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Amy Donaldson: High school athletes remind us that perspective is power

Jackson Frank didn't even have to think about the question.

"It doesn't really matter because I knew we were going to come back that next (play) and that next drive we were going to score," said the Olympus senior after an official made a mistake that seemed like it might end the Titans' comeback drive. "It's all right. It's part of football."

The senior did in just a few minutes what many of us cannot manage in months or years.

He felt the sting of life's inherent unfairness, and then, fighting through his own desire, expectation and hope, he made a choice not to let disappointment cloud his judgment.

In doing so, he found a way out of the situation that was imposed on him. Instead of being the victim of a bad call, he became an example of resilience.

I've seen players make different choices countless times, and so his decision, so quick and so clear, almost shocked me.

Most of us can intellectually accept that life is unfair.

What's far more difficult is making choices in the face of that unfairness that keep us on a positive path.

Last week, a Missouri mother sued Ladue High School because she feels it is unfair that her son was cut from a boys soccer team. The suit questions the reported policy of the coach to cut juniors when they can't make the varsity squad, rather than allowing them to play on the junior varsity team. The school explained that it's because the coach believes younger players deserve a chance to develop their skills so they're prepared for varsity tryouts.

The family appealed the coach's decision to the superintendent, who sided with the coach and the school. A court hearing revealed the boy had higher performance ratings given by coaches than some of those players who made the varsity team, making the mom's assertion that her son was treated unfair seem much more valid.

A judge will decide whether or not to put the boy on the junior varsity team on Monday.

As I read about the lawsuit, I had a number of thoughts, but most persistent was the understanding that choosing a team is mostly subjective. I'd guess thousands of student athletes could make very good cases for the unfairness of almost any system, any sport, any state.

Even if everything this mother asserts in her lawsuit is true, she still should have walked away from the situation. Let her son figure out what to do in the face of undeserved suffering.

I've had to do that as a parent, and I admit, it's excruciating. We want to save our children — and sometimes ourselves — the agony of knowing we've been treated unfairly. The reality is we cannot.

Certainly there are situations worth fighting. But making a sports team is not one of them. Maybe you feel your child has worked too long, too hard to be dismissed or overlooked. And I might agree with that assessment, but I'd still advise you to walk away from it.

First, the work your child did is still his or hers. The effort they invested makes them a better person, if not a better athlete, and no one can take that from them.

Second, not everyone will recognize what your talent, your potential or what you bring to a team. It is important to realize when that's something you can work with and when you need to find an environment that allows you to use those gifts and reach your potential.

Lastly, some of our most difficult challenges will not be chosen. They will be imposed on us, either by the mistakes or choices of other people.

Recognizing that some things that adversely impact your life are beyond your control doesn't make you a victim. It actually enables you to reclaim control of your life.

When Skyridge volleyball player Tylee Fuller realized she likely would never earn a starting outside hitting position on her high school team, she chose to change positions. She saw a need on her team, and she wanted two things — the chance to compete and the opportunity to contribute to a team she loved.

What she learned in doing that has changed her perspective on a lot of things — including how to deal with the serious illness of her father. It taught her patience and sacrifice and it has enriched an experience that could have been much different if she'd stuck to her original goal of playing high school volleyball as a hitter.

When my oldest daughter didn't make a high school soccer team after months of extra workouts and training, she chose to see many positives. She'd made new friends, gotten into great shape, and learned the kind of team environment she wanted to be a part of. She went out for cross-country and had a wonderful experience for the next three years.

To this day, running is a critical part of how she manages stress and finds joy. She doesn't see any of those gifts if she fixates on being cut from that original team.

At the end of Olympus' football game in which Frank rallied his teammates from a momentary disappointment more than once, his coach, Aaron Whitehead, joked that the players had to calm the coaches as they made their game-winning drive.

I don't know if that was postgame hyperbole, but I know in nearly two decades of covering high school sports, it's the young athletes who've offered me the best lessons on resilience.

What they've shown me over and over in sports from tennis to football is that perspective is power. What you choose to focus on ends up creating your reality.