My high school letter jacket adorned with volleyball medals, which my grandma attached with black thread, hangs in our back-hall closet. While I do not anticipate wearing this jacket daily again, I like to see a flash of it as I grab a new coat when the seasons change.

My jacket and high school athletics symbolize incredible growth and development for hundreds of other high school athletes and me.

High school teams are a smattering of individuals from all academic skill sets, socio-economic groups and ethnic groups. While the roster might not contain your social peer group, your team functions as a family. I learned to appreciate and respect opinions and backgrounds vastly different than my own.

The bond of high school athletics encourages players to be team players, motivators and encouragers—to learn to work with those who you may not see eye-to-eye with to get the job done. I learned to listen and lead with eyes and ears wide open. While it was challenging to table my personal agenda, high school athletics taught me to listen, think before I reacted and watch for cues from my teammates, which allowed us to function as one unit and not as individuals.

Being a member of a team made us better community members and students; high school athletics makes you accountable to yourself and others.

I learned to invest in the members of my team; we played better when everyone was heard and appreciated. High school athletics taught me to value the unique and individual personalities of teammates and to ask questions, but most important to listen to the responses. I am a better communicator as a direct result of playing sports in high school.

High school athletics taught me the value of organization and hard work. No high school student-athlete wants to get up for morning pool practice or a 6 a.m. bus ride to a tournament on a Saturday, but high school athletes do it for the love of the game and the strong work ethic high school athletics demand.

My participation in high school sports taught me that with a little sweat and grit, anything is achievable. An investment in pre-season training and conditioning made an incredible difference in the season. I learned to keep track of my possessions, plan ahead, fuel my body with good food and dedicate as much time to the planning and preseason as to the varsity schedule. This approach to organization makes me a dedicated college student and productive member of the workforce.

All the dedication and organization cannot prevent the inevitable loss. High school athletics taught me how to accept defeat. “Fall down nine times, get back up 10,” was the quote our high school soccer coach told us after a tough loss. I learned that no matter what the outcome of the game, the way you carry yourself when the final whistle blows is what makes the lasting impression for your opponent and the supporters who sat countless hours in rain to watch. I learned this is the most important life lesson that high school sports gave to me. It is not only about the way you win, but how you carry yourself after the match that reveals your character.

High school athletics demanded respect, dedication and hard work. High school athletes learn to embrace diversity and accept loss. My letter jacket holds medals and pins, which I won for playing well and winning, but high school athletics urged me to mature and to be an individual of strong character when I wore it.

Maddie Hodge, a native of Janesville, is a junior English major with a management and media studies emphasis at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She is a former student-athlete at Craig High School. does not condone or review every comment. Read more in our Commenter Policy Agreement

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