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WOSTER: Team game teaches, even in defeat

Terry Woster

The morning after my Chamberlain Cubs lost the opening round of the sectional basketball tournament back in 1962, I skipped school.

I don't remember being beaten down with grief over the loss. Mitchell had a really solid team that year, and it was Chamberlain's first year of being in the big-school class for basketball. We acquitted ourselves pretty well for most of the season -- won some games we probably should have lost, lost a couple we probably should have won, not so different from most schools that don't wind up in the state tournament or, you know, go undefeated and ranked in the top five all-time or something like that.

I just didn't feel like going to class that next morning. My folks were pretty understanding. I guess they were, anyway. They didn't say anything. Maybe they didn't know I hadn't gotten up. I always was the quiet one in the family, and I tended to be pretty self-sufficient in matters of getting dressed and fed.

Eventually, I did get out of bed and off to school. Howard Elrod, the school principal, wasn't particularly happy to see me. He said maybe if I didn't feel good enough to get up for class in the morning, I didn't feel good enough to go back to Parkston with the team that evening for the third-place game in the sectional.

Yeah, they had third-place games in those days. Even if you didn't win the first round, you got another game. It wasn't for the championship and a trip to state, but it was a second chance not to end your season on the losing side. Mitchell and Yankton were playing that night for a berth in the state tournament. The Cubs and Parkston were playing for third. For some reason, Mr. Elrod allowed me to travel, dress and play with the team that evening. I certainly couldn't have complained if he hadn't.

As it was, I wound up with mixed feelings about that third-place game. It was my senior year. It was the only year I started. The opportunity for one more game after losing to the Kernels (and we had led them by four points at the half, anyone from the Chamberlain team will remember vividly) had some attraction for the team. And it was a good game. We won a close, intense one.

On the other hand, I fouled out somewhere around the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That meant that, as I had the evening before against Mitchell, I watched the finish from the bench. I sat there wishing I could have been playing for those last six or so minutes. Not good. Still, against Mitchell I had fouled out halfway through the third quarter, so lasting into the fourth was progress.

After the Parkston victory, each of the team members received a medal that signified our status as the third-place team in the section. Not too shabby at all. If I pawed around in the cups and jars full of buttons and rubber bands and paper clips and guitar picks and other odds and ends, somewhere I'd find that medal. I've kept it for half a century.

(The only other medal I kept -- and it wasn't like I was a medal machine back in the day -- is one I received as the lead-off runner for the Cubs' two-mile relay team. We won the race in a quadrangular at Wessington Springs my senior year. I really, really liked running the two-mile relay. I liked the mile relay a lot, too, but I ran anchor. I didn't like the pressure of trying to catch people. I liked starting the race, handing off and wandering off the track to watch the other guys finish.)

That was the team concept. Basketball was a team game, too. I had a blast just rebounding and playing defense. If I got a rebound on the offensive end, sometimes I could put it back in the basket for a couple of points. That was pretty much my game. I never wanted to be the superstar with the ball at the end of a close game.

I didn't have to worry about that at Parkston.