- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

At its heart, isn’t the moral lesson in the Cinderella story about faith and deeds? If you keep doing what you do well, you keep trying to achieve your dream and you keep the faith, the impossible can happen, no?

During this miraculous March Madness, area college basketball fans were fortunate to witness not one but two Cinderella teams make it to their respective Final Four: the George Mason men and the University of Maryland women.

The Terps play ACC foe Duke tonight for the national title while the Patriots are back home, having lost in the national semifinal on Saturday. Whether the Terps bring home the glass slipper from the grand ball does not matter much at this point. Both teams, as well as George Washington University and Georgetown, have done the District, Maryland and Virginia proud.

How do you like those underdogs now? Talk about first-class role models, college students showing that you don’t have to be superstars to be super winners.

“The entire nation embraced this team,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga told Jon Siegel of The Washington Times. “It became so much fun to win a game and have everybody feel great — not just us — but everybody around us. That enthusiasm, it defies words. … It was a magic-carpet ride.”

Still, what the Washington-area teams achieved most dur-ing the NCAA tournament was even greater than their victories on the court. These determined players presented area youths with a priceless lesson in the larger game of life: Winning isn’t everything; trying is.

As Grandma Bea used to say: “Nothing beats a failure but a try.” Or, as Sly Stone used to sing: “You can make it if you try.”

Try hard they did, and the Patriots’ and Terrapins’ extraordinary efforts undoubtedly shaped or renewed the hopes of many youthful dreamers. That is an immeasurably worthy win.

What a wonderfully positive image for our children to soak in — fired-up student athletes, male and female, standing up to giants and beating them against all the odds. It surely beats the diet of the all-for-a-bling-bling-buck or winning-at-all-cost ethos our children are force-fed daily from news reports to video games to the soccer field.

What a refreshing change from watching one more grieving mother or father following the casket of their child claimed by another senseless act of violence. Instead, youngsters were treated to the heartwarming positive picture of a loving father hugging his daring son — Lamar Butler Sr. and Lamar Butler Jr., the ever-smiling George Mason guard — with the tears streaming down his face being of overwhelming pride and joy.

These scrappy basketball teams also demonstrated the heights that can be attained as the result of teamwork over selfishness. Their welcome camaraderie is a smack in the face of the predominant unsportsmanlike conduct we see today.

What better example for area youths of the ultimate value of scholarship than the George Mason players going back to their dorms to study after pulling off the biggest upset victory in NCAA history? Listen to one GMU player when asked what he was going to do next after the No. 11 seed team beat the No. 1 seed University of Connecticut to make the Final Four. He didn’t say, “We’re going get our party on.” No, he answered that he was going to study because he had to pass a test the next day.

Count another lesson: Winning the game was great, but passing the test is an even bigger priority.

Even Larranaga said the team couldn’t stick around because if they weren’t playing, they had to get back to class.

Herein the “student” was put back into the term “student athlete.” After this whirlwind journey, we can only hope that GMU President Alan Merten will be able to keep his pledge to put academics first and resist expected pressure to commer-cialize the basketball program like so many big schools.

As for the Maryland women’s team, with no seniors and not nearly the same resources or reverence as the men’s program, you go girls.

They were right to point out the imbalance in press coverage and fanfare surrounding their equally remarkable climb through the NCAA brackets.

“All season long, this team has played with a chip on their shoulder, and I really felt like they have had to fight for respect every step of the way,” coach Brenda Frese said. “They keep taking us for a ride.”

Perhaps now the Lady Terps finally will get the attention they deserve, and more young women will be encouraged to participate in athletics. I’m sure I could start a heated debate with some, but aren’t the women players more exciting to watch?

“This is the most physical game I ever played,” sophomore Crystal Langhorne told reporters after beating North Carolina on Sunday night in the national semifinal. And it showed. Along with her teammates, she was equally hard-charging, articulate and impressive during post-game press conferences.

In the daily devotional book “God Calling,” it reads: “Remember, not what you do, but what you are — that is the miracle-working power.”

On behalf of the Washington area’s youths, a special thanks to the George Mason Patriots and the Maryland Terps for a monumental March in which they tried harder and helped all to keep the faith in Cinderella dreams.

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