Chandler Smith leaned on a wall in the tunnels of the Orleans Arena. Behind the black curtain that hung a few feet away, she could hear the BYU women’s basketball team shrieking and hollering in celebration of its freshly won West Coast Conference Championship over Gonzaga.
“This is torture,” Smith whispered. The torture she and her teammates were experiencing wasn’t just because of the celebration happening in the locker room next door. That was a part of it, of course.
But the torture was heightened by the fact that just 24 hours before, teammates Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend went down with injuries. And just 30 minutes before Smith spoke, her coach, Lisa Fortier, left the bench in the middle of the fourth quarter due to a family emergency.
No one deserves to have this kind of torture — this feeling of sadness and disappointment that seems to be inescapable.
Students at GU are familiar with this feeling. They don’t experience it often, but when it happens, it stings a little extra. Like when the men’s basketball team fell short in the 2017 NCAA championship game. That hurt.
But the reality is, when we get so disappointed over sports, which at its very core is just a game, it’s because the players mean so much more to us than just a team. We view them as the word that is printed across this year’s postseason warmup shirts: family.
An Oakland, California native, I grew up attending Warriors basketball games in Oracle Arena, or “Roaracle” as locals tend to call it. It’s a special place, which anyone who has been there can tell you. Even when the Warriors sucked, we high-fived, hugged and danced any chance we got.
Even more than that, it’s a place where I can see all walks of life — difference races, different religions, different economic backgrounds, different ages — get along and be accepted. Those different groups are reflected on the court.
It doesn’t escape me how diverse players are, no matter what sport they’re playing. Some come from broken homes and tough financial situations. Others come from two-parent households, some of whom were former pro athletes themselves. Many others fall everywhere in between.
Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Jews and atheists and any other religion you can name are working toward to same common goal. These individuals make up a team that then represents a university, a city, maybe even a whole state that may not share a single thing in common, except the fact that they are on the same team.
It seems silly that a game can so simply show us that we can coexist and we can work together, yet it does.
Sports also teach us how to dream and hope. Here at GU, we’re no strangers to that. We like to label ourselves the forever Cinderella story because of our history of being an underdog. About 20 years ago, we were considered just to be a small Jesuit school tucked in Eastern Washington with a dream of making the NCAA tournament.
Then we did. And made it to the Elite Eight. And then we made it again. And again and again and again — 20 straight times — until we were no longer an underdog, but a serious contender.
Still, outsiders doubt GU. They say the Zags aren’t as good because of the conference they play in. Because they’ve only made it to the Final Four once. Because they’re a midmajor team. All of us here know that is the farthest from the truth.
It still drives us to hope for something more, and dream of the day the team wins a national title. It gives us a source of inspiration.
Sports have the power to bring out the very best within us (and maybe some not so great parts). It shows us the will to work hard, to believe in something and to work with other people to achieve our ultimate goal.
It’s inspiring. There’s a reason we love the “One Shining Moment” video released after every NCAA Tournament and get chills every time we see it play. It’s because we like to relive the moments that gave us the highest highs — dancing in the Hemmingson Center in celebration — or resulted in crushing defeat, swearing and smashing whatever is closest to us.
As Smith and her teammates stood in the hall after their disappointing loss to the Cougars, that’s what was on her mind. She knew that this moment was more than just the loss — there is plenty of time to come back from that. It was the fact that her family was hurt.
“It’s bigger than the game of basketball,” athletic director Mike Roth said. “It reminds us of much more important things.”
“It just puts things in perspective about how much bigger the world is than basketball,” Zykera Rice echoed.
In that moment, it couldn’t have been any clearer what sports mean. They can reflect the struggles and obstacles we face in everyday life. They can provide us with as much hope and inspiration as you can find. They give us a place to belong. They give us the word printed on this year’s official shirts: family.
Kendra Andrews is the Editor-in-Chief. Follow her on Twitter: @kendra_andrews.