The greatest sign of a person’s character are the things they do when they’re not asked to.

I’m not sure if someone else has already made that quote famous before I came up with it in the process of writing this column but it sums it up well to me.

Plenty of us can do the right thing when it’s easy. It’s much simpler to justify the sacrifice, small or large, when we know the outcome or even frankly when we’re ordered to do so through our job, church, etc.

And in 2019, it’s easy to go out and do the right thing when we know someone will see it, whether through our own posting on social media or through someone else’s. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it’s not much to be proud of either.

It becomes more difficult when there’s real sacrifice to be made. When asked to give up our own time, our own money, our own anything to do something simply for the betterment of other people, we’re not so quick to jump off the bench and tag in for the sake of service.

Which is what makes the actions of Defiance football seniors Tyrel Goings and Zach Parrish so notable.

Goings, Parrish and the Defiance football team turned my head when I got a tip Tuesday night about a Facebook post that couldn’t help but put a smile on my face.

Rewind to Monday afternoon. Freshman Blayze Fitch had his bicycle stolen while he was at football practice at the school that day. According to a friend of Fitch’s mother, who posted it to Facebook. “This kid was so hurt … He’s a freshman at Defiance and has been struggling with trying to make new friends. I’m in a wheelchair so (I) don’t drive much, so he really needed his bike!”

The bicycle in question actually belonged to Fitch’s brother, making things doubly worse. The bike was later found but the damage had been done. Nobody wants their property taken away, even if they do get it back.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning.

“I wake up to two texts from two senior boys asking me if they could chip in as a team and buy my son a new bike!” read the post. “I’m so overly impressed with these young men. It’s RARE these days to find such empathy in teenagers.”

Parrish and Goings, two-way senior starters for the Bulldog football team, led the charge to corral enough money to buy Fitch his own bicycle.

Now, high school-age kids today get a bad rep. Whether it’s the infamous Tide Pod hysteria of late 2017, the music that even 27-year-old millennial me doesn’t quite get at times, or the overall doubt and disregard older generations have for the young whippersnappers, teenagers often are looked at as selfish or look-at-me or screen addicts or plenty other sub-par things.

But nobody made these guys do it. Nobody made the other kids on the team chip in money. Nobody made senior football players who get their name and picture in the paper plenty often step up for someone they’ll only spend a year as teammates with before they graduate.

But they did anyway.

And that’s what we all can learn from this. Not just that teenagers nowadays aren’t the snarky, self-centered, screen-addicted, not-knowing-what-a-VHS-tape-is kind of people they’ve been portrayed as far too often. More importantly, we need to realize the good in people.

It’s easy to be divisive. It’s easy to draw generalizations about people. And it’s even easier to go in your own shell, hear what you want to hear and think what you want to think about people.

It’s much harder to go out on a limb and give up something of yourself.

If the previously-cited Facebook post had never gone up, I know full well Zach, Tyrel and the other Bulldogs wouldn’t have minded a bit and still gone out of their way to get Blaze a new bike.

I’ve interviewed many of these kids over the years though this job, even Tyrel and Zach specifically, and that’s what keeps me at this job and keeps me so passionate about telling these stories.

Sports are far too often boiled down to winners and losers, valuing the former too highly and placing an undue burden on the latter.

Parents get a fair amount of criticism for that mindset but parents also should get the credit when things go right. The actions taken by kids on their own are a reflection of the principles instilled by the parents and coaches in their lives.

What sports are really about, at this level, is shaping and guiding the next generation to be leaders and to be good members of the next teams in life, whether in the workplace, their future relationships or just in everyday interactions with people.

If anything, I’d say we’re in good hands.

To Tyrel, Zach, head coach Kevin Kline and the Bulldog football program, I give a hearty bravo.

I enjoy writing the game stories and the previews and the features. But these stories?

These are the best of all.

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