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A sports dilemma: Play in a game or dance with Dad?

March 5, 2012 | 12:07 pm

Should high school athletes care about sports deeply enough to place the importance of it above all else?

Many do, especially at the elite level, but on Saturday, a group of skilled Southland softball players found where their love of the game has a boundary. He goes by the name of Dad.

Here's the dilemma faced by the Glendora St. Lucy's softball team as told by Times staff writer Lance Pugmire:

Saturday afternoon, my daughter, a senior co-captain for Glendora St. Lucy’s softball team, participated in a 14-0 rout of Capistrano Valley in the first round of the Brea Olinda tournament. Instead of moving on to the next winner’s bracket game, St. Lucy’s forfeited.

With the rout, St. Lucy’s was to advance to a scheduled 7 p.m. Saturday game against Fullerton Sunny Hills -- a team St. Lucy’s coaches believed it could beat even by inserting some necessary substitutions from the junior-varsity roster. A miscommunication occurred, however, and the junior-varsity girls were unavailable to play Saturday night.

So, the entire St. Lucy’s infield of six senior players had a decision to make: Pursue the Brea Olinda tournament championship by remaining in the winner’s bracket, or forfeit by leaving the premises to keep their Saturday night dates with their dads at the 50-year-old institution known as the St. Lucy’s Father-Daughter Senior Dance.

The St. Lucy’s athletic director scrambled unsuccessfully to make things work. A request to play Sunny Hills earlier Saturday at Brea was denied by the tournament organizer. An offer to move the game a few miles down the road to Sunny Hills was dismissed. So the girls had to choose: Big game  or big life moment?

Think of all that goes into the bond of daddy’s little girl. The protective love, the admiration, the bumps in the road, the lessons shared. Is there a better lump-in-the-throat moment at a wedding?

"Some of the girls never get that wedding dance with their dads," said St. Lucy’s teacher Erica Hamel, a former student at the school. "I have many friends whose dads died before they were married. So their last picture with their dads was on the Father-Daughter dance floor. It’s a very special thing."

We’re getting ready in my home to send my daughter in September to Pace University in New York on a softball scholarship. So there is clearly some deep appreciation of each other going on as the days escape from the calendar. A dance before that goodbye would be cherished. Yet the game-or-dance decision had to be made on the softball fields, in the minutes after a convincing victory that made the mind race to thoughts of a tournament championship.

"What are we doing?" one anxious parent asked while the answer -- and a revealing look at just how intense girls’ athletics has become in this country -- hung in the balance. St. Lucy’s Coach Ryan Nuveman’s younger sister Stacey, a three-time U.S. softball Olympian who played on two gold-medal-winning teams (2000, 2004), participated in the Father-Daughter Dance with her dad, Tom, an assistant St. Lucy’s coach.

Coach Nuveman decided when he reviewed the tournament bracket earlier in the week that his senior players would miss the 7 p.m. game if necessary. With the junior-varsity players unavailable, however, the seniors could’ve split from unanimously going to the dance, with a few remaining behind in Brea to avoid a forfeit. Tears welled in my daughter’s eyes over what to do.

“I’m staying,” she said. “I’ll play.”

She plays the game year-round, is as competitive as they come and is looked upon to help lead the senior-loaded, 2011 CIF Southern Section quarterfinal playoff team stacked with talented players headed to Illinois, San Diego State, University of San Diego and St. Joseph’s. The girls have developed a practiced instinct to pursue greatness. It was that versus the fact you only get one dad.

“You guys are all going to the dance!” Coach Nuveman ordered, an executive decision timed perfectly. “Go dance with your fathers.”

So St. Lucy’s won’t win the Brea Olinda tournament this season. But all of the girls were able to share a dance with their fathers. And I’ll bet that memory is the one that sticks.