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Sports gives us many lessons

A letter from Dirk DeCoy, the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference executive director, to all OVAC student-athletes and families:

I want to offer words of encouragement that might help you bring closure to this unfathomable and unfair end to our high school athletic season.

We have all suffered a great deal of loss in varying degrees during this sports year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the forefront are those who lost loved ones to the virus, to those families, our hearts go out to you. To all frontline and health care workers, we are so very proud of you.

To OVAC student-athletes, we are truly sorry your high school athletic careers ended so abruptly, however, be not mistaken, you are prepared for this. Everything you have learned from competing in sports will help get you through this setback.

From the first time you dribbled a basketball, played a Wiffle ball game, ran with a Nerf football, or participated in a relay race during school recess, you have been preparing for this moment in your lives.

Through sports, you have experienced first-hand “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” quite often within one week, maybe even within an afternoon. You have been knocked down and you raised yourself up from the ground. You lost a game today but then you won a game the next week. You cried tears of pain and you cried tears of joy.

Occasionally, you may have fallen short in achieving your goals, but then you set another goal. Game plans aren’t always executed properly, and games don’t always go as planned. Sometimes, you lose a game that you prepared long and hard to win, and if that happens, that doesn’t mean you’re a loser. All it means is that you lost a game today. Tomorrow will be different, for you will be more experienced and wiser.

Whether it’s a 30-second wrestling match or a three-month-long season of games, meets and matches, you aren’t defined by the wins and losses. It’s the out-of-season preparation and season long practices that define you. Your work ethic has been built by: your commitment to play an entire season without quitting, your dedication of going to practice every day, your perseverance of running and lifting weights, your discipline of getting out of bed on a Saturday morning then heading to a 7 a.m. practice in the middle of winter, your positive “Can Do” attitude, your strategic thinking and problem solving, your Refuse to Lose mentality, and your mental toughness of never giving up, all culminates to put you in position to “Do Your Job” successfully both on the high school field and in your professional careers. All of this, and more, that you learn from competing in sports and going to practice, truly defines you. You are all winners.

Losing one’s senior season happens more often than what you might think, however, this may be the first time something this drastic has ever happened in your sports career.

Many players suffer devastating injuries that unfairly steal away their senior seasons from them. Speaking from experience, my son lost his opportunity to play football and bowling at his home school his senior year just three short years ago as both programs were canceled. I was his varsity football coach throughout his high school tenure and missed my opportunity to coach him in his final season. We both made it through, and so will you and your families. Guaranteed.

Although events didn’t go as planned this spring season, I wanted to let you know that OVAC commissioners, directors and class representatives were ready for you. Each time the Ohio and West Virginia state athletic associations posted a revised regular season sports schedule, we were ready to conduct our spring tournament championships for you, just as we have done for the last 77 years. Our battle cry came from an executive board meeting when our OVAC president instructed us to “Get what we can get” in terms of doing whatever we had to do to conduct our tournament championships for you and your teammates.

Having to follow the mandates of two governors and two state athletic associations, we were held at bay until the state’s revised schedules were publicized and then we acted. At one point, we had a two-day window of opportunity to conduct a baseball championship, and we were ready if our number was called.

We made every effort to give you a tournament championship in all spring sports: baseball, softball, tennis, and track and field. All options were on the table and discussed. I’m sorry that things didn’t go as we had planned, as we had hoped. No one saw this coming, no one ever expected an entire sports season would be canceled. It is unprecedented and it is very unfortunate.

Because you lost so much this year, graduations, proms, and sports, we tried desperately to give you a certain degree of normalcy that sports provide. We know the importance of participating and competing in sports. We understand that your high school sports experience is a small piece of your life and livelihood, but what an important piece it is. We know your play under the lights is the culmination of every day you participated in any sport from your childhood years and up.

We also realize that for many student-athletes, it was the last chapter in your high school athletic career, and for you not to be able to compete, hurts very bad. There’s no substitution for being out on the field playing under the lights. This wasn’t in the game plan. We all would like an overtime period.

For parents, this was an end to the many years of Saturday morning practices, weeknight games, washing uniforms and practice jerseys, and numerous occasions of dropping off and picking up your sons and daughters from practice. Those proud parental moments of watching and rooting for your child in high school sports are now gone, and they left in a numbing and empty way.

You missed out on the closure of this very important chapter of your child’s life, and for that I am truly sorry. However, I know that many more proud moments are on the horizon as your kids become young adults. They will use every trait they learned from playing sports along with every trait you instilled in them, such as: dedication, desire, goals, perseverance, commitment, teamwork, pride, motivation, mental toughness, physical strength, and passion. Because of you maneuvering your way through their rigorous sports schedule over the past 12 years, you have led the way in forming your children into becoming productive citizens and contributors to society.

Unknowingly, you were making an investment in their future. It was time and money well spent.

I would like to thank the Ohio High School Athletic Association and West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission for their unwavering leadership in making hard decisions with the interest of safety for our student-athletes, families, and fans the foremost priority, as it should be. Please understand student-athletes, at this time you may have lost the battle, but your family, athletic directors, the OVAC, and all of your past coaches and teachers, have put you in a position to win the war … of life.

I also want to thank all of the parents, grandparents and even more generations of OVAC alumni who have previously competed in the conference or supported their young family members while competing in the conference.

But mostly, I want to thank all of the student-athletes who graduate this year and have competed in the OVAC over the last four years and that have been attending our events for even longer. You have provided your classmates, family, and the droves of fantastic high school sports fans many unforgettable sports memories during your time competing under the lights.

Lastly, in a short time many of you may be enrolled in colleges and universities, learning a trade, or starting a career. Some of you may be coaching teams from your alma maters and competing in the OVAC.

Eventually, more of you will be raising your kids in this beautiful Ohio Valley, then soon it will be your turn to pick up and drop off your kids at little league practices and Saturday morning lessons. Down the road, you’ll find yourself gleaming with pride as you watch your sons and daughters participate and compete in the OVAC, as several generations before you have. For many of us, sports truly is part of the circle of life. It goes by fast, so don’t blink.

Good luck in your future endeavors and congratulations graduates. Come back to see us.

–DIRK DeCOY

OVAC executive director

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