Archive for March, 2014

Annals of Sportsmanship: Coach K. Channels Coach W.

March 22, 2014

Much has been made – and rightly so – about Mike Krzyzewski’s classy post-game visit to the Mercer locker room. Coach K. congratulated the Bear players after they had upset Duke 78-71 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Bravo. We see too little of that nowadays. I suspect there’s more of it going on than is reported; after all, media bias is always towards controversy rather than comity. But when a captain of the sporting industry such as Mike Krzyzewski does something classy like this, it simply must be reported.

Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Shawn Walsh:  Classy, Frequent Winners Who Were Gracious and Sporting in Defeat

Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Shawn Walsh: Classy, Frequent Winners Who Were Gracious and Sporting in Defeat

Here’s a story of another such sporting gesture. Back in March of 1998, Boston College’s hockey team defeated Maine 3-2 in the Hockey East championship game. Black Bears’ coach Shawn Walsh visited the Eagles’ locker room after the game to extend his congratulations.

But Walsh took it a step further. He admonished the BC players to not be satisfied with the win. He told them that they were good enough to go all the way to win the national championship, to believe in themselves, and not to let up.

BC had endured six consecutive losing seasons before that breakout year. Getting that far was quite an achievement, and, quite probably, few of the players had expected to be national contenders when the season began. It’s about attitude, not just talent. Walsh knew what he was talking about, and he drove that message home.

As it turned out, BC went to the NCAA Championship Final game that year but lost in overtime to Michigan. But they have been a contender for the title in almost every season since 1998. I can’t help but think that Shawn Walsh’s visit to their locker room that night had a lot to do with it. Class wins out. So does sportsmanship.

Maine hockey was the Duke basketball of its day. Walsh had taken over a mediocre program in 1984 and brought it to two national championships. His 1992-93 team went 42-1-2.

The final game that Shawn Walsh coached was against that same Boston College team. BC defeated Maine 3-1 in the 2001 NCAA regional final and went on to win the national championship at last. Already ill with renal cell carcinoma, Sean died at age 46 in September of 2001. It was a terrible loss to the world of hockey.

This is playoff time. The games of today will always bring back memories of the clashes of yesteryear. We remember best those stories that go beyond the game scores and trophy presentations – the stories that remind us why we love our sports. The story of Coach Krzyzewski in the locker room will carry down through the years. So too should the story of Coach Walsh in the BC locker room.

Here’s to you, Shawn!

Hockey Memories

March 10, 2014

Winthrop High School celebrates the 50th anniversary of its hockey team this year. Though I did not go to WHS or play on that team, those days hold particularly fond memories for me. I was one of the “Saturday morning hockey gang,” the Winthrop kids who were introduced to organized hockey by the late Mort Buckley. Just a few years after it got rolling, in 1976, Winthrop High hockey won the state championship. My youngest brother Jackie played a prominent role in that tournament.

In 2007, a group of the Saturday morning kids led by Winthrop’s leading citizen Richard Honan raised funds for a plaque in honor of Mort Buckley. I did a writeup of that day and posted it on the net. Here it is again, in case you missed it. Winthrop Honors the Founding Father of Its Hockey

Go Vikings!

An Address to the Massachusetts All-State High School Football Team

March 2, 2014

IMG_7919aMaster of Ceremonies’ Welcoming Remarks
Delivered at the Super26 High School Football Awards Dinner
March 2, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 16th annual Super26 dinner, co-hosted by the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association and the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

I know I speak for both organizations when I say thank you for being with us this evening. You’ll hear from their presidents shortly.

If I were the president – president of the United States – I’d be thanking you too. And we’d be holding this gathering in the White House, and the award presentations in the Rose Garden.

That’s because what you’ve done is critically important to our country. To the fabric of our society. To what makes us Americans. You may well be the ones who are standing in the front lines, holding back a trend that is not good news for America.

I hope I’m wrong about that. But it’s worth mentioning.

When Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around this country back in the 1830s. He wrote his monumental work, “Democracy in America.” He was trying to tell the people of the Old World why America is unique among nations.

What he said then, I think, is just as true today as it was 180 years ago.

Americans are individual achievers. They strive to better themselves in ways that Europeans never imagined. But Americans also put that individualism together with that of others whose values they share. To strive for a common purpose, in community groups that are independent of their king and theig government.

DeTocqueville called that “self-interest properly understood.” It was a check on the tyranny that Americans had come here to escape. It was unique. It made America, America.

This is political philosophy, but it’s relevant to our gathering this evening. I got to thinking about it recently when I read a Wall Street Journal Article about trends in youth sports participation. Over the last five years, those trends are not encouraging.

In the four most-popular team sports – baseball, basketball, soccer, and football – combined participation by both boys and girls is off by 4% between 2008 and 2012. In some places, it’s worse. Ohio high-school basketball is off 15%. Sales of baseball bats are down 18%.

According to the soccer federation’s physical activity council, the percentages of inactive youth are up from 15% to 20%.

During those same five years, the population of six-to-17 year olds went down by less than one percent. Translation: same number of kids, a lot fewer of them playing team sports.

What’s going on here? Yes, there is a heightened fear of injury. But these numbers are from all sports, not just the contact ones.

Is it too much technology, and social networking, and video games? Have sports become too expensive? Is it not that much fun anymore, to be a member of a team, unless you’re an elite player?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But if these figures tell of a real sustaining trend, it’s a problem for America. And if it’s a problem, what you are doing is the solution.

The Center for Disease Control has been telling us that childhood obesity is way up since the 1980s. And our political leaders are blaming sugary drinks in high school cafeterias. Wrong.

Being physically active is the way to overcome obesity. But that is just one big benefit. Being physically active, in the context of a team sport, brings so much more. Self-control. Discipline. Pushing your own limits. Contributing to your group’s success. Understanding your own role and responsibility to others.

Or, as Mr. DeTocqueville would say, seeing to your self-interest, properly understood. The essence of America.

Playing team sports, and representing our schools and communities as you do, is one of the many things that make this country exceptional.

Super26 members, you’re the cream, and I congratulate you. But the cream can’t rise to the top unless it’s part of big jug of milk.
We’re honoring you tonight, but we’re celebrating all of your team mates. And your coaches and officials. They’ve all made possible what you’ve done. And they, like you, have done their parts to keep this great country strong and great and exceptional.

That’s why, when I’m elected president, we’re moving this dinner to the White House. I hope I’ll see you all there.