Some of the best advice I ever received was from a legendary NFL quarterback, but more importantly, a man of conviction and someone who always leads by example. In 2004 after a long day of practice during training camp at the University of Albany, New York Giants quarterback Kurt Warner told me, if all I became at the end of my career was a professional football player that I will have missed the true meaning of playing in the NFL.
He told me to use football as a platform to do greater things with my life; not to use football to define my life. And looking back now after more than a decade has passed, not surprisingly, he was right.
On Tuesday of this week I shared this experience with the Van Buren Knights high school football team. The Knights made it to the OHSAA State Playoffs for the first time in school history. My message was simple for them: Football is the greatest game in the world. Be the greatest player you can be on the field, play with confidence, and be mentally prepared for the moment that you may be called upon to do something you’ve never done before.
On Wednesday of this week I shared this anecdote with student athletes at the University of Findlay and several other sports business students, some whom will be seeking careers this spring upon graduation. My hope for them is that they use the platform of a college education and an athletic scholarship to do great things while an Oiler, but even greater things as a professional.
On Friday of this week I was invited to share my experiences in the NFL with the Wheaton Rams and some of their parents. The Rams are a great group of kids preparing for the biggest game of their young lives. This Sunday they will play in their Super Bowl against the team that gave them their only loss of the season. My wish for them is first and foremost, that they have fun and no one gets injured. After that, my hope is they remember that teamwork is what got them to this point and they will be friends with their teammates for a very long time. And if you are going to play the game, play to win. Win with sportsmanship and respect the game. It truly is the best game in the world.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
This weekend Value City Arena will host the OHSAA boys basketball state tournament.
Just down Lane Avenue over the bridge, the Varsity Club
will host high school basketball fans. You can join the conversation between games and enjoy a cold beverage before walking back to the Schott for the next game; or you can stay there all day and watch the games on STO.
Whether you watch them live or on the big screen at the VC, its sure to be a good time. There will be a few groups of storytellers sure to be in attendance. Count on that.
Let the stories begin… When I was a junior at Ottawa-Glandorf High School
, we played in the state championship title game and lost by one point. We had an unbelievable season and nearly pulled off an amazing 21-point-comeback championship victory, but it wasn’t meant to be. Coincidentally the school that beat us in 1996 won the semi-final game this afternoon and will play Saturday for another chance at a title. Orrville High School. If they win on Saturday, as part of my work’s partnership with the OHSAA, I will deliver a congratulatory speech to their team. – I am hoping Lima Central Catholic wins that game; but the kicker is that Lima beat Ottawa-Glandorf in this year’s regional tournament to get to the state tournament… Either way, O-G lost. And that finally is the point of this post… To the winner go the spoils, and no one remembers the losers. (Except maybe the story-telling patrons at the Varsity Club)
I will always remember the one-point loss to Orrville as a heartbreaker, but I will remember the emotional distraught of our seniors, coaches, and fans more than the loss.
I use this example of community comradery because its relevant to the curent events of the weekend for one, but also because it represents the essence of high school sports. For the past month, I have watched high school athletes win and lose in the state tournament of their respective winter sport. Wrestling, Swimming, and most recently girl’s and boy’s basketball tournaments have built character and taught lessons of sportmanship, integrity, and class to the athletes competing through the elation of winning and agony of defeat. I’m a firm believer we learn more about our personal fortitude through defeat than we do in winning, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept, especially at 17 years old.
I have been fortunate to watch many high school sporting events here of late due in part to the Refuel with Chocolate Milk campaign; and the one lasting image that stays with me is the image of an athlete brought to tears at the realization of their final game/match/event as a high school athlete resulting in a loss. To have come so far, but not far enough. I have to say, as an athlete who has been in those shoes, it’s a difficult situation to find yourself in; and managing those emotions can be impossible for the kid who literally invested his/her entire personal commitment to that team. For many, it’s their first true love. It may be overwhelming. Numbing. Maybe even sickening. But at the end of that bus trip home is a welcome reception… A community proud of their team. They may not have won first place, but even the consolation prize of a state tournament deserves respect from a community who have reaped so many exciting memories as a result of those 15-17 year old kids. The second place team may not have won gold, but they became stronger young men and women through the process; which reassures my belief that sport creates a greater good in our communities… A utilitarian greater-good that brings forth teamwork, commitment, and trust among young people. I hope all the teams competing this weekend as well as those communities enjoy the experience of a state tournament as much as I did fourteen years ago… even the kids from Orrville.
Over the course of the past two weekends I have spent time supporting high school sports in Ohio at the OHSAA state swimming and wrestling championship tournaments. Working in these sports have been a relatively new experience for me as I have always participated in team sports. My cousin Aaron was pretty much a stud swimmer in high school and went on to a successful career at Rutgers University, and many of my college football teammates at the University of Findlay were successful high school wrestlers, but was as close I really came to individual sports at the high school level besides my average showing each year as a member of the OGHS Track team.
What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that there is something fundamentally different between team and individual sports at the high school level when it comes to competing at the state tournament. While I will always believe the greatest accomplishment one can achieve is a team championship title, at the end of the competitive day, it takes a group of individuals to contribute to that effort to accomplish that goal. There is certainly a crowned team award for first place in high school swimming and wrestling, but ultimately in sports such as swimming and wrestling, the attention is placed on the state champion. There is only one athlete atop the standings board in individual sports and I have been fortunate to experience some state champions in Ohio be crowned over the past two weeks.
Without a doubt the highlight of the past two weekends has been enjoying the all-access pass for the tournaments granted by the OHSAA. With the American Dairy Association’s involvement in high school sports and partnership negotiated with the OHSAA, we have been afforded access to the personal sights and emotions the athletes competing in the tournaments experience. As the relationship manager with the OHSAA, I have been quite fortunate to be in the action first hand. It’s wonderful to see up close and personal the emotion on a state champion’s face as they beat their opponent and realize they are number one.
Maybe the best feeling I’ve experienced in recent weeks came after experiencing the first state championship wrestling match of my life. The 103 lb match yielded a champion from Lakewood St. Edwards, Dean Heil. The kid is only a freshman but stood like a man in the circle of the Jerome Schottenstein Center platform as a champion. The excitemet on his face and abundance of emotion as the referee raised his arm as state champion caught me off guard. As the reality set in for Dean Heil that he was number one in the state of Ohio, reality set in with me that I was incredibly happy for him… Not so much that he had just earned points for his team, but because he was the best in the state of Ohio at what he does. It was a new feeling for me to experience, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity.
Heil was a gracious champ; shaking hands with his opponent and his opponet’s coaches. Then feeling the excitement take him over, he jumped into the arms of his awaiting coaches; embracing in a heart-felt bear hug. Soon after feeling the love from his coaches, Heil was grabbing his warm-up and off in a fast jog for the bleachers… At the end of his jog was his father; waiting for his son with a proud tear and open arms ready to embrace his state champ. It gave me goosebumps as I watched son and father share that moment. Overwhelming joy and pride radiating from a hug between father and son… It was a beautiful moment that only sport could have provided. As I approached hour 12 of that particular work day, I became overwhelmed with a sence of fulfillment and reward; and realized that sharing that particular moment with Dean Heil and his father was the reason that I do what I do… It wasn’t about the long workday any longer, it was about the brief moment that only a long day could have offered.
Invizzible Ink was created to highlight the positive aspects and rewards that sport offers our communities. Experiencing first hand a freshman in high school take the Division I honor of best of the best was a beautiful and very rewarding opportunity. It reminded me that sports marketing and working in sport is more than a business, it’s an opportunity to make a difference.