Ok, I was late to the party. I fully admit it. I didn’t hear the amazing story of Eric Dompierre and the Ishpeming (MI) Hematites until this past August. How did I miss it? I am not really sure, but I suppose that is beside the point. I was late to the party, but like so many who have caught wind of this remarkable tale, I was inspired.
I am not going to retell the story. You can watch it here:
Now, I was not inspired by the unlikely run to a state championship. It wasn’t even the family’s courageous struggle with a state legislature to overturn an outdated participation mandate that made it so impactful. While both stories are impressive, I was truly inspired by the story of inclusion.
Believe it or not, Eric was a typical high school senior. He didn’t ask for headlines or national awards. He didn’t even expect a winning football season, much less a state championship. He just wanted to play one more year of football with his friends. All the accolades that occurred after the state legislature made the decision to allow him to play were simply icing on the cake.
While Eric’s courage and infectious attitude should obviously be commended as should his loving and supporting family, a great lesson comes from the actions of his head coach, Jeff Olson, the coaching staff, and his teammates who used the game of football as a vehicle for social inclusion. In return, each of them probably learned a great deal from Eric, including lessons about courage, perseverance, and determination, and they would need it. The eighteen months leading up to the State Championship were gut-wrenchingly hard for the football team in Ishpeming, MI (Here is the whole story).
The power of sport on our young people has been well documented, and for the most part, I agree with the general sentiment. Sport builds character. However, it is not a given that every sport experience and character-building moment will be positive. Character, by definition, can be both positive and negative. And for every Eric Dompierre story, I can unfortunately find twice as many stories of a Ryan Braun or Aaron Hernandez or the star athletes in Maryville, Missouri, where sport provided a platform for lying, cheating, abuse of power, hubris, greed, and in the case of Aaron Hernandez, even worse.
Sport does not occur in a vacuum. Sport, by default, is not powerful. People are the true inspiration behind sport. The head coach that suspends his whole football team for the betterment of human development, the supportive parent that teaches his/her child to put the team first, and the hard-working academic adviser that stresses the value of earning a college education over perpetuating one’s professional prospects. These principled individuals are the ones who take a simple game and make it life altering. Too much credit is given to the sport as the change agent, when it is often the actions of sport people that take a common occurrence and make it a life lesson.
Hopefully, we all know the statistics by now. With roughly 35 million youth sport participants and over 3 million high school athletes, the chance of receiving a full college scholarship is about 1.1%. The chance of making the NFL is about 1 and 6,000. That is double the odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime.
I am not saying we should crush a young person’s dream to be a professional athlete. Dream big and work hard, but perspective is also required. Our sons and daughters will be decision-making adults MUCH, MUCH longer than they will be sport stars. We must be sure we are using sport to prepare them for the tough choices ahead. Sport is a fantastic vehicle for socialization and personal development if opportunities are capitalized upon. Moments where temperance is needed, teamwork is valued, hard work is commended, and most importantly, integrity of our choices is required. Make it count.
The story of Eric Dompierre is an example of all the attributes we should be teaching. Competition is fun and it is inherent in all sports. You don’t have to be an economist to know it brings out the best in people, but sport is not about competition, preparation, and winning, it is about people and it is about lasting relationships.
When I coached, I used to tell this to my players often. As you get older, you rarely remember the scores of the games you won or lost, you definitely do not remember all the practice and training, what you remember are the people. More specifically, you remember your teammates. So often, as coaches, players, and parents we get caught up in game tactics and winning and forget it what is truly important, relationships, friendship, and personal development. An athletic career is often fleeting the bigger scheme of things, but the potential life lessons are cumbersome. Make it count!
You can email Brendan Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org and
follow him on Twitter at @brendandwyer