I had no skin in the NCAA championship between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels — I’m an OSU Columbus alum — but I surfed a tidal wave of emotion late Monday night as if I did.
I was joyous and incredulous as Carolina came from 10 points down to tie the game with 10 seconds left on an off-balance three-pointer by Marcus Paige, and equally joyous and incredulous as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, with five seconds remaining, answered with his own three-pointer to claim the title.
It was a privilege to watch that game. It was as transporting and edifying as any Shakespeare play or Greek tragedy. It was, yes, art.
And didn’t we all feel the same way two weeks ago, when the Lima Senior High School Spartans were beaten, and beaten hard, by Westerville South with a winning bucket that came just seconds before the final buzzer? How terrible was that loss for the Spartans and their fans, but how awesome the fight.
“I kind of reminisced about our game,” said the 17-year-old Spartans guard Jarius Ward, who watched the televised NCAA championship game. “It was similar. They hit a big shot, we hit a big shot.”
Jar, as everyone calls him, said he was rooting for the underdog, Villanova. But as the confetti fell from the rafters and the Wildcats fell all over each other in jubilation, Jar said he identified more with the crestfallen Tar Heels.
“I still have emotional nights some nights, but I’m kind of facing the fact that it’s over with and I’m going to try to get back to the same place next year,” Ward said.
I’m fascinated by how people, especially athletes, metabolize loss because I’m not good at it. Just ask my husband, who has had the misfortune of playing me in tennis. I am ugly and selfish in defeat. I take it personally. I am ruined.
So how will the Tar Heels move on? How, for that matter, will the teenage Spartans, and Jar, who will be returning next season as a senior and team leader?
I want to know, because I don’t know.
“It’s about redefining loss and redefining win,” Bob Litwin told me. At 68, he’s still competing at the highest levels in tennis. He’s a former world No. 1 and author of the soon-to-be-published book, “Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change.”
“I’ve lost a lot. I won 18 national championships but I probably lost 60 or 70 of them,” he told me by phone from his home in Colorado. “Am I a loser? No, not really. I always feel defined by, how did I compete?”
He said there are many ways to win.
“One is the score. The other way is when I don’t have any energy left and I find more. Or when I’m on the precipice of losing and I fight again anyhow,” he said.
When I asked Jarius Ward if he looks for other ways to win, he visibly brightened.
“I think about the loss, obviously, but I think about the small things that I did to make me feel like I won,” he said. “I try to think, how many turnovers did I have?” — his goal is to keep them under five — “and what was my shot percentage?”
So here’s how Jarius Ward won two weeks ago. He had one turnover. He hit 50 percent of his shots, completing three of six attempts.
He wins by having his motivation stoked by being the runner-up.
“I explained to them, our season for 2016-17 starts today,” said Spartans coach Quincey Simpson of a team talk on the Monday following the loss to Westerville South. “I had an opportunity to taste Columbus. Now I want the opportunity to eat.”
Simpson, Ward and the Spartans also win by having gifted their school and community with a thrilling story and a tremendous effort.
“They understand that they had a tremendous year,” Simpson said. “I don’t think they wanted to hear that, after the game. But now they do. They understand the impact they had on an entire city. And this is something that will go with these guys forever.”
Jarius Ward isn’t thinking about forever right now. Like the winner that he is, he’s thinking about his goals for next season.
“I know what it takes to get where we were at, so that’s going to help me a lot,” Jarius Ward said. “The one loss, it doesn’t get me to the place where I don’t think we were great or anything. I still believe we were great and we will be great.”
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter @lima_eddings.