The agony of sports is what makes it great

It took only a short while for the state cheerleading championships to vault right into the arena of being labeled a sport rather than activity.

After the three dozen teams competing in the afternoon session congregated on the competition floor at Memorial Coliseum, the fourth place teams in the three categories were announced. In the Class 6A/5A Large division, West Albany took fourth. The team captains collected their trophy, returned to the spot the team had staked out right in front of the awards area and sat in stunned silence.

Then, some of the girls broke down and cried.

West Albany won the state title in the Class 5A Small division last year, but expanded its team and moved up to challenge the much larger schools this year.

They had a fantastic, energetic performance that showed the kind of swagger a defending state champion might have. So when the announcement came that those girls had finished fourth, it caught my attention, too.
Fourth? What? No, no, no.

Turns out they did have a great performance according to judges, scoring the second-highest total in the dance and choreography category. They had only an average score in the tumbling/jumps category, though, and were penalized for something known only to the judges.

The penalty, which can be for a variety of reason that include suggestive hip movements, caused them to slip from second to fourth, which is a big difference when you’ve got the idea you might have won.

West Albany had, by far, the most emotional reaction of the awards ceremony, and that included the celebratory screaming from the three teams that finished first: Westview at Class 6A Small; Springfield at Coed; and Tualatin at 6A/5A Large.

Tualatin, which won the state title at Class 6A Small last year, had a better score in tumbling/jumps and smaller penalty.

Mike Fratello, telestrator in hand, might have pointed out that West Albany likely would have won with one more gymnastics element.

That kind of reaction all the cheerleading team had happens in activities quite often because the outcome of a competition is hidden until it’s released. There’s no scoreboard to tell you who’s winning. In a sport, you can have lost by the third quarter and just be waiting for the game to end.

Even sports where the outcome is in some doubt rarely get the kind of reaction involved in Saturday’s awards ceremony. At the state cross country championships, for example, the four teams awarded a trophy are singled and know they’ve at least finished fourth. Then they’re reduced to two - champion and runner-up. When the announcement of second place is  made, it’s the signal the other team’s won. At the 2011 championships, only one of the 10 boys or girls team champions seemed to have a pulse when the announcement came.

“If they’re second, then we won, right?”

Yes, that’s how it works.

We’re all familiar with the thrill of victory, but it’s the second and third, even fourth-place finishers that give you a real sense of how important a sport is. Or an activity.