John F. Russell: Steamboat looks like champs in Pueblo | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: Steamboat looks like champs in Pueblo

Saturday, the Colorado High School Activities Association handed out titles to the top young tennis players in the state.

But not all of the champions brought home trophies.

The tournament hosted 177 players, but it can recognize only 11 as champions. That includes three singles players and four doubles teams, who are rewarded based on how well they hit a little yellow ball in the course of three days.

In the end, the players were measured based on whether they could beat the player standing 78 feet away on the other side of the court, but there was much more at stake.

For three days, I watched these players put it all on the line, hoping to win one of those titles or at least walk away with some sort of hardware. I watched more than a few of the winners impress us all with how well they could play the game, and my share of losers who made their school proud as they endured the trials that make the 2008 State 4A Boys Tennis Tournament an event that all prep players aspire to reach.

Most of them handled the pressure of the matches like true sportsmen. There were a few who didn’t, and sadly, the impressions they left behind will define their school’s tennis programs for years.

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But the truth is, the state champions, and those who fell short, are separated by the narrowest of margins. It’s an area measured in the inches on either side of the white lines that define the court.

On Saturday, the winners were honored in front of a huge crowd at Pueblo City Park, after which they posed for photos for their parents, who snapped shots like Paris Hilton was in attendance. The players held the brackets that detailed their journey to glory and flashed smiles brighter than the neon signs that have made Las Vegas an international phenomenon.

It’s one of those warm and fuzzy moments that make high school sports so special. The newly crowned players deserve those titles after surviving the journey through the brackets that tried their skills, showcased their talent and tested their sportsmanship.

But years from now, long after we’ve all forgotten who won titles and who fell short, the other players, the ones who didn’t walk away with titles, still will carry the joys of the past three days.

They will recall the time they spent hanging out with their teammates between matches, or pushing their skills to reach a new level on the court. Hopefully they will remember the love and support of their parents and the cheers of their friends.

More than 170 players took part in last weekend’s tournament, and only 11 walked away with titles.

The players from Steamboat Springs were not among the few that were honored, but that doesn’t mean they walked away empty-handed, either. They all proved there’s more to being a champion than just bringing home a trophy.