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Doing the right thing isn’t always easy

Sportsmanship is defined as “the character, practice or skill of a sportsman.” More specifically, sportsmanlike conduct is the combination of “fairness, courtesy, (and) being a cheerful loser.”

Anyone who has played in a competitive sport understands the term and has likely been faced with opportunities to show both good and poor sportsmanship.

It would be nice to say we have always chosen the former option, but it would probably be disingenuous. When push comes to shove, we all want to win.

But what if you were declared the winner but didn’t actually emerge victorious? How would you handle that?

Former Phoenix Metro Tech High School runner Josue Hernandez handled such a situation the right — and honorable — way, and for that he has been named as the November finalist for the Parker and Sons Heating, Cooling and Plumbing Character Counts award.

Hernandez was declared the winner in a 5K race but knew he, in fact, did not win. So he gave his first-place medal to the real winner, leaving him without anything to show for his second-place efforts.

“The track was sort of confusing because we had to go around an area twice, and one of the kids was in front of me and the people who keep you on track asked him, ‘Is this your first lap or is this your second lap?'” Hernandez explained, “and he said, ‘this is my first lap.'”

Had Hernandez been leading the race, he would have said the same thing because it seemed like it was the first lap. His opponent, the runner leading the race, ended up running an extra lap, allowing Josue to finish sooner and be declared the winner.

After the race wrapped up, it was determined that Hernandez’s opponent ran three laps compared to everyone else’s two. However, the coordinators chose not to change the results.

The decision did not sit well with Josue, who chose to give his first-place medal to the runner who earned it.

“I knew he was going to beat me. He was about 20 seconds in front of me and in cross country it’s hard to catch up,” he said. “I just told him ‘Hey, did you actually complete your second lap?’ he said, ‘Yeah, man.’ I said, ‘OK, you deserve this.'”

Hernandez, 18, said the only people who knew of his gesture were the real winner’s parents as well as his own team.

He said his teammates questioned why he would surrender his medal.

“Well, he beat me,” Hernandez told them.

Makes sense, right?

Hernandez, an 18-year-old Arizona State freshman studying biomedical science and hopes to work with diseases one day, said his family felt the same way he did. It made sense to give up the medal when it was not actually earned. However, his gesture left him empty-handed. There was no ripple effect, no medal to exchange. Though he actually finished in second place, Hernandez did not leave with anything to show for it.

Knowing that would be the case did cause him to think about what he was doing, Hernandez said. Ultimately it meant more to do what was right than to leave with an award he did not earn.

And in the process, he may have unknowingly set a positive example for his two brothers, aged 11 and 6 months, to follow.

“At that time, I wasn’t thinking I should set an example for my brother,” he said. “I may do it differently — through academic work, but not through athletics.”

Perhaps that’s why Hernandez doesn’t feel like he did anything special. He just did what was right.

“I think that’s what most people feel compelled to do, if they know something,” he said, before admitting, “I guess it doesn’t happen all the time.”

No, it doesn’t.

Character Counts is a registered trademark of the Josephson Institute.
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