WOODSTOCK – Curtis Price woke up last week to find the news clipping on his desk.
Price's wife had placed the story there, knowing that the Marian Central boys basketball coach would see it. The Aug. 11 headline on the front page of our sports section screamed "LEARNING FROM LOSING" in big, red letters, along with a picture of five Hurricanes players slumped in defeat.
"I thought, 'Hmm, I can use this,' " Price said. "I thought I'd put it in the locker room. I didn't say a word. I just hung it up with some tape on the blackboard."
It's not there anymore.
Because Marian's players happily ripped it to shreds after beating Marengo on Friday to win the Class 3A Woodstock Regional championship game.
Because Marian's players quickly turned their attention to the team's next challenge, Wednesday's Hampshire Sectional semifinal against Sycamore.
Because Marian's players have learned from losing, and now they're winning. One year after going 4-27, the Hurricanes have won 18 games and counting.
"We took that to heart," junior guard Wyatt Lindell said. "We came out and we changed that story."
Now seems like a good time to tell it.
When colleague Joe Stevenson and I started our story project last summer, we knew that we were dealing with a sensitive topic. Our editor, Jon Styf, had pointed out that we always wrote about the winning teams, interviewed the winning players, described the winning shots.
What about the other side of the story? What about the teams that didn't win?
So we went to work, searching for high school players and coaches who were willing to have open, honest conversations about what it was like to lose. These conversations would be published in tens of thousands of newspapers and benefit the interview subjects in no tangible way.
Some athletes said no thanks. Many more never returned our calls.
But Marian's basketball team understood the purpose of our story. Price, Lindell, Derreck Caldez and Quinn Haley all made time for lengthy interviews, discussing in detail the mental, physical and emotional toll of a miserable season.
Still, it wasn't fun to open the paper and see their faces next to a big story about losing.
"We used that as motivation," said Caldez, a senior guard. "We wanted to change that. We talked about it over the summer: What are we going to do about it? How are we going to change this?"
The answer boiled down to hard work, confidence, and an infusion of new players. One of those new players, sophomore guard Adam Pischke, drained a half-dozen 3-pointers in Friday's regional championship game as Marian won its sixth consecutive game.
Physical practices have been key to this season's success, Haley said.
"From the start, it was, 'We're not going under .500. That's not going to happen,' " Haley said. "We've just been beating each other up every day in practice so that doesn't happen."
So if you stumble across that old story about losing, go ahead and tear it up.
Because Marian is filled with winners.
"I think, subconsciously, it was always in the back of these kids' minds, that we were not going to have that picture of our basketball team again," Price said. "And that's a good thing for these guys.
"I had nothing to do with it. It's all about these kids. When they become determined to do something, they can definitely go out there and do it."
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.