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Amy Donaldson: Whether Olympics or 1A basketball, the struggle is just as beautiful, the lessons just as valuable

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 11:27 p.m. MDT

And I guess that’s how I feel about transitioning from covering the Olympics to covering prep hoops. Whatever the level, they’re simply trying to do their best, to be their best and it's a joy to watch that effort. Whether it’s a gold medal or a tiny piece of basketball net that they’re working for, it’s what gets them up early and carries them through setbacks, disappointments and maybe even thoughts of giving up altogether.

The only difference between the boys I wrote about this weekend and the Olympians I wrote about last month is the stage on which they compete. The pressure, the doubt, the heartbreak, the exhilaration feels the same.

Those who’ve played sports at multiple levels say that emotions associated with competing intensify as they move into more elite levels. Their skill level is certainly greater, and sometimes that in and of itself is a privilege to witness.

But for a writer, all that matters is what those athletes, those coaches and, in many cases, those communities are experiencing at that moment. Whether it’s a prep contest in a town of 90 people or a world championship, I hope simply to capture where they are at that moment and how those of us who love and admire them might share in that accomplishment.

I never thought to compare the assignments until I was asked about it. Frankly, covering the Winter Olympics is my favorite assignment. But second to that is covering the 1A girls and boys basketball tournaments each winter.

And while the competitive struggle feels similar, regardless of the level of the games, the energy at the event is certainly unique during these smallest-school tournaments.

As Tabiona head coach Lee Gines said, this isn’t just about sport.

“In 1A basketball, it’s different than big schools,” he said. “This is our family. A lot of people come down here on vacation time. ... It’s kind of a family reunion.”

The tournaments in Richfield become something of a family reunion. They remember the names of my children, they ask about my parents, and they offer me dinner at their homes.

I’ve watched their children grow up, and they’ve trusted me to tell their stories.

Seeing those girls sitting at that table raising money for a teenage girl, who never got a chance to feel the thrill of competing at a state tournament, became a daily reminder of why this assignment will always be special to me.

I watched the Monticello players cut down the nets after winning the 1A boys title while simultaneously seeing the Panguitch players leaving in tears, and I was also reminded that life is a series of heartbreaks and celebrations. Some days are so amazing, you wonder if anything will ever feel that fantastic again. And then you suffer through agony so intense, you’re not even sure you will survive.

But joy returns and beautiful moments overwhelm us, sometimes when we reach for them and sometimes when we least expect them. To compare them is probably natural and sometimes maybe even beneficial. But to do so with too much intensity can also diminish their individual beauty.

Twitter: adonsports EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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