Mark Gutman/Batavia Daily News | Alex Brasky is a reporter/columnist for the Batavia Daily News.

Le Roy senior A.J. Schmidt’s ‘last run’ served as a stark reminder of just how important high school athletics can be to a young man or woman. Schmidt’s last run displayed entirely what being part of a team is all about and represents why the impact of high school athletics goes beyond the playing surface.

For athletes, sports can help teach one to overcome struggle, strive for greatness, and help usher one along the path toward becoming the best version of themselves. Without high school sports, it’s uncertain where many of us would be at this point in our lives and what we would be able to overcome on a daily basis.

Let’s take a journey back to 2008 when I was a snot-nosed high school sophomore.

Pulled up to the varsity baseball team as a small group of underclassmen, I had a great season at the plate, batting over .300 coupled with a fine defensive year while serving as the team’s utility infielder. Leading up to that season, I had worked my tail off. I was at one of my previous coaches, Bruce Dedman’s baseball school, every week, working on my swing and making sure to keep my fielding skills in shape. All of that work paid off with a big season on the big stage.

With that said, that’s where things started to go wrong for me. Following my big season, I began to make poor decisions in my personal life that led to self-destructive behavior that would carry with them consequences I wouldn’t suffer through until a bit down the road.

The next year, my junior season on the baseball team, school just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore, and I began to cut class, goof off and do everything I could to be the next Eddie Haskell.

Fast forward to baseball season, and things truly began to unravel for me. My off the field exploits continued, and I started the season hitless in my first several games and wasn’t the player I once was in the field. Having spent all of my offseason time goofing off, and not taking the time to prepare myself in the preseason, I was starting to reap what I had sewn.

It didn’t take long for my coach at the time, recently retired Blue Devils’ baseball coach Rick Saunders, to kick my butt to the curb and sit me on the bench.

I couldn’t take it.

To make a long story short, I quit the team unceremoniously and went on my merry way to do more dastardly deeds.

It didn’t take long for me to regret my decision, and soon after the season was over, I approached my coach and teammates about rejoining the team the next year. Thankfully, they obliged.

As I had earlier in my high school career, I went back to the basics. I went back to Mr. Dedman’s school, worked on my swing, took ground balls, and did whatever I could to prepare for the upcoming season.

The only problem was, my team had already found my replacement and were thriving. In other words, they had moved on without me.

That season I had to endure a few of the most challenging months of my life, as I didn’t play a single meaningful inning that year and was forced to sit on the bench to reflect on the choices I had made that placed me there. Instead of getting caught up in my own success and failure, as I had always been to my detriment, I began to relish in the success of others, and most of all, the team.

Those months, sitting on the bench as a senior alongside sophomores and juniors, was a humbling experience, but one that still impacts me to this day.

As I look back on that time now, as an adult, I am thankful for my bench-warming days. That time on the pine helped teach me valuable life lessons of what hard work truly means and helped hammer home that there are consequences for every action you take. Now, my life hasn’t been perfect since then, but those days have positively impacted me more than I ever thought they would.

During such difficult times as our society finds itself amid today, we must continue to provide the youth of our world with opportunities such as the one Schmidt and his teammates enjoyed this past weekend. It’s moments such as these, and my own story, that can provide life-long lessons that make an impact in a young person’s life for years to come.

Schmidt’s ‘last run’ served as more than just an athletic achievement, but a lifetime achievement made possible by a true team in every sense of the word. In a world where opportunities for young athletes are dwindling by the second, it was a joy to see the Knights take advantage and provide one of their own with a memory that he will likely never forget.

Rather than take these moments away from our young athletes, it’s time that we find a way to present them with more opportunities to achieve.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1