Monday, August 25, 2014

The Girls and Boys of Summer

Robbinsville Softball 2014 LL World Champions
The last month of the summer of 2014 has produced many memorable moments. For the third time in the past seven years, I have had the privilege to watch former students of mine from Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ pursue a World Championship in Little League Softball. Watching these young ladies, some who sat in my classroom just two years ago on live national television was thrilling. Their skill level was superior to the competition this year and they were clearly the best team. While skill and work ethic were obvious strengths of this team, they possessed qualities that were even more impressive.  They possessed an unmistakable confidence and poise which would ultimately pay huge dividends and help them win their first World Championship. That poise and confidence did not just surface for the first time in the final game. These qualities were cultivated over months and even years by their dedicated coaches that put them in a position to become World Champions. The girls, their coaches, parents and community members have many reasons to be proud and there is much cause for the celebration of their success this summer. As I watched the students from our school on national television record the final out, I remember repeating proudly,"they did it, they did it." I will never forget the joyous, emotional reactions of the girls that followed that last out. I am proud of their success and in the manner that they represented themselves and their community this summer. They demonstrated true grace and class in their victory and taught everyone a lesson in perseverance.

After watching that last out in Oregon, my focus eventually turned to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the 75th annual Little League World Series. My two teenage sons have not played a Little League baseball game in over three years yet they remain enthusiastic and passionate about the Little League Word Series. They continue to watch it with great interest. Every year as I watch as well, I am reminded of the joy that accompanies youth sports. There were many compelling stories this year that took place both inside and outside of the field of play. The captivation of the nation by Mo'ne Davis, a 13 year old girl who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, was a story that marked a drastic change in the gender landscape of youth sports. Her success on the mound this summer was unprecedented and played a significant role in the arrival of the Taney Little League from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Williamsport for the World Series. While Taney fell short of advancing to the U.S. title game, 36,000 people turned out and were able to bear witness to them winning two games. Meanwhile, Mo'ne was at the center of it all. Davis in the interviews came across as the consummate team player, claiming discomfort that the attention she received detracted from the overall success of the team and the attention they deserved as a result.

Another great story featured the Jackie Robinson Little League West, from Chicago, Illinois, the first team of all African Americans to advance to the Little League World Series in thirty years. They would ultimately upset the team from Nevada and win the United States Championship. This was a team of "grit" that would come from behind time and time again, putting themselves in a position to play for the coveted World Title. Yesterday against South Korea they made a spirited run at the championship, scoring three runs in the final frame but fell just short of achieving their ultimate goal. Although the scoreboard reflected a loss this group of young boys represented themselves with great integrity and dignity. On two separate occasions after a Chicago pitcher hit a South Korean batter, the pitcher went over to check on the welfare of the hitter and shook the hand of the hitter in an apologetic gesture.  True class and true sportsmanship! South Korea emerged as the champions and deservedly so as they were clearly the most talented team offensively and defensively. They completed this years competition going undefeated and have never lost in their three appearances at Williamsport, also winning titles in 1984 and 1985.

While watching the telecasts over the past several weeks my sons and I watched great competition but more importantly we watched kids experiencing the true joy of sport. We witnessed repeated gestures of sportsmanship game after game. We learned of the camaraderie and friendship that existed off the field among all the competitors that is part of the Williamsport experience.  We watched the coach of Rhode Island, David Belisle, in defeat give one of the most inspirational speeches in the history of any sport.  I only hope that either one of my sons aspires to be that type of coach. These telecasts allowed us to experience first hand the positive qualities of sports when our athletes and coaches perform and behave at the highest of standards.

While we have the opportunity as fans to watch and appreciate professionals play this game at the highest level, it is important that we reflect on the joy that is experienced when it is played at its most fundamental level by our children. It is important that we take the time and honor the boys and girls who conduct themselves in an honorable fashion and remind us each summer that their love of the game and the manner in which they play the game is just as important as ultimately winning the game.  When we think of the Boys and Girls of the Summer of 2014 we will remember their grit, their grace and their poise and the indelible mark that their performances left on our hearts and ball fields throughout America.

1 comment:

  1. Tom I love that this was the first thing I read this morning. This was a wonderful piece highlighting what's most important. I can't imagine how much fun you had sitting with your boys watching all the great moments. Thank you for writing this post!