The title and home page of this blog is "My Losing Season" stolen from Pat Conroy's account of the Citadel's 1966-67 season when he served as the team's point guard. And while we consistently write about the College of Southern Idaho and its national championship (See Link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2012/03/still-fighting-in-scenic-west.html), the longest winning streak's to start a season at the division I college level (See Link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2011/12/undefeated-teams.html) , the "Cinderellas" in the NCAA Tournament like Davidson and Butler (See Link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2008/03/davidson.html), and the high schools with the most state championships we cannot ignore the teams that lose. Every game has both a winner and loser. It's the loser that nobody writes about and that's Conroy's and one of the main points of this blog.
For in every game that their is a team that we call a winner there is a losing team. What benefit can they take from these contests?
Winning makes you think you'll always get the girl, land the job, deposit the million dollar check, win the promotion, and you grow accustomed to a life of answered prayers. . . Loss is fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, coldhearted but clear-eyed in it understanding that life is more dilemma than game and more trial than free pass. My acquaintance with loss has sustained me during the stormy passages of my life when the pink slips came through the door, when the checks bounced at the bank, when I told my small children I was leaving their mother, when the despair caught up with me, when the dreams of suicide began feeling like love songs of release. It sustained me when my mother lay dying of leukemia . . .(Pat Conroy)
Yesterday, I drove six hours round trip in a car with a pair of other officals and officiated two games involving Pinedale High School in Pinedale, Wyoming -- a basketball wasteland. The Wranglers boys team is 0-9 this year. A year ago they won one game, going 1-24. Over the past three years the Wranglers have a combined record of 1-57 with a sole victory against Jackson Hole in January of last year. There have been three coaches during those three seasons (all coaches that I would argue understand the game). This losing would not be so troublesome except for the fact that Pinedale High School was the zenith of my playing ability, it's where I formed relationships with many of the people I still call friends and it's where I learned to love the game of basketball. I am an alum of the school, the same way Pat Conroy is an alum of The Citadel, so I understand the basketball program and the town better than most anyone. When I officiate their contests against Star Valley, there is nothing that I can do (nor would I try) to impact the result of their game against Wyoming's top 3A rated team (Star Valley) on January 5th.
We have addressed the phenomenal difficulties of winning basketball games in ski towns previously (see link on Park City High School: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2007/01/no-jimmy-chitwood-in-park-city.html). Pinedale, Wyoming is perhaps even more challenged.
First, three years ago a new ownership group took over the ski area that sits above town, and although not Park City, they brought a new found enthusiasm to the sport in a town that has only 2500 residents. (http://www.whitepineski.com/).
Besides the state of the art gym that the Wranglers play in, the natural gas boom that hit the area ten years ago has provided dollars to the school district and county that have been used to produce other activites that take away a youths interest in basketball. There is an indoor hockey arena (Pinedale Glaciers link: http://www.pinedaleglaciers.com/) which provides free ice time to local high school and junior high players (I doubt you will find this anywhere else in the continental United States), an aquatic center with an Olympic size swimming pool (See link for aquatic center information: http://www.pinedaleaquatic.com/thepac/Home.html), a state of the art "wrestling room", and a new theatre for drama performances (Pinedale Fine Arts: http://www.pinedalefinearts.com/).
Finally, Pinedale, Wyoming features some of the best summer activities in the country that take more time away from any potential interest in basketball. The neighboring Wind River Mountains provide fishing, hunting and climbing opportunities that have produced some of the top outdoorsman in the country. The National Outdoorleadership School bases itself out of Lander, but the Wind Rivers are its real home. (See link to sign up: https://www.nols.edu/portal/admissions/open/catalog_request/). The world's top rock climber honed his skills while living in Pinedale (http://www.toddskinner.com/).
This is only complicated the fact that Pinedale High School features one of the lowest enrollments of any school classified as 3A by the Wyoming High School Activities Association (with approximately 250 students). By comparison, Saturday's opponent -- Star Valley features one of the largest enrollments at the 3A level, with over 650 high school students.
On this Saturday both the jayvee and varsity boys' games as well as the varsity girl's game implement Wyoming's new 40 point rule where if a team gets ahead by 40 points a running clock is utilized. Arguably, this only adds insult to the injury as midway through the third quarter, Star Valley's public address announcer blares out that "Wyoming has instituted a new rule with a running clock when a team gets ahead by 40 points." As if the Pinedale players and fans needed a public declaration of their struggles.
As I write this, at this same time, Pat Conroy's alma mater, The Citadel, finds itself ranked 345th out of the 346 teams that play division I basketball (http://kenpom.com/) with its lone Division I victory coming against equally militarily challenged VMI in its opening game. We have previously addressed the challenges that come with coaching college basketball at a military academy (see link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2007/01/air-force.html). Conroy writes, "Winning basketball games in a military college is as perilous a way to earn a living as exists in American coaching."
I doubt Conroy was aware of Pinedale High School's challenges.
I don't have answers. I can only fall back on what Conroy writes above, that somehow these losses and the players that endure them will take something from them for later in life, something that will provide more resolve, give them more tenacity, learn lessons that might help them deal with disappointments that will undoubtedly come to them, as they come to all humans, better than those kids that are experiencing the victories against them.