John F. Russell: When winning isn't everything

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Winning may not be the most important thing in sports, but you can't deny that it plays a vital role.

Everybody wants to follow a winner. When a team is on a winning streak, its fans come out of the woodwork to display their love in the form of T-shirts, bumper stickers and ball caps. Sure, there are plenty of fans who love their teams through the bad times, too, but have you ever noticed how many more there seem to be when the team is winning?

I would like to say that winning and losing doesn't make a difference in how we cover teams at the newspaper. I would like to say that we cover every team and every athlete regardless of how many games they win, and that it doesn't matter how successful an athlete is in his or her chosen sport.

But the truth is that winning teams and athletes tend to get more coverage from their hometown newspapers. It's the nature of the business, and it's easy to see that teams with winning records and teams that advance to the playoffs are always going to get more coverage.

I'm not proud of it, but most people who read the pages of our sports section understand that winning is to sports what carbonation is to soda. It doesn't add to the taste, but without it, sports would seem a little flat.

Sure we all love those heart-wrenching Cinderella stories in which the underdog beats the favorite in the championship game. But do we really love the "Karate Kid" because of the challenges Ralph Machio's character overcomes during his journey? Or do we love it simply because he was the guy holding the big trophy in the final scene of the movie?

I've written for years about the journey young athletes make from the start of the season to the final game, match or tournament. I'm a strong supporter of high school sports and the experience it offers to hundreds of young athletes in Routt County every year.

This month, athletes in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek will embark on a new journey -- one designed to let them learn and experience the joy and sadness that sports have to offer. They will be driven by the desire to win, and I hope they all make the playoffs and have a shot at a state title.

But I also hope that during their journies they will prove to me that sports is about a lot more than winning. I hope they will show me that it's about sportsmanship, teamwork and pride in their communities.

I hope someday that winning and losing will be put into perspective and that sports in our country once again will focus on the journey instead of the destination.

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