There is so much emphasis on winning, it can be easy to forget that they're still kids. Sure, referring to them as young men or women certainly applies, but ultimately, they're teenagers chasing dreams.
Let's also not overlook the time and dedication given by high school coaches for minimal compensation. They coach for the love of the game and a commitment to better the lives of their players. It's not for recognition or monetary gain. At least not for the majority.
I was reminded of these realities during the last few weeks of the high school basketball playoffs, specifically Friday night a long way from home.
For the last four seasons, I've covered the varsity basketball career of Casey Hoover at Greencastle-Antrim. He came on as a poised freshman before developing into the confident senior who led his team to the state tournament. Along the way, Hoover scored more than 1,300 points while serving as a shining reflection of the program.
In the closing seconds of Friday's loss to Upper Merion, G-A head coach Rick Lewis fittingly pulled Hoover for a ceremonial final time, drawing an ovation — and teary eyes — from the Blue Devil faithful who made the three-hour trip.
Upon leaving the floor, Hoover stopped to embrace Lewis. Player and coach, saying goodbye without speaking a word. After a few seconds, Hoover took a seat with his teammates, placing a warmup shirt over his head.
As I watched, a genuine feeling of sadness crept in. My eyes got a little heavy followed by an uneasiness in my stomach. And, the only thing I've done is write about the kid. I have no personal relationship to Hoover or his family. I just know Casey was another Hoover who gave me plenty of positive content.
In that moment Friday night, however, it was like watching emotions overtake one of my close friends. Hence, why I was reminded of the purity of high school sports.
Here was a four-year varsity starter — who's the student-athlete on every coach's wish list — realizing that his high school playing days were over. Not only did it hit Hoover hard, it hit anyone associated with the blue and gold in a way few things can, drawing pure, raw emotion.
The pain of G-A's run coming to an end could be seen on Lewis' face in my postgame interview. In his own words, he wasn't upset that the Blue Devils lost, but that he would not be able to coach this 2016-17 group the following day. There was a tangible chemistry shared between this team, something that is difficult to achieve and maintain at this level, especially when the campaign reaches the month of March.
I admired that about these Blue Devils. Much like I admired Hoover's exit to what has been a sensational career.