Yesterday marked the Hockomock League Captains Leadership Conference, held at Lake Pearl Luciano's in Wrentham. The annual event is held for the senior captains of all interscholastic sports in the 10-school league. Mansfield's athletic director Joe Russo was responsible for the planning and implementation of the event, and he did an outstanding job, as the workshop for 480 student athletes featured preesentations on such timely topics as bullying and sports-related concussions.
I was asked to give some welcoming remarks to the students. Below is the text of my comments. This was an easy one for me, as I wanted to work in the recent story of Armando Gallaraga, a vignette that to me represents all that is right in sports!
Good morning and welcome! It certainly is a pleasure to be speaking to some of the best and brightest that the Hockomock League has to offer. I am certain that most, if not all of you are not only leaders on the playing field and court, but also in the classroom. Confidently, I speak for all 10 schools’ principals and athletic directors in the Hock when I say we are all very proud of your accomplishments and we wish you nothing but success in this school year! Keep up the outstanding work!
At today’s conference- you’re going to hear a lot of recurring themes: character, leadership, and sportsmanship- to name a few… But I also feel like we all need perspective. Out of curiosity- just by a show of hands- how many of you here plan on playing a sport at the college level? How many of you plan on being drafted to play for a pro team out of college within 4 or 5 years from now? Well, according to the most recent statistics from the NCAA, slightly under 4% of all high school student athletes go on to play at the collegiate level. They also report that 0.015 % of high school athletes- that’s 15 out of every 100,000 are drafted by Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, or MLS. Not such great odds, huh?
I don’t bring up these statistics to be a downer, but rather to make a point. While many of you will here will no doubt be in that 4%... and with a little luck, one or two of you may even be the next Lofa Tatupu, and be in that 0.015%.... for the large majority of all student athletes in the Hock, high school is the highest level of organized sports they’ll reach. That is the reality, but for over 3,000 students who play a sport in our league, it is a very meaningful thing- a real passion in their lives as students. As captains in your respective sports you have the opportunity to positive shape their experiences. You have the opportunity to set the tone, demonstrate character, and lead by example, therefore making a real difference in so many lives. That, in my opinion, is a great responsibility but also a wonderful gift.
I’m sure you caught in the news two recent events in sports that I believe speak to character and sportsmanship (or lack thereof). In July, ESPN aired this ridiculous 2-hour special entitled “The Decision” which broke the news on which NBA team LeBron James would be signing his next contract. After much contrived suspense, LeBron announced that it would be the Miami Heat for a mere $110 million. He followed up the special with a garish press conference in Miami the next day- one complete with screaming fans, dancing cheerleaders, a smoke and laser show, and his two new teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. During the special and press conference LeBron kept repeating that he joined the Heat because he wanted to win championships- win a lot of them- and how there would be a new, dominant “big three.” Did he ever discuss his love and respect for the game? Nope- just winning, and winning now. Did he ever speak about team building and chemistry? Nope- just how this new big three would cement his legacy as an NBA great by winning multiple rings. Now don’t get me wrong…. LeBron James is a great player, but his recent actions have caused many in the media to characterize him as a self-absorbed narcissist. I would have to agree with that assessment.
In contrast, there is the story of Armando Gallaraga. Now you may be sitting in your seat asking yourself, “Who the heck is Armando Gallaraga?” Armando Gallarago is a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who presently has a 4-7 record and a 4.5 ERA. One night in June he electrified Detroit by pitching a perfect game no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Now mind you, a perfect game has been pitched only 18 times in the history of the game! The only problem here is that it wasn’t considered a perfect game due to a colossal blunder by first base umpire Jim Joyce. In the top of the ninth with two men out, Gallaraga pitched to the 27th Cleveland batter, #9 hitter Jason Donald. Donald hit a ground ball between first and second, the first baseman Miguel Cabrera made a nice play and tossed it to a covering Gallaraga. While it was blatantly obvious that the runner was out, the umpire called him safe, thus ruining the perfect game. Despite the protests of the Detroit manager, Joyce and the umpire crew did not change the decision, nor did Gallaraga react negatively. Thus, Gallaraga finished with a one-hit shutout, not making history.
After the game, when Gallaraga was pressed by reporters how he felt by getting so robbed by such a bad call, Gallaraga just smiled and shrugged and said, “Everyone makes mistakes… those things happen in the game.” To his credit, the umpire apologized directly to Gallaraga for the bad call, and even pleaded with Major League Baseball to reverse his decision but to no avail. The very next day, at the start of the game, Gallaraga brought out the Tigers scorecard to Joyce, who was the home plate umpire. The two men talked, shook hands, and embraced. The crowd at Comerica Park gave them an extended standing ovation for the incredible class, grace, and sportsmanship that was displayed.
So what’s my point in sharing these two contrasting stories? In my opinion, the sports world needs more Armando Gallaragas. And the good news is that it can start with all of you! We need to consistently stress sportsmanship- and respecting the game and each other- much more than winning and losing. We need to always conduct ourselves with class and dignity, as things in the game don’t always go as planned. These simple ideas transcend the playing field and will always be applicable to life- well after your high school playing days are over.
Chances are you will never play on as big of a stage as a LeBron James or Armando Gallaraga. However, your impact on your peers can be just as great. The way in which your impact will be realized is leading by example, namely by consistently making good decisions, treating all with respect, and exercising good sportsmanship. This is the true measure of your character as athletes, and most importantly, as leaders. I am confident you will live up to this challenge.
Have a great day, and best of luck in all of your seasons! Thank you.
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