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Winning and losing--with class

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

It's called "March Madness" — the time for basketball tournaments and playoffs — high school and college. The high school tournaments are finished now and college playoffs have culled the field down to the Final Four: Villanova, Kansas, Loyola-Chicago and Michigan. There have been 60 games in the tournament so far and 60 losers. Only four teams have avoided losing to this point.

Two weeks ago, I witnessed a high school team with a 29-0 record lose a game that would have taken them to the state tournament: Heartbreak. Disappointment. Tears. Yet at the end of the game, the players and coaches formed two lines and each winning player and coach shook the hand of each player and coach on the losing side. There were some pats on the back as well, remarks like "good game" and occasional hugs. That can't be easy for the losers.

And last Sunday on TV, I saw two biggies, Duke and Kansas go down to the wire before Kansas won in overtime. Again, the players and coaches (two big-time, well known coaches) went through the same handshaking and good sportsmanship routine.

About the same time all this basketball excitement has been going on, I've been reading about General Ulysses S. Grant and the winners and losers in the Civil War. At Vicksburg in the middle of the war, and at Appomattox at the end, Grant, the winning general, was dealing with a losing general who had been a West Point classmate (Pemberton at Vicksburg and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox). Thousands of Confederate soldiers were surrendering in each case. They could have been slaughtered by the Union troops. If spared, they could have been subjected to humiliation by Grant.

Although gaining an unconditional surrender rather than taking prisoners, weapons were confiscated (although Confederate officers were allowed to keep their sidearms and one horse and at the end of the war all prisoners were allowed to keep their horses — to return home and resume farming). The Union troops did not boast or cheer but watched silently and respectfully while the losers slowly paraded away. After all, the union was still intact and life would go on after the war was over.

Back when our local football team was beating everybody and winning state championships, I was proud of our coach, Rick, who refused to deliberately humiliate losing opponents. The team played full throttle in the first half and built up impressive leads, then the reserves played in the second half and many times when they could have piled up the score, they deliberately knelt the ball down and refused to score. I'm sure the losers appreciated the gesture. Classy winners know how to act when they win and classy losers know how to act when they lose.

Life goes on after wars, after political elections, after ball games and even after divorces. Winning and losing can bring out the best or the worst in the participants, quite often the worst. Winners who taunt "losers," gloat or boast and losers who whine, alibi, or wallow in bitterness only express pettiness, not class. We all need to remember the cliché "what goes around often comes around."

Order Lynn Hummel's new book, The Last Word (171 articles, 310 pages) by sending $15 plus $3 postage ($10 plus postage for additional books) to Pony Express Books, 1948 Long Bridge Road, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501, or order at: