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The Emotions of Sports: Sadness comes in many forms

Despite the macho exterior, athletes can become downtrodden, too

Posted: August 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Sadness is an emotion that is not as prevalent as others in sports.

In many sports, mostly if not totally confined to male sports, sports are identified by machismo and because of that, sadness is a burden.

But it’s there and it comes out in many forms.

There’s regret and depression and sorrow and pain.

For some athletes, dealing with death is one of the rare instances of sadness that they have to deal with.

For others, losses of other types and family issues or relationship issues bring on lament.

In the last decade, the Santa Clarita Valley has witnessed some extraordinary performances after a parent has died.

The two most notable ones were the deaths of Valencia baseball player Brian Howe’s and Hart football player Delano Howell’s fathers.

On April 28, 2006, Howe’s father, former Major League pitcher Steve Howe, was driving from Arizona to watch his son play a game and his car flipped in Coachella, killing the 48-year-old.

Brian Howe decided to play for Valencia in its game against Burbank that day.

“I was at school, so I went home for lunch and I walked through the front door and (my mom) and my sister were standing there just pale and had been crying. I thought my ferret escaped,” Brian recalled in 2006. “They just both broke down. ‘Dad’s dead.’

“I was like, ‘No way.’ I didn’t believe them. I went and got my baseball stuff and went to the field.”

Brian played outfield for six innings then came in to get the last outs of the game on the mound that day.

“I asked the young man, ‘Do you want to play today?’” remembers Valencia head coach Jared Snyder. “He said, ‘Absolutely. I’m not missing this.’ (I said), ‘I completely understand if you don’t want to play today. He looked at me like, ‘I’m going to knock you out if you don’t put me in the lineup.’

For him to play that game and do what he did is special.”

Hart head football coach Mike Herrington said he made the same offer to Howell, his star running back.

On Sept. 15, 2006, Howell tallied more than 200 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns in a 39-16 victory over Bishop Amat, just days after his father died.

“I did this for my family,” he said that day. “I did it for my dad.”

“He was very shook up a day or two after,” Herrington says. “I had never seen him so shook up. But with the support of his brothers and mom, he was able to rally and was able to understand. Part of it is his faith. He’s a devout Christian. His family has always been devout Christians. He realized that he needed to carry on. If it wasn’t for his support group — his family and friends — it might have been a lot tougher.”

But death isn’t the only sadness that young athletes in the Santa Clarita Valley encounter.

Sometimes there is long-lasting depression.

Hart High golfer Kendall Dusenberry said she battled it after wrist surgery took away her junior season.

Though it was later found that a medication which was recalled induced much of that depression, Dusenberry’s mother Samantha Ford said the fact that something was taken away from her daughter was another factor.

Dusenberry said that for months, she became withdrawn and would go into her bedroom and concentrate on video games.

She jokes that she got very good at video games.

“It was kind of a numbness,” Dusenberry describes. “I can’t tell you what I did for eight months while I was off. I kind of zoned out.”

Off the medication and ready to golf her senior year, Dusenberry is in a different mental place — a stable place.

Dusenberry says she has seen depression in at least one other student-athlete.

That athlete became saddened by a recurring injury that prevented her from playing.

West Ranch athletic director Dody Garcia, who has worked at every Foothill League school in the William S. Hart Union High School District, beginning with Canyon in 1976, says she has seen more sadness from females than males.

Females tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, while males tend to bottle it in more, she says.

Kids, she says, usually don’t say they are down. She says it’s usually something a coach notices — usually a change in behavior.

At the high school level, there are a lot of growing pains — fights with parents, breakups and other circumstances that can have an effect both in the classroom and on the playing field.

Garcia says there isn’t necessarily a protocol for kids dealing with issues because educators try not to overstep their boundaries.

But since educators see the kids so often, is it their responsibility to step in if they see a downtrodden kid?

“Yes and no,” Garcia says. “It’s not a hard, fast rule (to not step in). It’s part of our job as a coach that we’re teachers. We are part counselor, part teacher, part parent, part friend. We don’t have formal training, but it’s just a human compassion we can show.”

Yet Garcia notes that there are counselors on campus who coaches can have athletes see.

That goes at the college level as well — at least at College of the Canyons.

COC head football coach Garret Tujague said if things get severe, he can take a player “upstairs,” meaning to the school’s athletic counselor.

One part of sadness he comes a cross often is homesickness, as College of the Canyons’ roster has included kids from as far east as Florida and as west as Samoa.

Tujague admits, though, that he doesn’t have a lot of patience for homesickness.

“My No. 1 thing is you have to realize where you are, and you have to have a bigger yes,” he says. “There are things you do every day that you don’t want to do and things I know I don’t want to do, but in order to get to that bigger yes, I have to do this. Is that going to College of the Canyons away from home, is that part of the bigger yes? Yeah. As long as you embrace and realize there’s a day you’ll go home. Are you going to go back home with something in your hand to give back to where you came from or are you going to go back home with nothing in your hand and ask for home to give something to you after they already have?”

But there are other issues that Tujague says he has encountered — issues that he says he could write a book about.

He says he has staged interventions in his own garage.

But on the field, he says those issues shouldn’t matter.

In a lot of ways, sports is a safe place — an escape from the pain.

At least it’s that way for some.

“I would be devastated if I couldn’t play golf again,” Dusenberry says.


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