Editorial: Profiles in courage

For any grownups needing a refresher course in the important things in life, a visit to Rappahannock County High School (RCHS) football practice is highly recommended. The team practices every weekday afternoon, for three hours, rain or shine: No matter that the temperature is 90-plus degrees, as it frequently has been. And no matter that the team has not yet won a game.

In fact, it is the team’s losing record that makes the practices so extraordinary — even exhilarating.

For a team with an undefeated record, practicing hard would be easy. The final scoreboard shows that all the pain and suffering endured in conditioning and practice drills has “been worth it.”

Winning makes everything easy. So it is that our consumption-driven, instant-gratification culture often equates losing — whether losing jobs, losing at cards or losing money — with failure. And failure brings three typical responses: curse the fates, blame others or blame yourself.

But you don’t see any moping around, woe-is-me or angry behavior on the RCHS practice field. To the contrary! The practice looks as hard as Marine boot camp, but you see absolutely no deserters, stragglers or malingers here.

Rather, the on-field energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Not one soul still on the field, now weeks after the first exhausting practices in the dog days of early August, ever seriously entertains the thought of giving up. As the bodies get ever stronger, the spirits lift as well. They’re building for the future.

That’s what’s best about high school, after all — building character, a solid foundation for a productive future. On the RCHS football field, you could not get a better lesson in leadership than from coaches who never give up. And perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned is that if you reach deep inside yourself, you may find redemptive qualities of character that you never knew you had.

The wind sprints, the up-downs, the sweat and tears (and sometimes blood) on the playing and practice fields are indeed worth it whether you win or lose. The value lies in the desire and the effort. That’s what courage — not to mention hard-earned wisdom — is all about.

Walter Nicklin