never give up

The Joseph Eagles girls basketball team seems to live and play by their motto, “It’s only impossible if you give up.”

‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

At a time when the world is fraught with trouble, it’s inspiring to pause and take a look at what Wallowa County’s high school athletes have accomplished. Indeed, we have champions in each and every school, and each and every sport — a feat rare in a county of barely 7,000 people and three schools. And we mean not only the champions who participate in state-level contests, although they are legion here: the stellar cross-country team, the Enterprise and Joseph/Wallowa wrestlers and the Joseph girls and boys basketball teams. We mean every one of those players who have given the season and their team their all. Because being champions is about much more than just getting the highest score.

Our students demonstrated winning attitudes. The Wallowa girls basketball team started the season fueled mostly on personal aspirations and the support and faith of their coach, and finished almost in the playoffs. It takes courage to do that, to lose a playoff-qualifying game by three points and see the win slip away in the last minute, and then come back stronger in the next season. Wallowa’s boys finished strong and ended the season playing as a team rather than a group of individuals. We will see good things there next year.

The Enterprise girls also gave us all a lesson in persistence, making the playoffs and then coming home from a game they almost won. We are proud of these teams for a great season, just as we are of all the student athletes who balance academics and sports, as well as work and family, to make a positive difference in the community.

Sports in this rural county are a community affair. It takes a village to play them. There are coaches and assistant coaches who devote endless hours to their teams and players and to the sport, student managers who keep track of equipment, ensure the court is clean and dry, and that the halftime music gets played, not to mention parents and families who support the team. There are not many here who are not in some way involved, even if it is just as a fan. You are all champions.

Throughout the season, the teams from Wallowa County have also played with fairness and sportsmanship. That’s evident from the 1A Old Oregon League Sportsmanship award to the Joseph boys basketball team, but it just as well could have gone to any other team in the county. These young men and women consistently help other players up off the floor, show concern when another team is injured, accept the ref’s calls, limit their on-court celebrations when they win and keep their tempers even when the going gets rough.

And let’s not forget that our basketball teams bound for Baker City this week are also teams playing without their own gym. Joseph’s gym is a charcoaled shambles, and it is only through the generosity, good will and support of Enterprise and Wallowa that the Joseph girls and boys teams have been able to pursue their remarkable seasons. That’s community and teamwork on a whole different level, and it’s wonderful to behold.

Of course there are other facets of schools and student activities equally, and for many, more important than sports — academics and vocational clubs for example — and not everyone is or wants to be an athlete. But this is the week of play-offs, and it’s a reminder of how much teamwork goes into these teams, and how much teamwork keeps Wallowa County going.

Good luck in Baker City, Joseph. And win or not, you and all your fellow athletes across seasons and across sports are champions in our eyes.

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