“We never know how what we say, do, or think today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.” A life-long friend and high school teammate recently shared that quote when I told him about a former player’s recent visit. This player’s four years as a Hilltopper coincided with the most successful stretch in our long and proud football history. We earned our way into three state championship games, winning one of them, and made it to the state semifinals the other year.
However, the young man who visited wasn’t the star quarterback, a team-leading lineman, or dominating linebacker. In fact, he never started a game. He made the most of his opportunity to play late in games when the outcome was often already determined. Yet, he felt something significant about his place on the team, his pride in belonging, and the opportunity to contribute.
After a few minutes of small talk, he said, “Coach, there’s a reason for this visit. There’s something I want to give you.” He reached into his pocket to reveal a patch and two challenge coins. Then proudly shared he had become a United States Marine, and the patch and coins were from his new team; the Helicopter Squadron that flies the President on “Marine One.”
He went on to relay he initially did not want to play football as a freshman, but his mom made him. Despite his reluctance, he found teammates and a culture instilling pride in being part of something special. He felt “strength in numbers,” as the team overcame deficits or rallied to lift the motivation of a struggling teammate. He closed by saying “he owes who he is today to his high school football coaches and teammates who gave him both the courage to become a football player, and the confidence to become a Marine.” I am so very thankful for his visit, for his mom’s understanding that the rewards of the game: the lessons about oneself and one’s team are worthy of the sacrifice whether one plays all 48 minutes or only four.
As my long-time friend went on to say, “In hindsight, we see the incredible impact sports had on our lives and the lives of our teammates. We learn as young men the leadership and mentorship of a good coach is life-changing.” He went on to say, “But we have no idea how many of these stories exist… and in a world so frequently dominated by divisiveness and acrimony, isn’t that potential for good, just incredible?”
It warms my heart to know that there is one story such as this, and I trust there are many more.
Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!