I was invited to watch my 10-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, run at the Maine USATF Youth Championship 2021 at the Massabesic Track in Waterboro. This was a cut above the meets that I had witnessed before.

For one thing, there was the weather. At 92 degrees, it gave new meaning to the word “heat.” Gramsie had put on sunscreen and wore a hat but still wasn’t prepared for the intense temperature as we watched the young athletes tear around the track, throw javelins and leap over hurdles. Often, I retreated to the shade of the numerous tents lining the outlying field. Per my granddaughter’s orders, we had lots of snacks: watermelon, tangerines and great roll-ups, provided by my daughter-in-law, and, of course, plenty of water.

The concession stand was very busy. Yet all waited patiently for their turn. Shirts, hats and programs were hot items, as was food. The tone and atmosphere were festive despite the nonstop movement. No angry words. No pushing or shoving. Sports the way it should be. What an example for everyone.

While I cooled off under the tent, I had time to observe the amazing, diverse crowd of families supporting their young people. Muslim girls wearing the hijab and Christian Mennonites and Amish wearing bonnets and long skirts. It was clear that the participants had arrived from all over Maine and from all over the world. After the impressive parade of athletes, we all stood still as young girls sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

I felt intense pride looking down from the bleachers as a few tears filled my eyes. This is America at its best. This is Maine at its best. Tolerance. Respect. Acceptance. The “other” did not exist, only the “we”  – Americans standing for their country while rallying around their children. All were unified by one ambition, by one goal: Do your best. Parents wishing their young athletes success. All of the audience members cheering for each contestant as they crossed in front of us.

So many lessons for grown-ups and youngsters. Winning takes hours and hours of hard work and practice, which involves sacrifice and discipline. Losing takes patience, good-naturedness and the ability to praise others. The willingness to be kind to self is probably the most difficult for young people to learn – the ability to see that there’s a “next time”; the ability to accept our limitations; the ability and courage to try again later for the win.

These concepts are difficult to teach. The recently completed Olympic Games do a good job. However, the news and the media provide examples of varying quality. Certainly in these trying times, we can’t point to our politics or politicians to set a model of sportsmanship. The classroom and the field do a far better job. Yet, we need it now more than ever. An enormous thank-you is in order to all the coaches, volunteers and teachers, who have fostered  –  by their words and actions  –  what it takes to be an American winner.  Kudos to the participants. You’ve made us all proud.

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