For as long as I can remember, sports have been my passion. In grade school I couldn’t wait until recess to play baseball with my friends on the playground. In middle school I played on all the recreation and club teams I could find. By the time I reached high school I was a four-sport athlete. From the competition and the atmosphere to the victory celebrations and locker room jokes; everything about sports I just dig. It must be in my blood.

There are so many things that go on in the world of sports that are simply amazing. And those are the stories that you love to hear about. But it seems to me that the success stories and ‘against all odds’ stories are becoming secondary to a disturbed and corrupt world of athletics. Money, drugs and violence have become all too common in sports headlines at more than just the professional level.

Sport by nature is such a beautiful and pure phenomenon. We all grew up shooting hoops in the driveway as kids pretending to be superstars. “Down by two with three seconds left. 3 … 2 … swish as the buzzer sounds. The crowd goes wild! Roberts does it again!” Or how about recreation soccer and Little League baseball where everyone played for the orange slices during halftime and the candy at the snack shack after the game.

But somewhere along the way, that kid in the driveway grew up to play for an NBA team, making the headlines after choking his coach. Somehow that kid who played goalie ended up first in the NFL and then in a drug rehab following his third offense for cocaine use. Just like that kid who loved to catch pop flies ended up as a hockey father, killing a man over Little League hockey.

Where did the true essence of these games go? Even all the controversy at this year’s Olympics has got me questioning when and where something in athletics has gone wrong.

Nevertheless, I didn’t have to go very far to find a group of athletes who restored my faith in sports, and why it is I love sports so much. In fact, I found it right on our very own campus, acting as one of the managers for the UCSB women’s basketball team. Yes, because of me the team was not only hydrated by the highest quality H20, but the girls were also never in need for a towel to wipe a sweat-stricken brow.

Every day of the season this team reminded me about the beauty and purity that surrounds the game. It’s true what you’ve heard about senior forward Kayte Christensen. She really does play the game as if her life depends on every possession. Junior guard Debby Caine, plagued with just about every illness and injury you could think of this season, never let her ailments stop her. Every time sophomore forward Lisa Willett steps onto the court, whether it is a practice or a game, she is fired up to play.

Then there is Kristyn Miller, who made the team as a freshman walk-on. Four years later she now ends her career as one of the most impacting players both on and off the floor for the Gauchos.

If you saw the reaction on the bench when freshman walk-on forward Jessica Henley made her first collegiate basket; or if you could have seen junior guard Jess Hansen’s disappointment after finding out that she would not be allowed to play on Senior Day with Christensen and Miller, you would know.

You would know that these girls play hard and they play with heart. They do this all the time, even when times are tough, because that’s the only way they know how. You would see that these players have captured what the true essence of sports is.

You would see that they play for the love of the game.