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Michael Murray — Character building: One begrudging step at a time

“It builds character … ”
I think that might be every father’s favorite thing to say when his young son doesn’t want to do something off-putting, but necessary.
If it’s raining on your camping trip … don’t worry, you’re just building character. Mowing the lawn in 100-degree heat with a rickety old push John Deere … tossing a little more character in the bucket. Sitting quietly through your sister’s ballet recitals even though you’d rather be doing literally ANYTHING else in the entire world … you guessed it! That’s character building.
If I have half the amount of character that I’m supposed to have developed when I was young, I should be oozing character at about the same rate that my first car (another character builder) leaked oil. Whether that’s actually the case or not isn’t really up to me to decide, though, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Playing sports is another great way for young people to fill up their character reserves though; anyone who witnessed my (absolute lack of) athleticism in my younger days is likely thinking to themselves right now, “What in the world would he know about building character through sports? He was terrible.”
They would be right, though. I played rec league baseball and soccer back in … let’s just say it was a long time ago … and was ridiculously bad at both. I was the kid in the outfield waving my arms around like one of those annoying dancing balloon-things that you see at used car lots and yelling in this shrill voice that probably sounded like an excited pterodactyl. I’d get so excited when the ball came my way that I almost always forgot to keep an eye on it and would just watch as it sailed past my glove. I’m sure it was hilarious to watch.
It had to have been difficult for the other kids’ parents on the sidelines to stifle their snickers, politely trying not to laugh at the skinny kid running around who clearly didn’t have his head in the game.
That’s not to say that I’ve remained completely inept at sports, however. I eventually developed a passable jump shot on the neighborhood backyard basketball courts and, with a little coaching from my dad, built up a golf swing that’s, at least, not embarrassing. That took some time, though and, apparently, digging through the bushes for 20 minutes trying to find a shanked Titleist also builds character. Who would have thought it?
As you can probably tell, I realized quickly that I’d never be a sports superstar so, eventually I turned to a chess board.
Bear with me here. I know I’m rambling, but I promise I’ll get to the point soon.
When I first began playing chess, I had no idea what I was doing. I loved to play, though, and would take on just about anyone willing to sit across the table from me. I got beaten pretty bad in my first few games, sometimes in just a handful of moves. Eventually, however, I began paying attention to the moves that my opponents were making that had led to my demise over and over again, and began to explore the ways that different pieces can be moved to tackle the opposition’s king. I began using these strategies in my own game and it improved steadily until I began winning once in a while. Before I knew it, I was laying down the other guy’s king as often as not and, in the games I lost, I was able to walk away knowing that I had put up a respectable fight.
That brings me to my point.
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of the ATR sports section that our local football teams have seen their share of pitfalls this season. With many freshmen and sophomores on the squads and a few coaches who are fairly new to their respective teams, there is bound to be a learning curve. The teams will have to overcome this as the coaches learn the players’ strengths and weaknesses and the players learn the moves that need to be mastered in order to have a great season.
As they continue to work and grow together, their skills will steadily improve, with each man’s skills working in tandem the same way a rook works alongside the knights and bishops to eat away at the enemy’s  defenses and push on towards a checkmate.
This process takes time, though, and the teams need the support of their fans to cheer them on as they navigate their way through this rough patch.
And football certainly isn’t the only sport that locals can support. It seems like there is always some exciting athletic event going on in this little town of ours.
So go out to a local game if you get a chance. Spend a Friday night cheering on the Black and Gold, waving your blue and white banner, or proudly sporting your silver and white shirt from the stands. Check out a college basketball game at the Storm Dome or the Hangar, or head to the rec complex on 19 to watch the youngsters play baseball. You’ll be glad you did.
Remember, these guys are working towards something big and are learning more about the game every time they put on their jersey.
… And please … if you’re at a rec league game and see a skinny little kid running around in circles on the field, cut him some slack … He’s just building a little character.

Michael Murray is sports editor of the Americus Times-Recorder. He can be contacted at 229-924 2751, ext. 1003, or michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com