Gladwin High School graduate Hayden Scott knows what its like to lose something very dear. Health problems in high school prevented him from reaching his full potential as an athlete, but did not prevent him from reaching it as a person. He graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in Psychology and is now training to be a Mental Health Therapist. He is married to his high school sweetheart Grace Shaw and runs the S.P.A.R.K.S Program at Gladwin High School along with serving as the Youth Leader at Cornerstone Baptist Church. Below is a letter he wrote to this year’s seniors.
from Hayden Scott
What would I say to athletes who lost their spring sports?
I would begin by sharing my story. In high school I dual sported kicking for the football team, and playing soccer. I also played basketball. I had dreams of playing in college for any of the three sports going into my junior year as it was looking promising. I lost 25 lbs. in two weeks as my body rapidly deteriorated. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and I was never the same athlete. My digestive issues became overwhelming as I began IV infusions and tried eating as much as I could to make up for what I had lost. I was eating 5,000 calories a day for months and didn’t gain 1 pound. I couldn’t absorb any nutrients, and any I did were burned off from sports. Physically, I lost strength, speed, agility, energy, and the ability to recover. Mentally, I lost drive, passion, and enthusiasm. All that followed was shame, and embarrassment. From a starter, captain, leader, to someone who fell into the background and spent a lot of time on the bench. Too sick to play. Had to quit football because my digestive issues wouldn’t allow me to play.
All of this to say, I lost something. I know what it feels like. And, what I gained, I wouldn’t have traded for the world. More on that in a minute. First.
This is a loss for you.
So many people are losing in this world. People are losing homes, jobs, careers, educations, and loved ones. Some may say we are going through a season of loss.
And it may seem like the loss of a sports season doesn’t compare.
Pause. This is a loss for you.
And it matters. Why? Because you loved it. You enjoyed it. You valued it. It brought you joy. It included memories and friendships. Laughing, winning, victory, and satisfaction.
You get to feel the loss. It’s your loss.
All of your plans have been unexpectedly changed. Sports seasons, field trips, ceremonies, last days of school, vacations, and so much more.
This disruption may not have given you the opportunity to say goodbye to sports, and friends, and other significant people the way you wanted.
It is important to feel these feelings of disappointment, anger, confusion, and loss.
We can’t do anything about the disruption itself, but we can control how we respond.
All I can share is how I responded to losing sports…
Sports had its time and place in my life, as it does most high school athletes, and then it is gone. We learn so many invaluable lessons.
We learn working towards something with passion, integrity, and sacrifice. We learn how to fight for our brother or sister on the court, track, or field. We learn to work together for a common goal. We also learn how to be coached and take direction.
By no means will I ever talk bad about sports. It meant too much to me. I know it means a lot to you too. It isn’t just a game. It is a time where some of the most important aspects of life hit you in the face and teach you how to get through this thing called life.
Get up and work harder. Keep pushing. Don’t give up. Help her when she gets double teamed. Help him by doing your part. You lost. Lose with respect, and class. Be here on time. Stay after practice, let’s practice this new move a few more times. Crush this one. I can’t believe we won. I can’t believe we lost. Lead us to victory. Take over the game. We need you.
This is sport. And it will never leave you, regardless of when you were told you can’t play. These lessons transcend that rainy day on the soccer field, cold night throwing the last pitch, or the intense last leg of the relay.
You will come out on the other side of this more refined, stronger, dedicated, loyal, passionate, and empowered.
In this season of loss, I think about what’s next for you. What’s coming in your new season? The season of gain.
This is what I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I gained the ability to empathize with people who went through the same things I have.
I gained time to focus on other areas of my life that were hidden in the shadow of sport, put on the backburner.
I gained more time to spend with my loved ones.
I gained new perspectives on life, friendships, and purpose.
I gained focus on loving intentionally. Loving the ones who matter most.
I gained the capacity to be loved.
I gained the ability to put my ego where it belongs.
I gained a focus on my new passion, mental health, and a mentor that taught me so much about treating others with compassion and venturing into the world of healing. Most importantly, I gained a new identity, the part of me that was hiding, flourished.
This was a step towards my journey to have an authentic existence.
I took the lessons from sport and now try to be true to myself. I am on that journey to live authentically.
I had to realize what I was projecting to others. Where did my value come from? Where do I seek validation? Sports? Other’s acceptance?
If you fail in sport, are you a failure? Do I believe that people value me based on my performance?
This is the danger and trap so many young men and women in sport fall into.
You are not defined by how many goals you score, how many seconds you shave off, or what your average is.
You are so much greater than that.
You gain a new season.
You gain a new journey.
You gain a new script, blank, unedited.
Your story didn’t end. It is just beginning.
From Marc Jarstfer
Dear Spring Senior Athletes,
The beautiful thing about high school athletics is that it provides a safe arena for young adults to experience the many successes and failures associated with their own individual sports. You learn many traits that will serve you well for the rest of your lives. These are traits that will make you a better employer/employee, friend, spouse, daughter/son, and mother/father. There are few things like it that help prepare you for the success and challenges you’ll face in adulthood.
Think back to all of the hours spent fielding ground balls, taking batting practice, practicing your start out of the blocks, jumping and throwing, working on footwork and dribbling skills, and perfecting your approach shot. You worked hard on improving these skills because there is a sense of accountability that comes with being part of a team. This takes a high level of dedication and an immense work ethic. All of the practices, weekend tournaments/events, and long bus rides built relationships and gave you many close friends. You developed communication skills by working with coaches and teammates to accomplish team goals. You learned to sacrifice your own statistical successes for the success of the team and larger vision. You learned to be humble in victory and handle defeat with class and dignity. Lastly, and probably most fittingly, you found ways to persevere through difficult times and challenges.
Although you didn’t get the final chance to display all of your hard work on the field, track, or course and there is a lingering emotional pain that comes with it, there is still plenty to celebrate in knowing that you are better for having taken part in it. This spring gives you an early chance to show off all of the life skills that you’ve learned from participating in high school athletics.
As you move on, I look forward to watching you all go out and accomplish your dreams and attain the many goals that you’ll set for yourselves. You’re all capable of doing great things and making a positive difference in the world!
I am by no means a decent letter writer. Those of you that have been with me in a team huddle will remember that I can’t even recall athlete’s names in the heat of the moment. I’ve read some of the other letters your other coaches have written, and they offer great advice with more experience in life than I have!
I do not know what words I could give you, that would make you feel not cheated of losing your last athletic season. I do know that over the previous month, I’ve run into all of my senior athletes (from an appropriate social distance, of course). I’ve enjoyed just seeing you and checking in with you and all of the things you have planned. Every time I have left from seeing one of you, I’ve talked with Lauren about how good it was to see and speak with you for just a few moments, and we are both hopeful about what the future holds for you.
I think what I’m trying to tell you is that while it is unfortunate that you’ve lost out on so much with losing your spring season, I hope that you have learned that one essential theme in sports and life is the importance of the relationships that you have created. I cherish all the memories we’ve made over the years, and I hope when you go on to bigger and better things that you check in with us!