Life not always about winning
Some of central Ohio's top high school athletes will be acknowledged over the coming weeks as they lead their teams to district championships and, in some cases, state titles in their respective winter sports.
A pair of recent events involving area athletes serve as reminders that winning isn't the only thing worth celebrating.
Regardless of which team they were rooting for in a wrestling dual between Dublin Scioto and Westerville North on Feb. 7, most of those in attendance cheered as Irish senior Josh McDonald "won" an exhibition match at 132 pounds.
Before the OCC-Cardinal Division dual, Scioto coach Aaron McKenzie asked North coach David Grant if he had a wrestler who would let McDonald "win."
McDonald, who has Down syndrome, had "won" three previous varsity matches, but this was senior night for the Irish and the last time McDonald would wrestle.
Grant believed freshman Alex Martin, with his oversized curly hair, had the kind of "flair" to help "put on a show."
Add in that Martin's mother teaches special education and it was clear to Grant that Martin also had the necessary sensitivity to help provide a memorable moment for McDonald.
After "pinning" Martin, McDonald threw his hands into the air and began jumping in celebration, sparking an ovation from the crowd. The fact he was simply in this situation is perhaps the most inspiring part of the story.
McDonald, according to his parents, Gene and Marie McDonald, lost all vital signs during birth and was born with two holes in his stomach and a damaged liver, among other medical problems. His parents weren't able to touch him for the first month of his life.
"We were told he was never going to walk," Gene said. "You look at him now and he's a handful."
The McDonalds have two other sons who wrestled for Scioto: Jordan, a 2009 graduate who was a Division I district qualifier as a senior, and Jonas. And so it only made sense to the family that Josh could wrestle. He wrestled with all his heart for four years, only competing in a few matches but being a regular at practice.
According to Josh, winning on senior night was "awesome."
When Martin was presented the idea by Grant, his first response was: "You want me to lose?"
Once Martin grasped the concept, Grant believes he helped show "there's more to life than wrestling."
"(He's) not any less of a person," Martin said. "When you're doing something for a person who needs it, you feel like you've done something right."
On Feb. 12 during the Westland boys basketball team's game against Franklin Heights, Cougars coach Todd Parker created a similar opportunity for senior Dustin McKinney, who has served as the team's manager.
Before the game, Parker explained to the officials that he'd like McKinney, who has cerebral palsy, to shoot a pair of free throws during the fourth quarter, if possible.
When Westland senior J.J. Smith was fouled in the fourth quarter, McKinney replaced him and attempted the free throws, missing both.
"It was real positive for the school," Parker said. "People get wrapped up in winning and losing, but the biggest thing is that it shows that this is bigger than the game."
In January, Owen Groesser, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome from Rochester Hills, Mich., made ESPN's SportsCenter highlights after he made a pair of 3-pointers in a middle school game.
Is there a risk that moments like that or the ones involving McDonald and McKinney could become trivialized if they happen too often?
Considering how much emotion is shown by the athletes and coaches and by those in attendance, these occasional situations are a welcome reminder that sports are about more than winning and losing.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.