What does it take to be a champion?
John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood”, who won ten national championships at UCLA including a record seven in a row created a pyramid of success to explain all the pieces that go into being competitively great when you “perform at your best when your best is required”. Wooden included building blocks for success not only on the court but in life as well.
The Wooden Pyramid of Success is one of many different publications on what it takes to be a champion. There are books by professors, coaches, psychologists, and self-help gurus that occupy countless shelves at Barnes and Noble Bookstores across the country.
During this past weekend at the State C Girls Basketball Tournament, you know the one where Belt won their fifth championship in six years, I began to think about what makes a team of girls from Belt the best in the State year after year.
It isn’t just the long hours the athletes put in every month of the year, or the supreme athleticism of some people on the squad, or great coaching which a team like Belt has an abundance of.
What makes champions are the extra miles that families, friends, coaches, and a community are willing to go.
Champions are made by the long drives parents make to take a group of fourth and fifth graders to AAU tournaments in the off-season. They are made by an assistant coach who buys a girl new shoes when her family can’t afford them. The bus driver who along with driving the athletes around the state keeps the scoring book religiously for every game as well.
Champions are made by community investment that starts when the knobby-kneed girls first start to practice together after school, they are made when a sizable group of community members turn out to cheer on a team that doesn’t score more than 20 points in a game when the basket seems almost out of everyone’s range, and they are made by the groups of older kids who inspire the younger members at games and then are willing to work camps on Saturday mornings.
Belt’s players wore shirts during the tournament that read, “Tradition Never Graduates.” In the case of the 8C power Belt Lady Huskies this phrasing rings true when you watch them play. Led by three seniors in Sara Anderson, Kassie Hoyer, and Kerstyn Pimperton the Huskies won the State Championship by 29 points over Arlee. But it was the plays made throughout the tournament by the underclassmen that mattered most.
It was the basket by Adielle Meissner, a steal by Shelby Paulsen, or the last basket of the State Championship made by Kolby Pimperton that got the Belt faithful going. As one group of three players walked off in their last games as high schoolers another group was there to take the reins. Champions were made by the ovation the crowd gave each player as they entered and exited the game.
In all reality, basketball is just a game. But the way a community rallies around their teams makes it so much more than that. From the elderly couple that travels a couple hundred miles to cheer on kids they’ve known since they were in diapers to the pep band that rocks away during the warm ups and halftime at tournament basketball in Class C towns is the extra intangible that makes 32 minutes of playing more than just a game.
As I sipped a refreshment with the Belt fans after their State Championship in Belgrade I listened and laughed at story after story of their girls. Mothers were handing out hugs and embracing the moment after they watched dreams come true for their daughters. Fathers were smiling as they tried to keep from choking up at the realization that their daughters were growing up faster than they anticipated. Older siblings talked about the glory days that didn’t seem so far away until they realized it had been years since they played in the biggest of games.
It was Americana, it was a painting you’d see by Norman Rockwell, it was what makes it all worthwhile.
It was smiles, laughs, hugs, and pictures that someday the young ladies of Belt High will stumble across. Years from now they will end up sitting cross legged looking through shoe boxes of old picture buttons, maroon and gold beads, and cutouts of their faces mounted on Popsicle sticks.
That’s when the phone will ring and Mom or Dad will answer and they will be transported back in time to the long drives across Montana with a minivan full of knobby-kneed basketball players.
Back to where champions were made.
Sean Ryan broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls.