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Fifth-Grade Champs Prove It’s Not Just About Winning and Losing
Posted By admin On November 7, 2008 @ 9:50 am In Sports | Comments Disabled
By Michael Hicks
LONGMONT — Emotions were overflowing as evidenced by the tears that covered Cody Braesch’s eyes in the aftermath of Sunday’s game with Platteville at Sandstone Field. For the 11-year-old player, this was the culmination of what he and his Berthoud teammates had been working for all season.
They had just wrapped up a 34-14 victory that crowned them the first-ever Northern Colorado champions among the best fifth-grade football teams from Weld County and Longmont.
“That’s really big for us,” said Cody, a student at Berthoud Elementary School.
And, yes, while the victory was icing on the cake for a team had already repeated as champions of the Longmont Youth Football Association, sharing the title with Fall River, it’s not everything for these kids.
Most of the 23 players and four coaches have been together for two years now. They’ve won together. But this team isn’t all about winning. This team is about character and the way they show it on and off the football field.
“From the very beginning we were very open that it wasn’t about just Xs and Os. It was about having character,” said assistant head coach John Hall. “We talked about that from the beginning with the boys. There’s a much bigger picture here. Playing the game is not just for yourself, but it’s for your teammates, yourself, your family and the community. We talked about that a great deal. So when they came together and started jelling they became closer and closer. We told the boys to think outside of yourselves.”
The success on the field was there. Berthoud won seven of its eight regular-season games this season. The only loss, an 18-0 setback to Fall River in September, was avenged one month later with a 27-18 victory. Before and after that loss were wins, all decided by 17 points or more. But the wins, and how decisive they were, were no match for the other characteristics that describe this team.
Like the eight-foot notch log the team carries around. On it are 23 slots — one for each player on the team — with notches for all of them determined by their play. These aren’t always the plays recognizable to the casual fans — the glory plays as Hall describes them. These are notches that show the heart and effort each player displayed week in and week out.
“If I got a lot of notches I know that I did good and had a good game,” Cody said.
Vice-versa, if he didn’t play well there weren’t as many notches. The simple fact that Cody received so many notches was a testament to his heart and fighting spirit, according to Hall.
“Cody’s really been struggling with injuries. Most of the team knew, but we weren’t going tell other teams that. We didn’t even tell some of the parents,” Hall said. “These weren’t serious injuries, just young boy growing pain kind of things. But it really showed his character 10-fold.
“Getting ready, prepared to play, the physical part of the sport is a little bit of a challenge. But at the end of the day, the game is all about heart.”
But nothing else shows the character of this team more than what it did in the last two weeks of the season. During the final game of the regular season against Fall River, a game that Berthoud needed to win in order to garner a share of this year’s league title, every player on the team dedicated the game to somebody.
Some of them dedicated it to their father, grandfather or another family member. Another dedicated it to Angelo Dabbiero, an eighth-grader at Turner Middle School who was diagnosed in August with Stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma, a case of cancer.
One other player dedicated the game to a 4th-grader who tried out for the team, but eventually decided it would be too difficult to play because he only had one arm. And yet another honored a classmate who has had multiple foot surgeries. Then there was Cody, who dedicated the game to Bob Pinz, his grandfather’s best friend who has shown up at most, if not all, of his games despite his own cancer diagnosis.
But nobody’s story touches home more than that of running back and middle linebacker Jimmy Fate. Number 32 for Berthoud is a true catalyst on the field. He exemplifies the heart and soul of the team.
When it was time to dedicate the last game versus Fall River to someone, he honored, without hesitation, his friend Nicholas Greenwood. Nicholas died in May nearly two weeks after suffering a tragic fall off a trailer on the family’s farm. He was only six years old.
Jimmy, a fellow 11-year-old who attends Berthoud Elementary, wrestled with his emotions as he thought about his friend after Sunday’s victory. But he will never forgot him.
None of the players will forget those they honored. It wasn’t just a one-game dedication either. Each player, on their own, continued to honor their chosen one by placing that person’s initials on the back of their helmets for Sunday’s season-concluding tournament games.
One other thing, though, that Jimmy won’t forget is the lessons he learned from his coaches as this year went on.
“I think too many people think about winning and losing and not about just giving it your all,” Jimmy said. “It’s really fun to win. I think it’s more fun to win, but our coaches want us to play as hard as we can every down and every play of every game.”
That, more than anything else, is what Berthoud’s fifth-grade football team is all about. Winning and losing, that’s just part of the game. The real game is the experiences that these 23 boys will take with them for the rest of their lives.
“If we’re not getting that across then we’re failing with them,” Hall said.
Rest assured, nothing could be further from the truth.
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