By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — As the high school football season winds down for most of the varsity programs in our readership area (Grand Island is still alive and hosting a playoff game next Saturday), many local players are looking back upon this season with considerable disappointment and despair.
I’ve seen a few of their remarks on Twitter. Some of them are getting pretty hard on themselves, especially seniors, for having ended a losing season.
These seniors, along with juniors who will inherit the leadership roles on their respective squads next season, are the players I want to reach. In fact, this is for any local athlete whose season ended with a losing record, regardless of the sport, regardless of whether you’re a boy or girl.
I’m here to tell you that a losing season does not mean all hope is lost. In fact, sometimes a losing season shows a coach or scout the kind of character that higher-level programs are looking for, regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard or in the standings.
I tell you this because I have seen it happen.
Back in 2001, I began a volunteer relationship with the Buffalo Lightning Junior A hockey team, based in West Seneca and competing in the former Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League.
In a nutshell, the team was outmatched most nights, often times just running out of gas and after keeping it close for the first two periods falling apart in the third. They finished their 48-game schedule with a grand total of five wins.
Some of the players never went beyond that season and a few are still hanging around in the local late night beer leagues.
There was one kid on the Lightning, though, who got noticed.
He was just turning 16 years old at the time and, even as a frustrating season dragged on, commuted from the Rochester area after school to make practices and games, not letting up at all on his work ethic and routine.
He only lasted one season with the Lightning, as the following year he was picked up by the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, the highest-level junior league in the province.
Along the way, he was noticed by the National Hockey League and, just a few years after the New York Rangers drafted him, he became their team captain.
That kid’s name: Ryan Callahan. Yes, that Ryan Callahan, now a bona fide NHL star, whose path to glory included one very bumpy ride one season in Western New York.
It’s pretty safe to say, that one poor season didn’t ruin him. In fairness, Callahan wasn’t the only player on the Lightning squad who still had a good future after a bad season. Some teammates returned the following year, helped improve the team and even pulled off a first-round playoff upset before moving on to college or to a new career path.
It’s Callahan’s example, though, that should serve as an important lesson to players (and even parents) who might look upon a losing season that was and fear all is lost.
I cannot guarantee that you, too, will get noticed and rise to stardom in the face of severe adversity.
However, young men and women, if under such adversity you compromise your focus and work ethic or even just give up, it is then you have played a losing season.
Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette