The Lone Peak Knights, and their fans, certainly didn't want their football season to end on Tuesday when they lost to Spanish Fork. There's a strong football tradition at Lone Peak, and losing is never an easy pill to swallow there.
But the Knights, and their close-knit following, have had much bigger pills to swallow in recent months. Not only did they suffer through a miserable season on the field, finishing with a 2-9 record and missing the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, but they've suffered through more than their fair share of off-field misery as well.
Lone Peak players and coaches are not excuse-makers, but they will forever look back on this football season as one that taught them many lessons about the game and one that taught them many lessons about life, and many lessons about where the game of football falls in the big picture of life.
Considering all that the Knights have experienced the past few months, Tuesday's season-ending loss and the eight that came before that, are pretty insignificant.
Often, high school athletes think losing a game is devastating. Eventually, most learn that there are bigger losses away from the game that are more devastating.
During the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, Spanish Fork players had to deal with the death of a teammate's brother and the death of a teammate's father. I saw how it affected each and every one of them personally. The Viewmont football team began this season with heavy hearts, losing their star running back and captain, Seth Fraughton, in a drowning accident. Lone Peak's players have had three members of their community pass away in the past six weeks.
When the Knights were in California playing Helix High in early September, 5-year-old Paige Amelia Grant, sister of Lone Peak defensive end Stefan Grant, was killed in a car accident on a California freeway. The team bus drove past the accident shortly after it happened, and players recognized the car involved.
Eleven days later, former Lone Peak star and BYU recruit Jason Long died after a year-long battle with leukemia. Long was an all-state player in 2004 and was one of the best defensive backs I've seen play in this valley. He remained close to the Knights program and had loads of good friends around the county. He was one of those people that everyone loved, and he was one of those players that every opponent and every coach respected. He was a class act on the field, and off. His death was very difficult on the Lone Peak community and his new teammates at BYU.
Early this month, Kevin Cummings, the loved father of Lone Peak lineman Chris Cummings, lost his long battle with cancer. His funeral was the third attended by Knights players in a month.
In junior high I attended the funeral of a classmate who died in an accident at the sand dunes, it was my first exposure to the death of someone I knew well. I have always remembered how difficult that was for me. It was one of my first looks at the big picture and one of the first times I realized that I was mortal. I attended only one other funeral in my three years of high school, and that was another tough event for me. From my own experience, I can only imagine how the three tragedies at Lone Peak have personally affected those players and coaches.
Sadly, the real important things in life often get lost in the heat of athletic competition, especially in high school. Even more sadly, it often takes tragedy to bring it all back into perspective. Everyone associated with Lone Peak athletics, and rightly so, likes to win and tries to win and they don't make excuses when they don't. But I'm pretty sure that when they walked off the field Tuesday night, that they knew they were winners in many other ways just like every player and coach who participates in all high school sports.All players and coaches eventually see that the relationships, experiences and friendships gained through competition are long lasting and forever cherishing even through death. Yes, the Lone Peak Knights finished 2-9 this season. But I'm pretty sure that the players, coaches and fans have never appreciated and loved each other more.