Nate Waggenspack: What makes sports great? Maturity in the heat of the moment

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Nathan Waggenspack

When I moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Craig 14 months ago, the biggest reason was because I knew I’d be covering sports.

After visiting the area and meeting a few people, I knew it would be a big change to come across the country and give this a try. But I went for it, because the concept of watching and writing about sports and being paid to do so seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

That’s because for me, sports have always finished first. Politics couldn’t grab my attention, and news didn’t seem all that interesting if it didn’t pertain to me. But from day one, the drama and spectacle of sports has kept me hooked.

Whether it’s watching the wizardry of physical specimens in professional sports or the passion and close-knit atmosphere at the high school level, the emotion and competition found in athletics are totally unique.

So that’s what I’m hoping to write about in this space once a week, the things that make sports great. We’re not all die-hard fans, but there are moments in sports that can strike a chord with anybody.

A good example happened last school year, near the end of the boys basketball season. In the district finals, Moffat County was taking on Roaring Fork, a team that had beaten them by a total of six points in their two previous meetings that season. The Bulldogs had a terrible opening to the game, falling behind and getting into foul trouble with two technical fouls.

Those were mental lapses that you typically can’t afford in a big game. But the team regrouped and moved on from its mistakes, and what resulted was one of the most entertaining games I can remember watching at any level.

Both teams left it all on the court, sprinting down the court after every rebound in an attempt to create an advantage on offense or defense. They battled the rest of the way, but Roaring Fork held a small advantage late in the game and looked as though it would win.

But Tyler Davis swished a three, then made another to tie the game with under 20 seconds to play…except an official ruled it no good, saying the ball had bounced up high enough to touch the support above the basket before dropping in. That meant it was out of bounds, and Roaring Fork’s ball.

It was the type of call I’m sure every Roaring Fork fan in the gym still is applauding the official for, citing his excellent awareness in a tense situation, while Moffat County fans might think his whistle should be taken away for good. I still don’t know if it touched or not.

But that was the call, and Moffat County went on to lose a third heartbreaker to the same team in the same season, this time with the district title on the line.

Afterward, I spoke with junior guard Taft Cleverly, and the call was the first thing I brought up — what did he see on that play?

To his credit, Taft brushed it right off. He said he hadn’t seen it touch the brace, but that wasn’t an issue in the game. The Bulldogs’ poor start, and some missed opportunities down the stretch, played a bigger role in the game.

Here was a junior in high school who had lost the biggest basketball game of his life to that point, possibly on a missed call, to the team who he probably wanted to beat more than any other. And instead of harping on the call or the officiating or anything else, he put the loss on his and his teammates shoulders.

That is a level of maturity many 40-year-olds don’t have, let alone a high schooler. It was impressive then and it has stuck with me since.

That happened during the 2012-13 school year. I hope many more moments like it are on the way in the coming athletic seasons. If they come along with wins this time, that wouldn’t be so bad.

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