Always being the underdog
This last week I had a chance to brave the famed I-25 corridor in the midst of a snowstorm. Not because I wanted to joyride or because I had a sense of the macabre with all the vehicles parked in the median… on their roofs.
Guernsey’s JV basketball team was traveling to neighboring Glendo. Due to COVID and low numbers at Glendo High School, there hasn’t been a boys team for two years. This year there are only 7 boys in the entire high school.
Of those 7, six boys out for the team and veteran coach Jen Eller is excited about the numbers and the opportunity to coach the varsity boys.
“I’ve coached for 37 years,” she said. “I have coached girls varsity and boys JV, but this is the first time for me coaching boys varsity ball. It’s a little more intense and the skills level is a bit higher. All the games I have scheduled so far are against sub-varsity level.”
There are a lot of good teams here in Platte County. I mean VERY good. But there is a jewel of a team that I’ve uncovered in Glendo that simply blew me away with their positive attitudes and their will to find joy in the camaraderie of each other. Oh, and it has nothing to do with a final score.
These kids didn’t necessarily choose Glendo. It wasn’t perhaps their initial desire to have only 7 boys in the entire high school. But these are kids who are going to succeed in life because they have learned to play the cards they’ve been dealt. No whining. No complaining. No wanting out when life gets overwhelming. No excuses.
I don’t know if I could do it. I coached for over 40 years and have had some good teams and some bad teams. This Glendo team, however is always, without a doubt in every game they play, the underdog.
They have only six boys on the varsity team and a special schedule has been set up so that the games are competitive. They have a coach who has never coached varsity boys basketball before, although she has coached boys at a much younger level.
With each game they learn. They learn how to accept their lot. They learn how to keep each other encouraged. They learn that there is no defeat, but only a school of learning.
When I got a chance to talk with the team after the game last week I sat in the locker room after they had lost to Guernsey 34-17. I didn’t sit with underdogs as I thought underdogs should be considered. I instead felt as if I was sitting in a locker room full of champions.
I decided to interview the team. To find out their secret. I mean, they can’t have a kid sick and if they do, they play anyway. One game two players fouled out and they ended the game with four players on the court. They haven’t played competitively in two years because they just didn’t have the numbers. They’d go to other gyms of their peers and watch the large teams and the competitive games and the finely honed skills and they had the audacity to smile and remain grateful.
Their answers to my questions floored me.
I watched them lose. I watched them down in the score and picking up their opponents off the floor and walk out of their way to fist bump an opponent at the free throw line. I saw them actually encouraging and complementing the other team while the game was going on. How did they do it?
Braydin Swaner answered my question as to how they keep a positive attitude in the losses. I mean, they have not won one all year long.
“It’s just a part of the game,” Swaner said. “A positive attitude is a positive outlook. Part of it is the 100% encouragement from our coach.”
Morgan Hamar… how do you get psyched up to even walk on the court?
“I think it’s the fact that we really haven’t had a team for two years,” Hamar said. “It’s technically the fact of being able to play as a team. A real team. This is something that we’ve all wanted for a really long time and now that we’re being able to go out there and do it, and I think we have a chance to win a couple games. We just have to keep a positive attitude.”
How many have you won? “None,” said Hamar. How many games have you played? “A lot,” said Hamar.
Coach Jen Eller says that the boys live for those games where they can be competitive and actually be in the game.
Ryder Asbury said, “We know that it’s just a fun game and just to be playing in it we all get excited. It doesn’t really matter the score because we’re together and we’re a team. And we’re family.”
It still means something for these kids to put the uniform on. To have that number on their back and the name Glendo.
One of the younger players, JJ Bush said, “It’s awesome to be able to represent our home and our town. Every time we put that uniform on, it’s what we do. So, if we hang our heads, it doesn’t represent who we are.”
From the mouth of babes.
Charlie Knapp said, “Win or lose, we always do our best and we do it with our heads up. If one of us gets down or mad, I like to just calm them down and tell them to keep playing hard. It’s all about good sportsmanship.
Each team is made up of different personalities. Junior CJ Miller was and has been among Glendo’s leading scorers and he says that sometimes he takes it too hard.
“Sometimes I get worked up,” he said, but I can always count on these guys and they come up and tell me that it’s only a game and it’s all good…. we’re out here having fun. It gets frustrating sometimes when they keep egging us on and being a little mean about it, but there’s not much you can do, you just have to keep your head up and play the best you can.”
Coach Eller says that she has to get her thinking cap on a little more at this level of play because it’s a higher level and a faster game. She is a coach that expects perfection in the attitude and compassion in the skillset. She is a good coach. I say that because when I hear her talk she doesn’t act like she has all the answers. They say that a kid can be great if he or she is coachable. The same goes for coaches. Eller remarked that after 37 years, she’s always learning something new.
The team also realizes that there are other small teams all across America facing this kind of adversity.
Hamar said, “The advice I’d give to other teams facing what we face is, I know it’s hard. Without a bench it can get exhausting but you need to push through it and be with your team. I mean, if you remain good friends with your team and you communicate with them, you play and function so much better when you’re not mad at each other.”
“My advice to another team would be, There is no such thing as a loss,” Knapp said. “Just a learning experience. Then you take the “L” off and it’s what you do. You earn it. If you learn it, it’s because you earn it.”
“When you walk away concentrating on what life taught you, you can walk away feeling good about yourself,” Miller said. “Even if it’s just small things. Whether it’s communicating better or learning to work together as a team. At the beginning of the year we didn’t really have much communication. Yeah, we’re all friends because it’s such a small school, but we have worked hard to communicate and it’s more fun now.”
This is not a spoiled team. It is not an entitled team. It is not a selfish team. They’ve been humbled by circumstance, but not never defeated. With a team spirit like this, they don’t know how to lose. And if you tell them they lost, save your breath. They won’t believe you anyway.
Kinda reminds me of an Apostle that wrote in the midst of his adversity and called himself more than a conqueror.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”
It’s a magical team. It’s a fun team to watch. And it’s a team that has to remember, everyone cheers for the underdog.