Hall of Famers

Hall of Famers May 2, 2014


There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Almost everyone in the room was standing and applauding the speech they had just heard. I was fighting back tears myself. How could someone not used to being in the spotlight keep everyone so respectful, so enamored and so drawn to this woman who had given so much of her life, her love and herself to our athletic department? Where did she practice this speech I wondered? Where did my secretary, all 4’9″ of this 73-year-old grandmother, find the calmness to talk about what she loved most…our coaches and athletes? She has been at the job for over 20 years and was universally loved by all! But more on that later…

The other honorees, one could have figured, would be anywhere from good to great speakers. One former basketball player was terrific from start to finish. He heaped praise on his parents and his coaches, saving the best for his older brother, saying he made him what he was today. His brother never let him settle and had made him compete and earn everything. One speaker was so humble and appreciative that he said very little and, often as these things go, that was appreciated as well.

Two speeches before the one made by my secretary, a player from one of our state championship football teams spoke. He had the crowd laughing, and then crying, as he spoke about his team and his high school football coach. He didn’t talk much about himself, though he was the honoree. Instead, it was of the coach who had instilled a belief in him and his fellow teammates that year that had never been duplicated or forgotten. He spoke of a work ethic that was unmatched, through this man’s college football days and even during his stint in professional football. He told of that championship season as if it were yesterday. There were “pride runs” through town that were not a lot of fun at first. But, with each victory, the team grew together…proud of their last win and looking ahead to their next game. Residents began to cheer the team on while on these runs and the crowds grew at each game, whether home or away. The coach was meticulous in every detail…how to walk from the locker room, how to warm-up correctly, how to dress, how to conduct yourself on and off the field and, ultimately, in life.

The crowd listened intently as this man took everyone into the locker room before the last two games. He told of his coach’s motto for that season. “I am Spartacus,” the coach had told them before the season. From the movie “Spartacus”, that is what every slave stands and says in when they come to arrest Spartacus. So for the team that year, that was it: We are one. And here it was, 40 years later, still talked about, still remembered, and with a new Hall of Fame member proudly telling the story in honor of his team and his coach during his high school years. You could see and hear the pride in his voice and in his face as he spoke lovingly about the man who had been so hard on them, but cared so much that he made them into champions. He finished his speech thanking the coach, now over 80 years old with “Coach…I’ll…make that WE … will never forget what you did for us that year! Taking young boys teaching, coaching and molding them into champions…. You told us then that we would never forget how we felt that night, no matter what we would become or where our lives would take us. I am here tonight to tell you that you were right…Coach…I am here to tell you…I am Spartacus.”

Well, I will tell you that there wasn’t a person in that room who wasn’t moved by that Hall of Fame acceptance speech. This included the coach who was openly crying. Hall of Fames can make that happen to athletes, coaches and people involved with sports. It is a recognizing of a part of someone’s life that is precious. It’s about a passion, a love of something that they hold very dear. Their sport, their team, their memories their childhood and their life…all wrapped up in a five-minute speech. Some give it a great deal of thought, some do not. Doesn’t really matter…the best speeches are always directly from the heart.

I have been lucky enough to be in two Halls of Fame. I was inducted as the long time head basketball coach and athletic director at my former high school. Things had gone very well during my tenure there, with a state title and a number of league championships. Our record and our program had grown in stature to be well respected in the county and the state. But more impressive were the young men who went through the program and gave so much of themselves to the basketball program. Many went on to great accomplishments in their lives. I have spoken at funerals of their parents who passed, attended weddings, parties and various alumni functions over the years. But nothing scared me more than the task of talking at that Hall of Fame ceremony. So many former players, parents and students came back, it was quite overwhelming. Did I cry? You bet I did. The player who inducted me with a wonderful speech is now my vice principal. He just had his first son a year ago and he and his wife moved to a town where my son happens to be the head boys’ basketball coach at the local high school. He told his wife he wanted his son to play for my son. Talk about a Hall of Fame responsibility! I was flattered and so was my son. I know he will be up to it!

As I introduced my secretary to the crowd, I realized she really needed no introduction at all. When you spend your life doing things for others, you have already earned the respect of all of the coaches, teachers and athletes. Throw in the students, parents and people from other schools that came in contact with her on a daily basis and you may begin to see why she was voted in our athletic Hall of Fame. She was tough but fair, and calm, and I don’t believe she has ever said a bad word about anyone. Her speech was one of joy and great memories. As she finished, she said “I bleed red and black (our school colors) and my family is all of you right here in this room!” She meant every word. I should tell you that the coach in the story is actually her ex- husband who cried again while his ex-wife spoke. It was an emotional night for everyone.

While Hall of Fame ceremonies mean something to everyone there for different reasons, I will tell you that on that night, the warm feelings and genuine sentiments that permeated that room were from the heart, and as real as any professional sports Hall of Fame. The difference was….this was about something personal…our youth, our friends and families, our love of sport when you played for the love of the game and the passion for practice and teammates and your local school was something bigger that you ever realized! If you ever get a chance to go to your local school’s Athletic Hall of Fame dinner or ceremony, I strongly urge you to do so. Just sit back and LISTEN! Really listen to the inductees and know that the best sports that are offered may be just in your own home town. You may just feel as lucky as I do everyday to be a part of high school athletics.

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