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Don't forget the bench players

   Whenever I get the opportunity to watch high school sports, I can't help but think about the days when I played sports teams in high school. I miss the days of playing football and baseball even though I maybe didn't play all the time. I wasn't a starter, as I rode the pine my high school sporting life.
   I took pride in being a part of a team, as it has helped me later in life in working with others and interacting with people in everyday life.
   In fact, I became good friends with the sidelines and benches in the respective sports I played. Sure, at the time, I probably was unhappy with my playing time in football, but as time has progressed I realize what hasn't killed my spirit, only has made me stronger.
   When watching girls basketball games this past weekend, both at the JV and varsity level, I saw some of the toughest basketball played, not just at the start of the game, but at the end. When the outcome was pretty much set and the starters were watching and cheering their teammates who have been watching and cheering them on in the previous 24 minutes of play, that was fun to watch.
   Trust me, I know what it is like to watch my teammates play for four quarters or seven innings and not even sniff the playing field, except for warm-ups or to jog onto the field to go to the locker room.
   A team is more than just one or two players. It is even more than the starting five, nine or 11, or 12 if you are playing football in Canada. (I know, weird rule). It is called a team because of each and every member who wears the jersey or uniform.
   One image in particular I keep remembering from this past weekend was a game last week when the McClain Lady Tigers cleared their bench, playing five backup players, and watching them hustle, beat and bang, diving after loose balls.
   Those players respected the game and played the game the way it was meant to be played. I am not by any means downgrading what the starters did to get their team and teammates to that point, but it is nice to see players who don't get much time on the court play with heart and determination. They played the game with respect. It was also pleasant to see the fans and fellow teammates notice how tough those players were playing and applaud them during the game as if it was tied with seconds to go.
   Isn't that what is great about team sports? Or sports in general?
   That is what I love about high school sports. The lessons learned in the game and by practicing hard, being there for teammates and just having fun, and respecting the game can last a lifetime.
   By the way, some of the most memorable NBA players came off the bench, including Kevin McHale, Bill Walton (toward the end of his career), Bobby Jones, John Starks, Toni Kukoc, and how can't you remember Detlef  Schrempf?
   Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson once said, "Any guy who can maintain a positive attitude without much playing time certainly earns my respect."
   I couldn't agree more.
   Stephen Forsha is the sports editor of The Highland County Press
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