Coyote women give meaning to sport

Coyote women give meaning to sport
There's probably nothing that The University of South Dakota Coyote women's basketball team would desire more than the Division II NCAA championship trophy.

I thought about that a lot during the long drive home from Kearney, NE on Sunday.

With each mile on the highway, my perspective about last week's competition, especially the championship game, and sports in general began to change.

What I now know is this: I will never forget where I was on Saturday, March 29, 2008.

It is a date that has become seared in my memory. It is a time that I'll always be able to totally recall.

It is when the USD Coyotes battled the Northern Kentucky Norse in one of the best basketball game I'll likely ever see.

It is when I learned just a bit more about the true nature of women and men, of why we set out to climb Mt. Everest, of why we hurl astronauts into space, of why we quest to make the seemingly impossible a reality.

Women and men, in the right circumstances, under the right leadership, with the proper environment, and with an undeniable spirit, learn something remarkable.

They discover they can do just about anything.

That was revealed to the Coyote women early this basketball season. Once they stepped on a court, a certain magic happened. They became a unit, who knew each other's thoughts, strengths and weaknesses.

The result was nothing short of a miracle, a dream-like season that ended when the buzzer sounded to mark the conclusion of the Elite Eight championship game.

I had always thought of a sports season as merely a series of games, a rather monotonous practice of two teams meeting on a football court, a basketball court, a tennis court, a ball diamond … over and over again.

Why do we, as I mentioned earlier, quest to compete so?

James V. Schall notes that the Greek philosopher Aristotle remarked that play or sport is the closest thing most human beings come to contemplation, to the highest of human activities.

Sport perhaps lacks the "seriousness" of contemplating the highest things, yet it contains a liberty and a joy of its own that can only be had if we seriously engage in the play before us.

Play, by demanding all of our energies and skill to perform either badly or well, takes us out of ourselves. We are at our best when we are looking at something besides ourselves, in Schall's opinion. The best way to catch the meaning of ourselves as physical beings endowed with bodies is to watch those of our kind exerting themselves in the highest of athletic skills, to become hushed as the challenge unfolds, to cheer the play and the winner, to know that good players also lose, to see the spirit suffuse the flesh.

Aristotle knew of the Olympic Games and their religious and exemplary overtones concerning human limits and human beauty. He meant that play was something for its own sake, something that need not exist, something that was free.

But still play was put into being in order, Schall writes, to reveal the excellence and limits of the condition of man in his earthly human form when he is striving to be his best.

Games, according to Aristotle, reveal a different side of human excellence.

Watching the Coyote women play in Kearney last week, I began to realize that the only way to know the wonder of life itself is to live it, to engage in it, in its own order and its own time.

One must follow the example of the USD team and live life with the seriousness of joy that shows forth the excellence that is ours as we play.

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