Amy Donaldson: There is a difference between standing up for oneself and complaining

Published: Sunday, March 25 2012 10:15 p.m. MDT

Part of competition is understanding that it will not be easy, that it will be painful and that the experience may be disappointing.

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LEAMINGTON, Millard County — The story begins with two brothers heading out on a country road for a training run.

Dane and Tyler Nielson live in Leamington, which is about 20 miles from Delta. The teenage twins are competitive, driven and determined — so understandably, neither wants to be the first to turn and head for home. The boys, who are three-sport athletes at Delta High, continue pushing each other until they have traversed the 20 miles from their hometown to the high school track where they compete each spring.

Once there, they decide they are so close to the 26.2 miles required by a marathon, they jog to the track and finish their own personal race.

It's a story that has become legend among Delta residents who repeat it as an anecdote about how tough the residents of this tight-knit community are.

Tyler Nielson confirms it isn't true. It is something the brothers have discussed, maybe even something they'll attempt. But the truth of the story doesn't matter to those who call Millard County home.

The story has come to illustrate something important about a community that might be over looked by outsiders, if it wasn't for the ability of its residents to beat the odds.

They embrace pain because they understand suffering is an inevitable, even integral, part of sports and life.

And that ability to understand pain is part of the process, even part of the reward, has made them the kind of people who let their actions speak for them. They don't need to tell you how tough they are, how much they've overcome, how hard they work — they just do it.

This culture of hard work helps them deal with life as it is, not life as they wish it were. While much of the modern world struggles with a sense of entitlement, this community manages to convince even its youngest residents that nobody owes you anything you don't work for.

So it seems interesting that this community is at the center of a movement to create another classification in high school sports. The most common criticism of an idea that was approved by the UHSAA's Board of Trustees last week is that it waters down competition.

Having six classifications in football makes it too easy for a team to win a title. After all, shouldn't being the best be so challenging that hoisting a trophy is something special, rare and worthy of our admiration?

Part of competition is understanding that it will not be easy, that it will be painful and that the experience may be disappointing.

So how is it that this community, which epitomizes the attitude that a person can do anything with enough hard work and determination, is at the center of "watering down" the competition?

Because even David can't beat Goliath if he doesn't get an opportunity to enter the arena.

It isn't an attempt to make their lives easier. It isn't an effort to dilute the competition. It's an issue of fairness.

There is a difference between standing up for oneself and complaining. And as the smallest 3A school for the last 17 years, parents, coaches and administrators decided two years ago that they couldn't suffer in silence anymore.

"People don't like to be seen as whiners," said Ken Nielson, father of the Nielson twins and five other children. "But they like to be dealt with fairly."

He said they were reluctant to protest earlier or more often because at some point complaining becomes an affliction that can affect generations.

"A lot of people just realize that when you complain, it becomes infectious," he said. "We want our kids to believe they can achieve what they want, what they work for. I think people realize you make your case for fairness, and then you deal with the cards your dealt. The negativity, at some point can become unproductive."

So Delta officials presented their case, and frankly the case of a half dozen rural schools in the same situation, and they won.

Some urban schools disagree. Some believe the effort will just make it easier for schools like Delta, Juab or Carbon to compete. And to some degree it will.

But competition doesn't mean fighting an un-winnable battle. It doesn't mean David has to face Goliath every contest.

The reality is that the residents of Delta are proud of the Nielson brothers, and those like them, for what they actually do. Dane finished second in the wrestling state tournament and Tyler finished third in the state. Both helped the football team to a quarterfinal berth.

And while hard work, determination and fairness are all important traits of the best competitors, hope is just as critical an ingredient accomplishing something great.

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