The Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade football team's first-ever victory Thursday over Holbrook represented more than just a tally mark in the "W" column.
The triumph was about never quitting.
Those athletes who hadn't won a game in two years refused to give up when it must have seemed in their young minds that everything, and everyone, was against them.
As objects of ridicule from fellow students, and some adults, the players had every opportunity to call it quits. Throwing in the towel would have been the easy thing to do. No adolescent wants to be associated with so-called losers.
All season, the team has been besieged by challenges including low roster numbers and the loss of some front-line players to academic eligibility and discipline problems.
To each of the eighth-graders credit, they refused to give in when it looked like they might never win a game at RCMS. Instead, they turned out for each weekday after-school practice hoping that elusive first victory was just a Thursday away.
It took tremendous courage for those teenagers to take on the adversity they were facing and continue to play the great game of football.
I was among those who last summer helped convince former Payson High School player Jimmy Oestmann to help Cory Kroll coach the eighth-graders. Having been a former teacher and coach of Jimmy, I was convinced he had the resilience and determination it would take to help guide the youngsters through what everyone knew would be a trying season.
Coaches Oestmann and Kroll have done a tremendous job in keeping the players focused on the challenges facing them.
A losing streak like the eighth-graders just ended was a huge burden for the young players and the coaches to bear.
I know that first hand.
In 1983, I took over the head coaching job of a Show Low High School team that had been winless the previous season and lost most games by 30 to 40 points.
The head coaching position turned up vacant when the former coach was tragically killed in an automobile accident.
That season, the biggest challenge our coaching staff faced was helping the players believe in themselves.
Along with most of the student body and some faculty, the townspeople were down on their high school football team, partly because Show Low High had never beaten rival Snowflake.
Fortunately, we turned the tide and finished with an 8-2 record.
We won the East region championship, earned the school's first berth in the state tournament and survived a pulsating 14-7 win over Snowflake.
Having been through what happened at Show Low, I knew what the RCMS eighth-graders and the coaches were facing this season.
To this old coach's way of thinking, the team's victory over Holbrook should be a testament to each player's tenacity.
I have tremendous respect for what they accomplished -- not the win, but the will to win.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Anything is ours, providing we are willing to pay the price."
The eighth-graders paid the price.