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Sometimes we just need to take things at face value.

When I was reading Friday's front-page story about the Texas High and Arkansas High football coaches' addressing the local Rotary club in advance of their big rivalry game, I was drawn to THS coach Gerry Stanford's words: "That's what this game is all about. Somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. And out of that competition somebody's learning how to get back up and somebody is going to learn how to handle success and how to move on and be humble within that success."

That statement, in my mind, was code. He was preparing his faithful fan base for a loss, lowering their expectations. Why else would he remind us that someone was going to lose?

Another reason, I imagined, for Stanford's apparent pragmatism: His team was playing across town on rival turf, in a place sure to be rocking, even hostile. If everything else was equal, that would still be a disadvantage.

Well, his team didn't lose. The Tigers won pretty handily, 28-7, and all that posturing I envisioned went up in a big poof.

That's why they play the game, to lean on another well-worn cliche.

To their credit, when addressing the Rotarians, both Stanford and Barry Norton talked about the value of football in teaching life lessons to help young men mature, the value of hard work and preparation, and the start of the season as symbolic of a new beginning.

They could have done a lot of rah-rahing, but they didn't. They kept it on the kids.

And, casting aside my suspicions, Stanford was absolutely right about what would happen at this game — and practically every game: There will be a winner and there will be a loser.

It you take all the wins from all the football games played this season, or any season from now into the future, and compare them with the losers during the equivalent period, the numbers will always be the same.

It is a zero-sum game.

That's why there are about as many happy people as there are sad ones at any given time.

That's why the important lessons learned go beyond wins and losses and encompass a variety of challenges that unfold between that first practice — or the preparation for it — and the last whistle.

On this plane, growth and achievement aren't measured solely by wins and losses, and a lot of kids who take it on the chin at one game get right back up and are better for it.

That's why, as they say, there is always next season, or the next challenge ahead and the reality that losing a battle is not the same as losing the war. For high schoolers, this is just one of many moves they will make in finding their way on the playing field of life.

The Texas High-Arkansas High game isn't a reliable predictor of how the season will unfold. For anyone except each team's local fan base, this game is practically meaningless. It decides and predicts practically nothing. It confers some bragging rights, and that's about it.

The season could go a lot of ways for both teams — including nowhere at all.

But nobody wants to think about that. Because hope springs eternal. And when it comes to an oblong ball with pointy ends, anything can happen.

Someone once said we learn more from our defeats than from our victories.

A toast to the perspective that appreciates both.

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