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More than a game: Sports, competition helped Gov. Herbert become who he is

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 10:34 p.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert has become a competent golfer, just one of many sports he enjoys.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of weekly stories that examine the influence participating in youth and high school sports had on the lives of successful people.

SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't a state title or MVP moment that gave Gov. Gary Herbert his most memorable moments as a high school athlete.

Instead, it was the heartbreaks, the challenges and just the camaraderie and association with his teammates that have remained important and defining experiences for Utah's governor.

"I wish I could say we won the state championship," said Herbert who played baseball, basketball and football at Orem High School from 1961-1965. "We always came up short, so I have some sad memories of not quite getting it done."

The fact that some of those most memorable high school sports moments were losses doesn't mean they had a negative impact on Herbert.

"I think you learn from your losses as well as from your victories," said Herbert. "You learn that you can give it your best shot, work hard, leave it all on the field, and as they say, let the chips fall where they may. If you do that, if you give it your all, you can feel good, even about losing."

So much of life, he realized through participating in sports, is outside of our control.

"Sometimes it really is how the ball bounces," he said. "It's kind of the luck that comes along with competition."

It was an injured kicker that caused them to miss — and lose by — an extra point. It was a blocked field goal, a missed catch.

"It really is a game of inches," he said. "They don't block that punt and maybe we win the game. But if you're going to have success, you're going to have to realize you'll have some defeats too. That's part of life, overcoming those defeats, those obstacles."

Herbert was a naturally athletic young man, but he was small. He earned the respect of coaches and teammates, as well as his starting spots, through hard work.

"I just always liked sports," he said. "My dad was an athlete, my uncle was an athlete, and I was probably encouraged or at least saw them enjoy sports. But I played because I was pretty good at it and it was fun. Kids look for fun and playing sports was fun for me."

Herbert was the beneficiary of two fathers.

"My biological father was a great athlete, and he was a star athlete at American Fork High," the governor said. "My step-father was a little guy. He was smaller than I was, but he really liked sports. He was a great fan, and he encouraged me. He'd go out and throw the ball with me, and he coached me in Little League. So I got encouragement from both my fathers, but I liked doing it. It wasn't a hard sell."

Herbert was smaller than many of the boys he was competing against for playing time. It was a work ethic his step-father instilled in him that helped him become a better than average athlete.

"He used to have a phrase, and I have used it many times," he said, laughing with some of his staff members. "It applies to many areas of life. He was the hardest working guy I ever knew, and his slogan was, 'Work will win when wishy-washy wishing won't.' That was kind of the attitude with sports. I didn't have a lot of natural ability, and I wasn't a big person. But I worked hard."

His hard work earned him the starting quarterback position for the Tigers' football team, the point guard and team captain for the basketball team, and the team captain and pitcher/third baseman in baseball.

Herbert is adamant that there are many ways to learn the lessons of hard work, determination and teamwork. He points out that playing in a band requires similar skills to be successful. (He was also a trumpet player in high school.) Still, there is something unique about the physical demands of sports.

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