Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Sports Matter
An Open Letter to BYU-Hawaii Administrators

We probably looked funny, standing huddled as we were around a short old man. From a distance one might have seen him gesturing emphatically while a group of red-clad girls looked on attentively. Were it not for sports this situation would be highly unusual ;a  group of young girls spending extra curricular time being taught by a wise mentor.

"Lokahi," he barked gruffly, his soft Hawaiian voice saturated with a power and authority that reflected times long past. "It means balance. Mind.Body.Spirit." He made a triangle with his hands, turning toward each of us in turn so that we could take it in. One of us let out a half-giggle, we were young and silly and this was all so serious. The giggle stopped short though, when Coach's doe eyes met each of ours searchingly. We quieted, more than prepared or willing to listen, with one quick look we were told we needed to listen. We knew it.

He talked about balance, trying to teach us how to balance our lives so that athletics would not interfere with our academics or vice versa, but it was so much more than that. We'd started our practice with a prayer and this lesson was of a deep and eternal significance. We felt it. 

In today's world, sports are a balancing weight. As we scurry from errand to errand, sports force us outside whether we are watching or playing. It's the game that brings us together, gives us a sense of unity. For athletes , sports are a constant, a friendly and unchanging outlet that will welcome us back from wherever life has taken us. 

If you're not a sports person, you may have experienced the following thought process: "Sports are imaginary. They're made up. Every part of them is man-made. How can something so unreal have value?"  

To which I would argue that our realities are imaginary. Think about it; everyday you go to work and follow a set of rules , spoken and unspoken, which are completely made up. You exchange pieces of paper that are supposed to have value for actual goods. You come home and watch images flash on a screen and make meaning out of words on a page. Nearly every part of your life is unnecessary,unreal and yet right now you are sitting there insisting to yourself that each part of  it has meaning. It does. You give it meaning. You're life has worth and meaning and thus the unnecessary rules you choose to follow have meaning. 

Staged performances like sports, or music, or theatre are the practice of human's making meaning without the facade of "reality". We know it's "just" another race. There's no denying that someone is putting it on. With that out of the way, the complexity of the human experience can be viewed with picture perfect clarity. She starts the race. She stumbles. We groan with her ... and then a defining moment. It would be easy to simply quit, let the pack continue on as she ducks under the flags marking the course. We know it, she knows it. But, ahhh, we are crying with her as she gets up , the resolve in her eyes cluing us in to the fact that an inner battle has been won. She has chosen to give this race meaning and we all leave uplifted by her triumph. 

Sports have significance for BYU-Hawaii. For international students, they may represent a once-in-a-lifetime chance to showcase their talent or participate at all. For all of us, they have a lasting and important impact. BYU-Hawaii cross country is where I made lasting friendships, learned eternal truths, and met my sweetheart of a husband.

 I wasn't fast enough for BYU-Provo's travel team but I was fast. I had talent that deserved more development. I had scholarship offers from several other schools. Had I not been contacted by Coach K, I would not have attended a Church school. I wanted to continue my athletic career and knew I couldn't do it at Provo. I shudder to think about the learning and opportunities I would have missed if I had made a different choice. 

All Photos Credit to Katie Belliston

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