Behind the lines…Success is never final, and failure is never fatal, it’s courage that counts

“Well, Grant,” Sherman said to his friend,” We’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

“Yes,” said Grant, “Lick ‘em tomorrow though.”

That is as succinct an explanation of the true nature of competition as I’ve ever heard.

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The Union Army was smashed, almost driven into the river by Lee’s forces on the first day of the battle of Shilo. They regrouped the second day and fought largely to a standstill.

We live in an era far different than the ideals expressed by these two dogmatic military leaders. The “everybody gets a trophy” crowd has weakened an entire generation. You can’t blame the kids. Youngsters will always respond to how they are raised and meet what is expected of them. But lately, all those hovering, snowplow parents have made it very tough for their children to compete and will ultimately wonder why they’re living in the basement as adults. These kids will soon realize that the world is a mean and nasty place and mommy just can’t run for the board and fire the coach

Competition is one of the cardinal themes of athletics. You compete, or you fail, that’s it. You can’t call your mommy to make the bad man go away, you can only accept the challenge, or fall to it.

I see the effects of competition a lot as a sportswriter.

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Last Thursday’s game at Pavillion was a classic rivalry. Wind River hit Shoshoni in the mouth, (sometimes literally) in taking an early 14-6 lead. The Wranglers came back to win it 25-14. Yes, it was competitive, yes there were far too many turnovers by the Cougars, and penalties and injuries played a role as they always do in tight high school football games.

The difference came in something the boys, and their coaches had no control over.

Shoshoni was forged in fire entering the game, and Wind River was tested only once. When you have teams as evenly matched as these two are, that makes a huge difference.

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The Wranglers opened with undefeated East 9-man champion Pine Bluffs at home. They fell in a close game for their only loss of the season. But they had a few other tough teams before they made that 28-mile trip to Pavillion last week.

Rocky Mountain gave the Wranglers everything they wanted in a 28-20 Shoshoni win. The Grizzlies like the Cougars turned the ball over too much and Shoshoni took advantage.

Naysayers would claim the Wranglers were lucky, “Bull pucky,” as Col. Potter of MASH would say. You make your own luck. Hard-hitting and opportunistic defense created most of those turnovers.

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Shoshoni had another challenge in upstart Big Piney. No one knew how good the Punchers might be after they dropped from Class 2-A 11-man to 9-man this season. They reached the 2-A playoffs a year ago and graduated half their team. It didn’t matter, this squad plays tough. They beat Rocky by four points in a slugfest, and Shoshoni edged them 28-24 via a conversion run and a pair of conversion kicks. The Punchers tallied equal numbers of touchdowns with Wind River and Shoshoni but lost both games.

Wind River came to the game last week with five blowouts, and one challenging game in Big Piney.

The state sets the schedule, not the local schools so it was the luck of the draw.

Big Piney drew the right cards in hosting all three of the other conference contenders at home.

Rocky on the other extreme played at Shoshoni, at Big Piney, and will play Thursday at Wind River.

The Wranglers had the edge because of the competition they faced to get there. Wind River was on the cusp of blowing open the game early, but Shoshoni withstood the initial assault and came back.

Competition, a dirty word to the “woke” crowd but something we all must eventually accept or shy away from in our adult lives.

Last March a very good Dubois basketball team rode the crest of 20-straight wins, but they hadn’t faced much competition along the way. Rams head coach Kyle Miller lamented the lack of competition and wondered how it would affect his boys at the state tournament.

Upton, the east region champion, and the eventual Class 1-A state champ had a few more challenging games with Class 2-A teams in the region. It was enough to overcome the talented Rams in a close title game.

People often speak of unbeaten seasons, of dream teams, and all the hoopla that accompanies that kind of hype. The truth is, every one of those championship teams had to face challenges on the road to the title.

My only state championship as a head coach came with a team that finished 16-8 overall. Not exactly a dream season, but we came home with a state trophy with a net on it, after entering the tournament with only a 12-8 record. We won four straight when it counted the most.

The competition in the Five Rivers Conference in 1987-88 was incredible. Many of the coaches of those other teams remain my friends, as do the boys, who played against us.

We finished fourth in the conference tournament behind champion Riverside, runner-up Lovell, and those pesky Wyoming Indian Chiefs who are always in the mix.

Add to the list two very good teams who could have placed at state in Rocky Mountain and Greybull, and you get the idea of how challenging it was. We split we everyone except the Chiefs and Wind River that season. We played them close three times but couldn’t pull out a win against Wyoming Indian. We swept Wind River in one of the Cougar’s down years.

At state, we blew out Big Piney in the opening round, rolled over Riverside in a bumper match. They beat us in double-overtime at home and we beat them by two in Basin, then battled to a one-point win over Lusk in the semi-finals.

If not for the competition of the regular conference season, we most likely wouldn’t have handled the Tigers. The title game was an easy 22-point blowout of Mountain View.

Competition, a blessing, and a curse.

It’s a blessing if you step up to the plate and face it, it’s a curse if you shy away. If you do shy away, you’ll regret it forever.

Winston Churchill knew a little about competition and the difference between success and failure. As a young politician, he organized the mass killing of 46,000 young English, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers in suicidal frontal assaults at Gallipoli. His reputation was blemished forever, and his career nearly ended on the bloody Turkish cliffs.

But later, as more of us remember, he faced down Hitler in England’s finest hour.

A Churchill quote often came to mind each night after a game whether we won, or whether we lost.

“Success is never final, and failure is never fatal, it’s courage that counts,” he once said.

The courage to compete, to stand in the spotlight and win or lose on your own merits. Competition.

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