By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
A column published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 11, 2009
Call me a loser, because in fact I like losing.
I was a starter on a JV basketball team that lost 16 times in 20 tries my sophomore year, I lost out on a $10,000 college scholarship by .04 of a grade-point and I’ve lost myself numerous times, only to have God bring me out a better man.
From my experiences you can either let losing eat you alive and turn you into a spiteful, regretful person or you can lose admirably and try hard to learn from failure.
On Monday night I saw the Hillsdale Hornets boys basketball team lose, but during and after the disheartening 60-32 district defeat at the hands of Coldwater I saw kids maturing and how losing can truly impart wisdom on individuals.
Take senior star Mitchell Gabriele for example. He is arguably one of the finest scorers in the greater-Jackson area, but he also has a tendency to let his über-competitive personality take over for the worse at times.
Getting thrown out of the first contest this season and sometimes taking poor shots out of frustration much to the dismay of his coaches are just two examples.
But if Monday night is any indication, he has matured the past few months and winning is still what drives him, but not what controls him.
In the midst of the worst shooting performance of his career, a 2-for-22 outing, Gabriele remained poised and just kept willing himself to get open and try to lead the troops back.
When he could’ve barked at the refs for not calling obvious contact he remained tight-lipped and prepared to go to work on defense; when his outside shot continued to rim out he started posting up and trying to get even better looks, instead of just hoisting up bad shots because the game was already decided.
“Yeah I was getting contact, but they were letting us play on both sides of the ball,” he said. “It is frustrating… anytime you shoot that bad when you’re averaging as many points as I am. When they’re not falling and they should be falling, and you’re trying to get your team back on top and trying to get the ‘W’ it’s very frustrating and it hurts.”
Yes losing hurts but no one should let it define who they are, and to his credit Gabriele quickly found the positive in the darkest of moments last night, something that’s not always easy after failing to meet expectations and letting down a rather passionate fan base.
“Toward the end of the season we had two back-to-back losses and this one kind of sticks a dagger to your heart. But you know, we played well the whole season and there are no regrets, we don’t regret anything, but it’s too bad we couldn’t pull out a ‘W’ tonight,” he said. “Like coach said earlier on, he was talking to people in the community and they were like ‘I think it would be good if you guys won five games’ and then we came out and won (14), so it feels good.”
Sometimes effort doesn’t equal results every time out in life, whether at work, in relationships or in striving for goals and the Hornets now know that all too well.
Head coach Brad Felix said the team executed his game plan to a near tee and he had no reason to yell at them, because missing shots, shooting 21.8 percent from the floor, was not a result of being undisciplined or ill prepared, it kind of just happened.
It is a reminder that we aren’t always in control of everything no matter how hard we try to and there are always unknown variables involved — such as Coldwater point guard Cameron Holicki (26 points, five assists) in Hillsdale’s case. Or just tough-luck rims or mounting pressure, pick your poison.
Senior Scott Lantis said it would’ve been nice to have gone out playing better and it wouldn’t have stung so much if they could have shot decent, but instead of looking at it as an end all he still gave credit to Felix for having them prepared and told it as it was without sugar-coating it.
“We’ve got some athletes here, we’ve got some players and if we would’ve gone out and shot well and they beat us, I think we’d have a little better taste in our mouths,” he said. “We had the looks, the game-plan was there, but you can’t coach shooting and like coach said, we weren’t trying to miss. The game-plan was perfect, coach had us ready, we just couldn’t finish.”
In the wake of one of their most difficult nights as high school athletes Gabriele and Lantis were good enough to take the time to be honest with me and try to put it all in perspective. No excuses, just heavy hearts, but hearts that were thankful for the opportunities they’ve been given. I wouldn’t say they were joyful in defeat, but they were at least respectful and reflective.
Lantis talked about how he felt their senior class had stayed loyal to the Hornet tradition and Gabriele said he was proud to have gone to battle with his fellow seniors, even though they’ll never win a district title.
It would do us all some good to remember that Michael Jordan was cut from his JV basketball team, the apostle Paul was once a Pharisee and we all fall short, but can choose how we act and react in the face of failure.
Being a proponent of failing for your own good once in a while, I was impressed with how Hornet players handled themselves at a most vulnerable time.
Lantis’ last words to me after the game were “God bless you” — and no, I didn’t sneeze.
A fitting ending to another life experience that everyone involved will remember, and a hopeful look at how very special some of our area teenagers really are.