Character matters when chasing championships

I’m a reporter in title, but anyone who knows me can quickly tell you that I’m a sports nut.

I truly do live and breathe this stuff.

Sure, I’m blessed enough to get to follow athletics for a living, but even when I’m off the clock, I’m at ballgames or are in locker rooms mingling with our area’s coaches or student-athletes.

So a local student-athlete asked me a question last week — and in the process of forming my opinion on the topic, I lucked into my column for the week.

The gentleman asked, “What’s the most important thing someone has to do to win a championship?”

So I thought, gave a generic answer, then pondered further in my own time.

In my time here, I’ve covered probably a dozen or so championship teams — probably more.

I’ve also covered close to 100 teams that were championship-level, but fell just short after deep playoff runs.

The first thing every, single one of those teams has is talent.

Look, it is what it is. One has to have God-given ability to be able to exceed in sports. It’s easy to come up with cute, creative cliches about being able to accomplish anything through hard work and dedication, but work and dedication doesn’t make someone 7-feet talent with a 40-inch vertical.

No matter the X’s and O’s, if a team doesn’t have the right Jimmy’s and Joe’s, they have absolutely no chance to win a championship. It is what it is.

But there are, of course, other factors in play.

Talent alone means nothing.

All of the championship teams that I’ve covered had coachable talent and high-character talent.

Let’s use two examples just from this year.

The Thibodaux High School basketball team won the Class 5A State Championship this past winter. By now, that’s old news.

But what isn’t old news is the makeup of that team.

The Tigers had talent, sure. But no one on that team is a college signee yet.

So how did they survive? They did so with character.

Coach Tony Clark built a culture within his program and his team 100 percent bought in to what the coach sold.

Those Thibodaux players had a rare brotherhood and chemistry that we almost never see at the high school level. Those kids played for each other and for their city.

And that character and camaraderie pulled them out of tough situations late in games.

They’re all great kids, too — the ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am’ type — a thoughtful and considerate bunch who truly deserved every, single last piece of success they earned.

That was their formula, so now, let’s compare it to another top team locally — the E.D. White baseball team.

Like the Tigers, the Cardinals have college-level players.

Wes Toups is an LSU signee and several other players will earn their place at the next level in the coming weeks.

But the Cardinals, like Thibodaux High, are also winners off the field, which is aiding in their success.

Last Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with those guys before their game at South Lafourche.

About an hour before the game, I needed a lineup card for the ballgame, so I made my way from the press-box to the field.

Every, single player I encountered greeted me and asked if there was something they could do to help.

Toups, seeing I was clad in LSU attire, said he was proud to be a member of the LSU family.

In the dugout, the kids were focused, but loose. They warmed up with intensity, played with intensity and great energy throughout the game.

The Cardinals succeed because of their depth. One through nine, they can hit in the lineup. They have an army of arms who can get outs.

And the reason for that depth is because those kids put in the time, effort and energy to get better throughout the year and they’ve all bought into their roles.

That team has 6 players who could be the clean-up hitter, but there’s no competition, nor friendly fire.

They string together good at-bats and know that individual accolades are not as important as team success.

So to the young man who asked me that question, know that talent is a must (which you have plenty). But also know that being coachable, buying into the game plan and being a good teammate matter, too — probably more than God-given ability. Of course, grades are important, too, because without them, you’re not eligible to play at all.

When no one on the team buys in, talented teams implode. When half do, a team can be really successful and can make a playoff run.

But when they all buy-in?

Well, that’s when we see a 2018-19 Thibodaux High School championship season or an E.D. White baseball undefeated.

Those runs are rare, but are special when they occur.

And they happen because of every, single last person in the locker room’s willingness to put “me” aside to cater to “we.”

When that happens, the sky is the limit and there’s no trophy that’s out of reach. •

Thibodaux title

Follow Casey on Twitter for more.