Related article: Combating the negative impacts of reality TV on girls' sense of self

SALT LAKE CITY —

One of my colleagues recently wrote a fascinating story on the negative messages girls get from reality television programming and how parents might counteract them.

It was an enlightening look at the messages girls often receive when watching "real life" as television drama. While a media researcher offered some great tips in the story on how parents might help their daughters navigate these mixed media messages, I have another: Get young girls involved in sports.

I can think of no better way to help girls see past the superficial than to ask them to push themselves to their physical limits.

From mid-August until mid-June it is my job to watch girls deal with reality — physical pain, fear, disappointment, rejection, acceptance, elation, working with others and trusting that the adults around them might know something they don't.

And over and over I see these girls grow, triumph, evolve and teach. They teach each other. They teach themselves. And they teach anyone willing to stop and watch — including cynical reporters.

It is one place where action speaks louder than words. (Even when you're one of the league's best trash talkers, Kevin Garnett.)

If you are a faker, sports will eventually expose you. You can buy the latest fashions, wear the newest trends in shoes or uniforms, but if you haven't practiced, aren't prepared or don't have an intelligent strategy, somebody who did all of that will make you pay.

If you're not a team player, it will become clear when your team is tested. If you're not putting in the training, it will show at the free-throw line or on the track. If you're not listening to your coach, it will be obvious when the spotlight is hottest.

After reading the research done by the Girl Scout Research Council in my colleague's story, I began to reflect on the "real" stories I'd been witness to this spring. These girls deserve to be starring in a television show, and frankly I think the public would find it far more entertaining than any of the current offerings. (Although I admit I only watching singing and dancing shows — not any of the modeling, food, fashion or dating reality shows.)

Maybe one of the reasons I've never been inclined to watch "Bachlorette" or "Jersey Shore" is that I get plenty of drama watching Copper Hills make its first playoff berth or seeing a small-town girl overcome a mental hurdle that would cripple some professionals.

Jordan Theurer is just a junior at Bear River High. But she is so talented that she has never actually been pulled from a game. Until a game against Spanish Fork, she'd never been humiliated on the softball field.

When head coach Calvin Bingham pulled her out of the game ( the score was 11-0 in the third inning), she cried.

I saw how much failure hurt a young girl.

The team ended up losing 16-0 in three innings. It took an hour and one minute for Spanish Fork to dismantle what looked like an invincible program.

The tournament rules gave Theurer 20 minutes to recover before she had to face those same girls again.

Think of what it feels like to be humiliated — to feel like you've failed, to feel like you want to go home and go back to bed. And then think of what it would take to face that fear and frustration with the kind of resolve that would allow a team to then beat that same Spanish Fork squad 8-0 for Bear River's fifth straight title.

Theurer was humble, grateful and emotional afterward. It was so much more dramatic and inspiring than any vote off or roommate fight.

And then there were the storylines of the 5A state softball championship. On one side was Copper Hills. The Grizzlies, who'd never been in the title game, relied on senior pitcher Shelby Abeyta, who battled and beat ovarian cancer as a sophomore.

Two years ago, the team rallied around Abeyta, allowing her to be involved in whatever way she could because it was the only place she didn't feel overwhelmed by the sad, sickening reality of fighting cancer.

And now, there she stood, the woman they relied on. She was a supportive teammate, a determined competitor and an academic all-state winner who proved that being strong is about doing your best under any circumstances — no excuses.

There isn't a mother around who wouldn't want her daughter to turn out like Abeyta.

And on the opposite side, there was junior McKenna Bull. She's shy and would rather not have the spotlight on her. She cringes when asked about being interviewed and constantly praises her teammates.

She wanted to take the Weber Warriors where they had never been — a 5A state title. She battled constant pain and her hand swelled so much she could barely move her fingers.

She felt responsible for the team's loss to Copper Hills two days earlier in the tournament when the Grizzlies won on a wild pitch. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or blaming someone else, however, she took the responsibility to heart.

She prayed for help and strength, and she looked to her teammates for support.

She did what a loving, generous and determined leader does.

And she ended up with that title.

Copper Hills' loss doesn't diminish who those girls are or what they accomplished any more than Bull's loss two days earlier changed the kind of admirable girl she is.

What these girls showed is the kind of reality entertainment that the world needs to see more than it needs to see another around-the-world treasure hunt.

These girls and their real-life drama offered the kind of inspiration I'm not sure you'll find on a show about bachelors, big brothers or even the country's next top model.

Maybe that's because it's not about reality. It's about ratings.

Sports, on the other hand, are about teaching young people that life is hard, complicated and that what the world sees in or expects from you isn't nearly as important as what you believe.

Related article: Combating the negative impacts of reality TV on girls' sense of self

email: adonaldson@desnews.com Twitter: adonsports