My least favorite phrase in sports is, “you can’t win them all.”

In a literal sense, that statement is wrong. You actually can win them all. It’s extremely unlikely, but it’s not statistically impossible to win every game, race or match you play. Aside from its literal inaccuracy, I think that statement is such a lazy way to describe one of our best joys in life: sports.

Last weekend was an absolute whirlwind of sports coverage. I went from Fargo to Alexandria and then down St. Olaf for a pair of section championship football games and the state cross country meet. I saw the spectrum of teams and kids at their highest and lowest points of their athletic careers in those three days.

Mahnomen-Waubun beat Ada-Borup west on Thursday night to win the Section 8A football championship. Less than 24 hours later, Detroit Lakes’ football season came to an end in the 8AAAA title game. The following afternoon, Perham’s Jakob McCleary won the Class A state championship as the Yellowjackets brought home two runner-up finishes.

There was a winner and loser in every single one of those events. But saying things like “You can’t win them all” inadvertently makes those days about wins and losses. In reality, those days represent so much more than a final score.

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Mahnomen-Waubun lost to Ada-Borup-West 33-12 in the regular season before beating them 30-7 at the Fargodome. If those two teams played 10 more times, I think each of them might win five. But on that day, only one group of guys brought home a section championship.

The Thunderbirds are headed to state for the second time since merging athletic programs and the Cougars’ season ended shorter than anticipated. Was their season a failure because they didn’t go to state? Even though some people would say yes, it was absolutely not.

Detroit Lakes had a taller task on Friday night in Alexandria against the best Class AAAA team in the state. At times, the Lakers looked like they could compete. But whatever they had on Friday night wasn’t enough.

Boiling down an entire season to a statement about winning and losing is lazy. It’s cheap. Saying “you can’t win them all” is a cop-out way of saying you’re not good enough. Every single one of those players in those two games was good enough to be part of something greater than themselves beyond a final score. The last thing any one of those kids wants to hear is that they weren’t enough by saying, “you can’t win them all.”

I’ve been doing this for three years now, and covering those games is never easy. How do you try to capture the excitement of winning a championship? How can you write about kids at their lowest points in life? It sounds dramatic, but for many of these kids, their sports are the most important thing they have in life right now. How can you not empathize with them?

Perham head cross country coach Jeff Morris said something to me in an interview I will never forget. For a pair of teams that’s been to state a combined 39 times over the last two decades and has won multiple state championships, Morris said the goal is never to win state. If that’s your goal, and you fail, then what do you have left?

Morris didn’t say that to discourage athletes from doing their best and trying to accomplish the most. He wants his kids to remember their time running cross country for more than first-place finishes. He wants his kids to celebrate how much they’ve grown in and out of the sport, along with the accolades that come with it.

Perham saw each of its Class A state championship streaks come to an end last Saturday. Both teams each took second place by six points, which is about a second slower than first place on average. Could the Perham teams have won those races? Yes, but they didn’t. Yet all of those kids and parents had ear-to-ear smiles in the St. Olaf auditorium with second-place medals.

Sandwiched in between two days of celebration, the best thing I saw last week came from the Detroit Lakes football team. After a season-ending loss, the Lakers made sure they walked off the field for the final time that year as a team all together. At their ultimate low, they showed their strength as a unit. That was pretty dang awesome to see.

Losing should hurt. Losing teaches you things that winning can’t. It’s a feeling that should sting. But don’t lose sight of what you accomplished. Be proud of what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come.