It is hard to cheer for your opponent, particularly in sports. I know the Biblical references talk about loving your enemy and turning the other cheek, but do they really apply to modern day sports?
The rivalries that drive big time college sports are becoming more intense over time. There are more rabid fans than ever and they wish their closest opponents to lose, despite the talk about pulling for the SEC or ACC.
The losses of your biggest rivals are slowly becoming the salve for healing the wounds of your team’s own shortcomings and that is unfortunate. In particular, football and basketball have become the yellow brick road to riches and fame for star-struck athletes. The same is true for the fans that pump millions of dollars into the programs and demand increasingly higher rankings. “Winning isn’t everything” is slowly losing favor as a guiding force for amateur athletics.
Mary Lou and I attended Auburn’s basketball game this weekend against the University of Georgia Bulldogs. We arrived at our seats only to see Coach Kevin Godwin and his daughter, Ava, sitting immediately behind us.
Coach “G” as he is known, is a big Auburn fan. However, he was there to watch one of our own, Jordan Harris, who led the Seminole County Indians to a State Championship in 2015. Harris was named the Player of the Year in Class 2A in leading the Indians to a 28-3 record.
Tyree Crump from Bainbridge saw considerable playing time during the game as well. Both Crump and Harris are in their third year playing for UGA. Each have become an important part of the team’s hopes for success in the current season.
I watched Coach G as he pulled for the Tigers only to hear him shout out in support of his former star player. “I pull for Auburn unless Jordan has the ball, then I am all for him”, he said. That is a pretty refreshing attitude in today’s cutthroat sporting environment.
The game was more exciting than expected and Georgia kept it close until the end against the 14th ranked Tigers. Ultimately, Auburn won the game 93-78.
I remember watching Harris and Crump in their high school days. They have filled out a bit and learned to play the defense that is required at this level. Their athleticism is unquestioned.
It is fun to watch both of these local players playing SEC ball, even if I am pulling for the other team. I am proud of where they came from and hopeful that their education and athletic career will take them far in life. I want them to do their best even as I want them to lose the game.
That is part of the beauty of amateur sports. It is about the team first and the player second. It is about collectively pulling along with thousands of others in the Auburn Family for a victory even as I personally hope that these Southwest Georgia players do their very best.
Sports bring out so much in young men and women. Though never a stellar athlete myself, I love watching young athletes work hard towards their dreams. Hard work pays off. In sports and in life.
So here is a cheer for Auburn’s win over one of its fiercest rivals. Here is another cheer for Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump, two local boys playing their way up the ladder of success. I am cheering for you all.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org