Great games, great opponents
This February, on the day before the State Division 1 Swimming Championships, the long-time and beloved coach of the Acton-Boxborough team, Jeff Johnson, unexpectedly passed away. Johnson was respected by all for his unequivocal support of his athletes, their opponents and particularly young coaches. As you would expect, his team was dazed and devastated. In an extraordinary show of support, the Concord-Carlisle team arranged to pick up the Colonials, ride with them to the meet and support them throughout the day.
Every fall the Kicks for Cancer event is a memorable part of the soccer season at Concord-Carlisle. With games of all levels, boys and girls, against Lincoln-Sudbury, the event raises funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Center. This honors Lois Wells, a beloved member of the Concord community, who died of cancer in 2007, as well as other community members who have faced this devastating disease. The Lincoln-Sudbury community has come to be an integral partner in this event, which has raised over $350,000 for a great cause.
First Lieutenant and Army Ranger Scott Milley, a hockey star and graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury, tragically died in a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. Every year the hockey season for Lincoln-Sudbury and Concord-Carlisle begins with Warriors4Warriors/Patriots4Patriots. This event features games between both the boys and girls hockey teams. The funds raised from activities surrounding the event go toward the support of the families of service personnel. This event is always a moving and uplifting experience for the athletes and the fans.
Over the last 60 years I have been involved with playing in, coaching, refereeing and now writing about innumerable athletic contests. It has become clear to me that truly great competition requires respected and great opponents. It also is apparent to me that truly respecting and appreciating an opponent requires more than just a handshake at the end of a game. It depends upon an understanding of who they are and a fundamental empathy for them as people.
I had the great privilege of coaching high school golf for ten years. Golf is a unique sport, combining serious competition along with social interaction. Going on a two- to four-hour walk with someone in a beautiful place is a pretty good opportunity to get to know them. Early on it was clear to me that my young golfers had a solid handle on the competition part of the process, but could use some work on the social aspect.
I decided to initiate a new requirement after each match. Each of them on the van ride home would be required to relate something personal about their individual opponent. As you might imagine, the first few reports were a bit underwhelming. But after some discussion in the group about how to initiate such interactions, as well as the social pressure to report back in front of the group, things began to improve dramatically. While I always took significant satisfaction from the competitive success and skill development of my players, it was an equal joy to hear their tales about their competitors and, often, their new friends.
Athletic contests in the end are just games. But they are also an important training ground for values and behavior. In my opinion, this is particularly important at a time when dialogue in our country at the highest levels seems to have devolved into vilifying opponents and winning at all cost. When I become discouraged in this regard, I often think it is wise just to watch and trust the kids. More often than not, they lead us to a better place.