Amy Donaldson: These stories help us celebrate the true heart of sports

Published: Sunday, June 3 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Skyline Head Coach Roger Dupaix coaching for his 300th win watches his team from the sideline as Skyline and West Lake Play Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 at Skyline.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the wide, wonderful world of sports, we are champions when it comes to celebrating excellence.

Whether we are former competitors ourselves or fans just struggling to chew gum and work the universal remote at the same time, we love winners. And we're not afraid to show our affection in loud, loyal, even irrational ways.

And while I applaud these accomplishments and even share the awe of my colleagues who recognized these young athletes, I want to make sure we don't leave this prep season without recognizing some of those who may not have hoisted a trophy this year but have moved, inspired and challenged us with the way they used the game to become better human beings.

In no particular order, these are my favorites. (Feel free to add your own magnificent moments in the comments section.)

1 — If I had to pick one single moment that made me proud to be a sports writer it would be talking with the Bryce Valley girls basketball team about a gesture from their 1A rival that epitomized sportsmanship. Rich High defeated Bryce Valley in the first round of the girls 1A state basketball tournament, and then the girls asked the Mustangs if they could wear their warm-up shirts before their next game. That's because the Mustangs were playing for Steve Pollock, who passed away from cancer just after the basketball season ended. His daughter Makelle was a junior guard on the team and they told Steve they'd win a title for him. They didn't win a title. But they finished sixth (with a win) and dedicated their effort to him. The Rebels wore the shirts as a show of support and in doing so reminded us that the best part of competition doesn't have to be the score.

2 — Two stories this year reminded me that sports can transform us. Courtney Starks had always struggled with her weight until she saw an opportunity emerging on her high school basketball team. Syracuse High is no ordinary team, but Starks proved she's no run-of-the-mill girl. Shy but hard-working, Starks lost weight and improved her game so much she became a key reason the Titans went undefeated and won a state title in February. Priscila Santos was playing basketball on an outdoor court in Brazil one evening when a coach from UVU-Price offered her the chance for an education and a better life. She became one of the country's leading scorers and the conference's player of the year and, of course, was humble enough to credit God and her coaches for her success.

3 — It was Jameson Hartman and Haley Hall Steed who reminded us that sometimes pain and heartache are just preparing us for something great. Hartman was injured during soccer season and missed most of his senior season. Even when he was physically able to play, he had to share time with the younger players who'd taken his position while he was healing. And then, when it looked like Logan would end the season with its first loss in the 4A state championship game, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from his best friend, D.J. Nelson. Steed tore her ACL three times (twice in one knee, once in the other), but she did not give up her childhood dream of playing college basketball. She worked hard and taught us all that perseverance isn't just a cool quote or a lovely sentiment. It's what you do if you want to succeed. She led the Cougars to the NCAA tournament and led the WCC in assists in her senior season.