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Win with grace, lose with dignity

March 14, 1981, is a day that will forever stand out in my memory. On that day, my Benson High School basketball team won the state championship, defeating Hillsboro. That victory capped an impressive 25-1 season and forever put our team in the Oregon School Activities Association record books.

Much has happened in the 22 years since that magical day in Memorial Coliseum. I had a short stint as a professional baseball player. I traveled to seven countries. I attended college and then had a taste of reality, working in the real world. Sports have been, and still are, an integral part of my life.

Today, I am the head boys basketball coach at Lincoln High School. Lincoln has a culture and a community that prides itself on academic excellence. Currently, our team is ranked fourth in the state, thus creating the perfect environment to achieve both athletic and academic success.

The success has come at a price, and that price is pressure. The pressure to win and maintain that winning attitude can be overwhelming for a high school basketball player. Society has consumed itself with the idea of winning. Finishing at the top of your class is good. Competing and succeeding in the job market is good. Playing on the best team is good. Winning is good.

I am faced with the challenge of putting together a successful team while keeping the experience fun. I learned at an early age the importance of discipline, dedication, determination and desire Ñ athletics have given me structure, and I indoctrinate those principles in my coaching.

While I coach, I also must remember that I am a role model to many of the young lives that I come in contact with. It's a challenge for me to creatively blend my passion and aggression with an approach that is appropriate for today's group of athletes. What was acceptable yesterday when I was a youngster participating in athletics may not be suitable by today's standards.

People often ask me to voice my opinion on the Rasheed Wallace incident. Rasheed is obviously a very competitive individual. He plays with a high level of intensity. I coach the same way. Maybe Rasheed's competitive juices drive him to be an emotional player. I can't blame him for that. I met Rasheed once. He seemed to be a very nice person, and my judgment of him is based on how he treated me.

I read where a mental health expert theorized that Rasheed experiences 'cognitive neoassociation.' I don't know what that means in English, but I do know that it is sometimes difficult to be in competitive situations and feel that you are being treated fairly. For me, maintaining constant contact with the principles and lessons that I learned early on in athletics provides proper perspective.

I look back on all the good coaches and role models who provided a positive springboard for me to achieve my goals to succeed in this world. For those reasons and those reasons alone, I have been able to compete in the game of life and often win. If I lose, I will lose with dignity.

Troy Berry attended Oregon State University and is the head coach of the boys basketball team at Lincoln High School. He lives in Northeast Portland.