One of my old high school football teammates and I crossed paths in the grocery store about a month ago. It had been more than a decade since we had seen each other so we decided that shopping could wait but getting reacquainted over a couple of beer couldn’t.
The very short version of the rest of the story is that he is now the head coach at our alma mater, and asked me to give the pregame speech before this weekend’s game. For reasons that would take way too long to explain, this is a huge deal for me. What follows is the latest draft of my speech* – any thoughtful criticism would be appreciated.
There are only a few people in this room who had the great privilege of knowing Dr. Oliver Thomas. He was the football coach, and head student counselor here for almost thirty years. Your coach and I played four years for him, won conference and city titles with him, never lost a game on this field with him. In our time with Coach Thomas, we only lost three games, were nationally ranked three of those years, produced a handful of professional players, scores of collegiate players, and routinely smacked around your opponents today.
I would love to talk with you about any of those experiences, but if Dr. Thomas knew that I only had this time to address you, the newest members in the fraternity of young men who have worn these colors, and I spoke only of sport, he would be disappointed in me.
The legacy of this school is in the ninety years it has produced fine, and well balanced men. You will play many games, and there will be many people in your lives, and some who just want to be in your lives. Some of them will tell you that the scoreboard is what matters. I agree with them, but we will use different standards of measurement. The scores that matter will reflect the men you will become, the effort you will leave behind and the measure of character in your performance.
This day matters. This game matters. How you play matters, but only in the context of the man you become when this game is over, your high school career over, and you leave this hallowed institution as graduates.
Doc Thomas never cut anybody – people cut themselves; he always said. If you gave everything you had on the practice field, on game day, in the classroom and in the community you were forever welcome on his team. In life, you won’t get cut from anything either if you keep giving your all and in all things.
20 years ago your coach and I played this team to a virtual stand still on this field. We were ranked number one and they were number two. The game proceeded as expected between two good teams – a seesaw for most of it, but we finally got up five points with five minutes to go. They came down the field until they were on the one yard line with two minutes to go. And we stood em’ up. Four plays in a row, no quit.
Do you want to know the first thing that Doc Thomas said to me after the game? He said “that was a helluva game, Refugee; let’s see that same effort on your physics test on Monday.”
Play this game in the same way you live your life – on the field, in school, and beyond all of this – all go, no quit, until whistle blows.
* names and some details changed for obvious reasons.