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They switched our leagues this year, juggling schools in the North County Conference into a new arrangement that favors geography over competitive equity. It meant that my school, traditionally an arts powerhouse, found two local sports dynasties on our league schedule.

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While my school, San Dieguito, is the grandfather of all our district schools; everyone in the district was a Mustang when we opened in 1936, the two athletic upstarts, Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon, who broke away in 1974 and 1996 respectively, are known for traditionally strong sports programs, their gyms lined with banners that celebrate decades of athletic success.

Truth be told, at San Dieguito we do a great job of living the line from former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, who said “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

Our athletes, dedicated to their craft, value the opportunity to put on navy and white uniforms and carry on a proud tradition of athletics that stretches back to the Roosevelt administration. Their determination and dedication is profound, and their sportsmanship a hallmark of our school’s character. In addition, student athletes at San Dieguito are well rounded, and likely to participate in all kinds of activities. Last year our starting point guard had the lead in the winter musical. Our pep band drummer plays water polo. Baseball and ASB, soccer and journalism, athletics matter much, but our students do a good job of keeping perspective.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t see traditional athletic success. People are surprised when I say it, but last year we had two CIF champions, and while we don’t have cheerleaders or a football team, our student athletes take their sports seriously. The lessons they learn in practice and the heat of competition are as real as any learned at the most successful of schools.

The fact is, we simply judge success by more than wins and losses.

349With this releaguing, that’s probably best.

So when the new Avocado West League was announced, responses fell into two categories: gritty determination to show that we could compete with the very best, or wide eyed, head shaking sympathy that we would get destroyed nearly every other league game.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Now I’ve worked at a school that won lots of trophies, and know the spirit it inspires in the athletes and many in the student body. I’ve seen a major crosstown rivalry up close as an assistant principal who oversaw athletics, and been in on administrative planning sessions before a “big game” as we prepared for whatever might happen.

At that time, I was the guy who stood in the student section and made sure that chants stayed civil and avoided profanity. I monitored the front gate to see if homemade t-shirts would be obscene, or signs crossed the line. Preparing for “The Torrey Game” meant girding ourselves for hours of high tension supervision, and lots of work helping student fans understand how to have a healthy rivalry.

How different then when this year our new league had Torrey Pines visiting San Dieguito on a chilly January night for a soccer game outside and a basketball double header in the gym.

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If our school were to design a “rivalry game” shirt, it might look like this.

Competition? We had that, along with a healthy dose of determination.

Our soccer coach, an English teacher, invited the staff out to cheer on our team. Our ASB put up signs to coax students to fill the gym for basketball. They all knew that the odds were stacked against us, but the point was to come support our school and the student athletes representing us.

What I didn’t see was clothing, signs, or banners disparaging the other team. I didn’t hear students planning ways to annoy or confront the opposing fans, or feel as an administrator that I needed to call in student leaders to head off any potential naughtiness.

The games themselves showed flashes of competition, examples of poise, and a healthy balance of determination and sportsmanship.

banks-cardThe Falcons notched wins that January night, but I’ll suggest that our students got just as much from the competition. To quote another famous Chicagoan, Cub great Ernie Banks, “The only way to prove that you’re a good sport is to lose.”

And don’t count us out every game; remember, the Cubs won the World Series last year.

As their principal, I’m proud of the way our student athletes played and the sportsmanship they showed. Our school spirit runs deep and is embodied in the way we comport ourselves, not just the numbers on the scoreboard. After all, at the end of the game those numbers vanish with the flip of a switch, but the quality of our character remains.

And while we may not win a CIF Open Division championship this season, you won’t catch me saying “there’s always next year.” I look around at our students, our teams, our fans, and our school and think: this year is pretty great.

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