sailors boys basketball team lost their starting guard, but still made a valiant stand in the state quarterfinals in Denver this year.

That was no less impressive than watching the members of the Steamboat Springs girls basketball team collect and give money to a Moffat County basketball player who was battling cancer. The players made the presentation in Craig in a short and very modest ceremony just before the game. They were not looking for recognition and they were not prompted by their coaches. It was a genuine act of class and one that impressed me more than any come-from-behind win.

How the Steamboat Springs athletes act in their own house and around the state is something that should make all the people who live in Steamboat Springs proud.

This year's group is no exception.

Their behavior is reason for the teachers, coaches and parents of Steamboat Springs to hold their heads high. It's the type of display that makes me want to raise my own children in this mountain town.

The sport really doesn't matter. This type of class seems common among Steamboat's basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, tennis, golf, lacrosse, volleyball, track, skiing and cross-country athletes. Sorry if I left any out it's hard to remember them all.

I've talked, listened to and written about many of these athletes at their highest and lowest points of the season. These student athletes have always given me the time and respect that makes me want to be a sports reporter. They have set an example that a few athletes at the professional level could learn from.

In the next few weeks these athletes will wrap up their high school careers and graduate from the halls of Steamboat Springs High School.

But what they will take with them will be more important than any title they could have won at state. The memories and lessons they learned will always be with them no matter where they go.

Next year a few of these Sailors will go on to play sports at the college level, and from what I've seen, they have already learned what they will need to be successful in their sport and in the classroom.

Good luck to the class of 2001.

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