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The new definition of champion

Xs and Arrows

To say the 2021-22 prep athletic season has been eye-opening would be an understatement. But as each week passes it is apparent that the definition of "champion" is being altered right before our eyes.

We knew entering this season that it was going to be different. I even preached patience among us fans and supporters as we embarked on what has become the great unknown. Competing athletically amidst the era of draconian COVID-19 exposure protocols is indeed stranger than fiction. Day-to-day it is a roll of the dice as to who might be deemed "ineligible" based on interpretations of the State of California guidelines relating to COVID and extra-curricular activities. That interpretation has been hotly debated at school board meetings and through frustrated emails and phone calls – some see it as punitive for students based on skewed timelines and unrealistic expectations, while there are those that believe the right thing is being done to protect public health. For better or worse the approach will be scrutinized for years to come, its impact felt for a lifetime.

Student-athletes being held out of contests and practices for COVID "exposures" in the classroom has become the unknown opponent – the devil in the very gray details. Earlier this season head football coach Kris Krempien gave a local radio interview where he described the feeling of playing against two opponents each week, one of which "we have no scouting report or game plan for," of course referring to COVID-19 and the rules that have sidelined key players for his team on multiple occasions this season. The first two league contests in which the Warriors competed saw them shorthanded due in part to players being out 10 days for exposure protocol – not ideal when trying to rebuild a program. Couple that with injuries that occur during a football season and the sidelines get mighty bare when they are needed most. This has been a trend for many Warrior teams this fall from the football field to the volleyball court.

As frustrating as it is for parents, fans, coaches and the players themselves, we are witnessing the redefining of the championship mentality as each snap is taken, each point scored and each race run. These young men and women have been dealt one of the worst hands in history and yet they continue to show up to practices and continue to suit up for competitions although the odds are stacked against them on a weekly basis. They play without being at full strength, often knowing the rules are different for the opponent lined up across from them. They continue to pay the price to compete and feel just a semblance of a normal high school experience – amidst anything but normal.

We cannot judge the outcomes of these games, matches and competitions this season without understanding the full story. Those that elect to criticize young people because they end up on the losing end of the scoreboard do nothing but show their ignorance. They wouldn't know what a champion looked like if it tickled their nose. They never truly paid the price and they fail to possess one-third of the heart of these Warriors. The kids out there today are giving more than anyone has ever imagined both physically and mentally with no guarantee due to exposure protocols that almost humorously allow an "exposed" student to attend class, but not participate in extra-curricular activities. We threw common sense out the window in March of 2020 and have seemed to have misplaced its forwarding address.

They do all of this and go heads-up against the great unknown enemy just to compete with their town's name on their chests. This is true leadership, true sacrifice, this is redefining what it means to fight through adversity knowing that they may or may not get the opportunity to reap the rewards. This is the new definition of champion.

In the weeks to come there will be CIF champions crowned, and while on the surface the possibility of those titles coming to Tehachapi may be bleak, this thing is far from over. There are mechanisms in place this season that are leveling the playing field in some instances and I am not about to count our kids out. This unprecedented season will continue, and it still has a few twists and turns up its sleeve.

No matter the competition results, we are seeing champions being born, we are seeing future leaders emerging from heartache, we are seeing the next generation being chiseled out of stone. We are being taught lessons by young people who have so little control of their circumstances, yet they keep trying to push forward.

I cannot think of a more powerful lesson than the one being taught by the young champions of 2021-22. Are you listening? I am, and I am fascinated by what is still to come.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. He can be reached at [email protected]. Read more content at http://www.CostelloeMedia.com.