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Sometimes the most poignant lessons in life come from the people we least expect.
And the situations where these teachable moments take center stage are not always in the home or school or at Mass on Sunday. They can happen any time.
It doesn’t matter if one is young, old or middle-aged. As humans, our emotions can run the gamut.
What makes one person celebrate a wonderful achievement can bring another to tears.
But in victory and heartbreak in athletics, we can also learn what true sportsmanship and respect for a game is all about. From children, no less.
Such were the lessons shared at the recent Little League World Series played in Williamsport, Pa.
In one of the most compelling championship games in recent history, a team from Warner Robbins, Ga., beat a team hailing from Tokyo, Japan, 3-2 on Aug. 26.
The extra-inning contest (Little League games are normally six innings) ended in the bottom of the eighth inning when 12-year-old Dalton Carriker hit a game-winning home run to break a 2-2 tie and give the Georgia team the Little League World Series championship.
What followed was something we, as adults, should take note of and can learn from. It seems to be something too many of us have forgotten or put on the backburner where athletic competition is concerned.
After Dalton rounded the bases and was mobbed at home plate by his Georgia teammates, television cameras panned to distraught Japanese players lying on the field, sobbing uncontrollably as they reacted to the gut-wrenching loss.
While Japanese coaches tried to console their players, the Georgia players hugged and high-fived each other.
But their celebration only lasted a moment.
Seeing their Japanese counterparts and their reaction, the Georgia players walked back onto the playing field and began to console their opponents, offering hugs, handshakes and kind words to the players from Japan. Two different teams, two distinct cultures, yet the players offered a lesson in humility and, yes, compassion.
Simply put, their actions were one of the most impressive displays of sportsmanship demonstrated in recent years.
It was another example of how so many of us can learn simple life lessons from members of our younger generation.
While we sometimes get caught up in the raw emotion of a sports moment, we cannot forget that with a winner also comes a loser.
That’s where sportsmanship must be a part of the equation. And whether the players realized it or not, both Little League teams were taking a page from the Vatican’s office of “Church and Sport.”
Created in 2004 just prior to the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the Vatican office provides plenty of words of wisdom where the culture of sport is concerned.
The office tries to foster “a culture of sport” that promotes athletics “as a means for bringing about well-rounded growth of the person and as an instrument of peace and brotherhood among peoples.”
The late Pope John Paul II was behind the Vatican sports office’s ministry, and his love of sport and how it can be a “school of virtue” were among his reasons for creating the office.
“Sport must be accompanied by moderation and training in self-discipline,” Pope John Paul II said in his 2004 World Day of Tourism message. “It very often also requires a good team spirit, a respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one’s own limitations.”
In an address in June 2004, the late Holy Father also told members of an Italian sports center that practicing sport, “if lived according to the Christian vision, becomes a prime generator of deep human relations and favors the building of a more peaceful and cordial world.”
May all people of faith learn from the pope’s words and the Little Leaguers’ example so that one day we all may be united in humility and compassion as brothers and sisters in Christ.
— Mike Krokos