Amid the hoopla and excitement of dramatic comebacks, overtime victories and playoff fever I am reminded of the true essence and wonderful value of athletic competition as it relates to young people.
At Valley Forge four of our Five Cornerstones are evidenced in our sports programs. We see Character Development, Personal Motivation, Physical Development and Leadership all on display. One could also argue that Academic Excellence, the first of our Cornerstones, comes into play when one outthinks an opponent.
“The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” attributed to the Duke of Wellington, offers that those lads who played soccer, rugby and cricket growing up learned determination, resiliency, grit – all of which all came into play when the English defeated the French in 1815. Embedded in West Point football lore is the General George C. Marshall plaque located on the southeast entrance to Michie Stadium. The plaque quotes General Marshall, who was Chief of Staff during World War II, “I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player.” And, my favorite quote, often attributed to renowned basketball legend John Wooden, “Sports do not build character; they reveal it.”
Our College football program won its fourth consecutive conference championship this fall. A dozen of our Trojans went on to play professionally in the NFL. Last season Arizona Cardinals wide receiver and VFMA alumnus Larry Fitzgerald and Giants quarterback Eli Manning shared the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Our Commandant was a member of the 1986 Penn State national championship football team. Our Academy Dean of Students, who also coaches basketball and track, was a champion sprinter in college. Our art teacher is a nine-time Boston marathon finisher. I played lacrosse at the U. S. Naval Academy when we were nationally ranked, despite my most mediocre abilities. My teammates made me a better lacrosse player, but more importantly, they made me a better man. Our Academy basketball team is crushing opponents across the Commonwealth. We value athletics here – for good reason.
Renowned American novelist Pat Conroy beautifully explored the value of relationships among teammates and why they matter. Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season, recalls his senior season as the starting point guard on The Citadel basketball team of 1966-67. He writes lovingly about what it means to be a good teammate and why that matters on the court and in life. I encourage every college and high school basketball coach and player to read this work.
An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, by Pat Farabaugh chronicles the amazing story of two Pennsylvania natives. Stokes dominated the NBA in the late 1950s. During one game, the Cincinnati Royals star fell, hitting his head and becoming paralyzed from the neck down. The medical bills and the attention they required became almost insurmountable. Stokes’ teammate, Jack Twyman, became his legal guardian and assumed responsibility for his friend’s medical expenses. Twyman became a tireless fundraiser for his teammate. He shared Stokes’ story and raised money to pay Stokes’ bills. In 2013, the NBA created the “Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award” in honor of these two men. Stokes was an African-American. Twyman was white. Their powerful relationship was difficult for some to embrace during that era.
Sports matter in our communities, across the nation and certainly at the Forge. Athletic play supports all our Cornerstones. On its best day athletic completion is exciting. It allows for our very best, as competitors and people, to come forward. We learn amazing life lessons. We learn to love and respect the game, our teammates and, yes, even our opponents. This weekend football fans will cheer on their beloved teams and either bask in the glory of victory or wallow in the lull of defeat. No matter the outcome, we hope for good clean games that allow for the true glory and the best lessons of sport to shine through. Come see our Academy Basketball team, or any of our teams, and revisit the glory, value and love of sport.