Does It Have To End?

DSC_0319This didn’t go as planned.

This blog entry was to appear as the NAIA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournament was scheduled to begin.

The Dordt men would be in the national field along with the women and this would be a great way with one of our ‘home grown’ basketball players to look back at growing up around Dordt basketball, what drew him here and what his experience looks like with four years at Dordt in the rear view mirror.

But, the men’s season came to a halt on Wednesday night, March 4 when the music stopped and the Defenders were left without a seat in the game of musical chairs for at-large berths.

I first heard about Josh Van Lingen when he was about in the fifth grade—the connection was he was the son of former men’s basketball player Jeff Van Lingen.  He showed an affinity for the sport at a young age, kept developing through high school at Western Christian, and picked Dordt when it was time to pick a college.

It’s been my privilege to watch Josh and his classmates improve as basketball players but it was also a privilege to watch them commit to serving each other, defending each other, develop their academic gifts and to pursue championships. 

We often try to downplay the importance of athletic endeavors as ‘only a game’ and ‘in the grand scheme of things this isn’t that important’, and I understand this sentiment.  I’m all for keeping life in perspective.

But I also won’t apologize for appreciating when someone unabashedly pursues their passion, hones their craft, and offers the end product for all to see.

You see,  I believe athletics can do so much more than provide entertainment and be a good source of fun exercise. 

It can prepare you for the tough things in life, not because you were a good player, but because you have learned faith and perseverance is how you must approach much of life, that changes and improvements happen bit by bit–not overnight.

It can also teach you your faith needs to be cultivated, just like a basketball skill, and there are many steps along the way, and many actions and habits that need to be ingrained, to help make that happen.

To Josh and his classmates, thank you for putting yourself out there for the last four years.

Thanks for the good times and also for handling the tough times with dignity. 

Now, take what you’ve learned and go forward.

mbyk

 

Four years will go by in a blink.

I remember hearing this from the seniors on our team my freshman year but I didn’t understand the truth they were telling us. Now here I am writing about the end of my time and it doesn’t seem real. I never could have imagined how much this game could give me.

But it’s more than a game.

I’ve been around Dordt basketball all my life. Being from Sioux Center I’ve gone to games as long as I can remember. At halftime of the game I would sprint to the rec center and pretend I was the one on the court making plays in front of those fans. A lot of kids may have NBA players or D1 players they look up to and I did as well, but the Dordt guys were my heroes growing up.  I grew up wanting to be like them. I wanted to play the game like them.

So, I worked and I practiced and put all of myself into the game I loved.

So, I worked and I practiced and put all of myself into the game I loved. Through grade school and high school I dedicated myself to be one of those players I looked up to. When it came time for me to decide where I wanted to play in college there wasn’t much left to think about.

Who wouldn’t want to play in front of a packed DeWitt gym crowd?

Who wouldn’t want a chance to play where they watched their heroes play?

Even though I was confident in my decision I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t understand how hard I needed to work to succeed playing this game. I didn’t understand we could have a talented group of incredibly skilled players and still come up short. The grind of the college season brings many ups and downs.

I didn’t understand we could have a talented group of incredibly skilled players and still come up short.

I learned how quickly the game can be taken from you as we had players go down with injuries. They taught me to cherish the moments I had to play this game.

Some things took me longer to learn. It took me time to learn that Dordt Basketball is more than a team.

We’re a family.

I came in with a group of teammates.

I leave with brothers.

Every workout, practice, and game the last four years has been opportunities to be with my best friends. We went through hard times. We grew closer together. We went through good times. We celebrated with and for each other’s successes.

We went through hard times. We grew closer together. We went through good times. We celebrated with and for each other’s successes.

The game brought us together, it brought us joys, it brought us pain.

I would do anything for them and I know they would for me as well.

I learned just how much our coaches care about us. The time they spend on us. The work they put in. They do it for us. They don’t just coach us they love us. They care about who we are and who we’re going to be as men. They show us what it’s like to be good husbands and fathers. They show us what working hard for others is. I couldn’t have asked for better coaches for my four years here.

I saw how the community supported the team in the stands before I was a part of the team.

The best fans in the nation pack the DeWitt game after game. I know now that our fans love watching us play this game, but they love watching us grow off the court just as much. People I didn’t even know invested in my life and cared and supported me so unselfishly. I didn’t get why would these families and supporters cared so much about me just because I play a game.

The only thing I had to offer them was entertainment on the court I thought. They saw more than that. I genuinely believe that the greatest joy our fans get doesn’t come from the success we have on the court but from seeing us come in as boys and leaving as men. That’s why they don’t just invest in us as players, but invest in our lives.

I genuinely believe that the greatest joy our fans get doesn’t come from the success we have on the court but from seeing us come in as boys and leaving as men.

I’m thankful for my parents and family supporting me playing the game I love. They’ve been there through everything. They’ve seen me fall in love with the game. They’ve spent hours rebounding, watching, and encouraging me as I played. I can’t put into words how much they’ve done for me to develop me into the player and more importantly the person I am today.

The biggest reason I know I made the best decision of my life when I decided to be “that guy” who goes to college where he grew up is that I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to have my last practice.

I don’t want to play my last game. I don’t want to stop playing the game I love with people I love in front of people who love us. But I’m comforted because I know that the game has given me so much to take into the next part of my life.

I don’t want to stop playing the game I love with people I love in front of people who love us.

There’s so much to be thankful for and I will cherish what this game has given me.

I’ve poured my time into this game.

I’ve poured my body into this game.

I’ve poured my heart into this game.

But it’s been so much more than a game.

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