PETALUMA - Ava Naworski smiles about as often as she breathes. Heather Mahoney looks as threatening as a marshmallow. The two of them, if they were to represent the weather, would be judged as sunny with no rain in sight. They never get hot and steamy. They are a day at the beach.
They are world champions … but where … exactly? To win especially at their level, is to strut, preen, pound your chest like King Kong. To be successful in sport you need attitude. Shout so loud they can hear you on the moon.
“No one likes a sore winner,” said Naworski, 11.
“It (bragging) annoys people,” said Mahoney, 13.
Of course the temptations are there to wilt their sportsmanship and send it packing. Nien days ago in Minneapolis at the Junior World Racquetball Championships both Petaluma residents won the right — or is it excuse? — to shower themselves with ego.
Naworski, a sixth grader at Corona Creek Elementary School, won the gold medal in girls 10-and-under doubles, teaming up with another Californian, Sonya Shetty.
Mahoney, an eighth-grader at Kenilworth Junior High School, won the gold medal in the girls 12-and-under singles. Mahoney has won 13 U.S. national titles.
Based on their accomplishments both girls are members of Team USA Racquetball. Based on their accomplishments they would be excused if they were to wear their gold medals around school and sign autographs at lunch.
Ah, but then they would have to answer to their parents. Matt, Ava’s dad, keeps it simple and … profound.
“I just want her to be a happy person,” he said. “I want her to enjoy the process, embrace the process. I want her to value the process, that winning doesn’t dictate whether it was success. If she plays hard, tries her best, that’s a win for me.”
Matt and Melodese, Heather’s mom, believe in the approach that seems so old-school, so ancient, so much in conflict to what captures a YouTube video these days — driven parents who drive their kids into therapy.
Such is the story that Ava and Heather, their parents and their coach, Brian Dixon once witnessed. A father was so upset at his son not playing well he called timeout, came on the court and ordered his miscreant to do wind sprints as punishment. In the middle of a match.
Melodese told the story of a soccer father who told his son he would take him to McDonald’s if he would score a goal. Her nose scrunched up when she told the story.
It was really scrunched up when I asked her the following question.
“What would you do if Heather threw her racket in anger in a match?”
For a moment Mom stared at the ceiling of the coffee shop. Then she lowered her gaze and then raised her voice.
“I’d be horrified,” she said.
Frankly, these two girls are what we like to think of Sonoma County kids: driven but in control, passionate but never so much as to lose compassion, proud to achieve but never to excess, smart of strategy but even more aware of life outside of a game.