Winning isn’t everything…granted it is awesome, no one will ever deny the powerful emotions that come with victory. But it is just one moment in time, one that is a simple reflection of everything that came before it and sets a course for greater victories to come. What made Thursday night’s State Football Championship win so sweet, isn’t just that it has been a long time in coming, but that it is also a reflection of what winning well looks like. It is a reflection of the countless hours and dedication of professionals, volunteers and support from the community to build a worthy program, instill a sense of dedication, hard work, and commitment to the sense of team. The deep Chieftain pride we feel doesn’t happen overnight and certainly doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I think we all know that. I think it is what makes our team and community different, and why every single individual in our town’s cup runneth over.
Winning well just looks different. It isn’t playing dirty, it isn’t focusing on just the top players, it isn’t rubbing the losers nose in defeat, arrogant peacocking, excusing bad behavior for the sake of a winning season, or giving up when facing challenging odds. Winning well is walking hand in hand onto the field as a unit, being introduced as a team and not individuals, giving back to the community by mentoring and instructing younger players and service to the needy. It is playing with integrity, truth and commitment to the rules of the game, with no need for taunting, cheap shots and blame for mistakes made, but the commitment to evolve in spite of setbacks to keep getting better as a team.
Winning well isn’t running up the score in a blow away game, but utilizing those moments to strengthen and develop younger players to further continuity and commitment to a strong future. Winning well takes coaches who devote time and effort well beyond their pay grade to bring the best out of their team. Winning well means cooperation and collaboration in a sport that often focuses the success or blame onto the shoulders of the head coach. Winning well also puts aside ego for the sake of utilizing all the talent offered and understanding that it takes more of a village to build a program than just one person.
Winning well is also rooted in those parents,coaches, teachers and mentors who embrace the responsibility to raise our athletes to put character before accolades and integrity on the same level as talent. Winning well is a ripping diatribe against the lack of these qualities in the NFL and other professional sports…to which our local athletes seem to possess in spades. It is because of our parents, coaches, teachers and mentors that our young athletes understand that the person defines the sport and not the other way around.
Winning well is also rooted in a deep and abiding faith…not because being faithful to God guarantees a win. It does mean, though, that a team who shares a faith in something greater than themselves has the freedom to act without fear, push with strength and force beyond their own ability and embrace any challenge with unity and love. They become a band of brothers that exemplify what winning should look like.
Winning well will define and set the pace for every future goal, be it to continue in sports, go to college, join the military or any other venture. Winning well and working hard will always be synonymous after this experience. It is what will continue to make our small community great and shine with Chieftain pride.
Occasionally, moments pass that renew my hope in the world of men, that there are signs of evolution a midst a myriad of stories that would suggest otherwise. It has been disturbing to watch the NFL implode with story after story of violence and disregard for behavior necessary for a civilized society to thrive. I pay special attention because my youngest son plays football, and wants to continue to play in college. Frankly, I’ve had mixed feelings about participation in a sport that allows, and to some extent has promoted the kind of thuggery that has recently been highlighted.
Then, something happened that calmed my fears and inspired hope that not all football players need go down the same road. This past week my son’s team mate lost his mother to a brave fight with cancer. It is horrible to lose a mother so young. But survival can be eased by a simple grand gesture. The night of the weekly team dinner that the parents provide for the team, they came dressed in their team jerseys and before the meal cheered for their team mate, and all went together along with coaches to support their friend at the wake in his time of great need.
A wake is uncomfortable for everyone, but even more so for tough football players. The fact that they all banded together…close to thirty guys, and entered the funeral home together, quietly and with grace to show their support was, as one physician who was present stated, “the most beautiful gesture”. Words are not always necessary, a quiet, loving presence speaks volumes. The NFL could learn a thing or two from these men.
Summer seems to be waning before it’s even began, and with the fall comes football, at least at my house anyway. My son is a senior this year, and while this mama anticipates being an empty-nester with bated breath, (I love my kids, but crazy town is exhausting) I think there are still a few things I can teach him. His passion is football, and he was voted Captain this year. In conversations that are usually preceded with eyes rolling and this phrase: “Mom, I know…” I stopped him dead in his tracks and said “This time you don’t!” Both of us were surprised at my knee-jerk response. After all these years, though, I do know a thing or two about leadership.
Leadership is more than looking cool, or having the younger players look up to you. It is more than just words or approval from your peers or a patch on your letter jacket. Leadership is taking all that got you to this point and putting it into practice. Being a true leader isn’t surrounding yourself with sycophants and ego-strokers that will only maintain a false success for yourself. Being a true leader is making a commitment to take your whole team to a place of success and not just yourself. It is translating your idea of a good leader and putting it into action…it is where the real work begins.
Translating leadership means taking all the crap that jealous naysayers deal out and rendering it null and void by proving them wrong day in and day out by a commitment to excellence, surpassing expectations, sacrificing your own needs for the benefit of the whole and being a beacon of hope in the face of extreme challenge. It means taking every failure and turning it into a means for future excellence.
Translating leadership means showing your team mates that you know how to take a coaches vision and put it into practice. It means that you will work tirelessly to help your team mates understand these goals and become the cohesive unit that stands as one force against your opponents. It is your job to see that your team mates see themselves as essential parts of “we” and not “me”. It means that you work to create such a tight cohesive unit that virtually everyone will want to be a part of your team.
Translating leadership means allowing people around you to help create the environment necessary for success. It means understanding that you are not an island, you can’t do everything on your own. There are countless individuals out there who are more than willing to be part of helping your team be the best that it can be. Be an example of gratitude, show appreciation, recognize the little things that help bring you to success. From cheerleaders, parents, the student body and staff, to even the water boys, every part is important.
Most importantly, translating leadership means helping your team mates discover their own greatness. Lack of self esteem or belief in themselves will be your worst enemy. Be vigilant in building them up and you will move mountains. Celebrate along the way, but focus on what it takes to reach the top. Take all this to heart and what ever the result you will be a the leader your team needs.
I usually never weigh in on stuff like this, but since it appears to me that most everyone has missed one of the most obvious issues, (yeah more than the name “Incognito”) let me begin with this: the word incognito means to be in disguise or anonymous to avoid detection. What is the NFLer in question’s disguise? To use the vernacular of the sport that seems to be flying around…he has the smallest stones of all, he is a coward of the greatest degree, he is not a “real man”. Ultimately, there will continue to be a lot of discussion about what made Jonathan Martin leave the Miami Dolphins that day and while everyone gets to have an opinion, most, including me, won’t be privy to the real story. What I want to address here, then, is an issue that is far more subtle and I think plagues us far deeper as a society than in just the National Football League: what would a “real” man do? What sickens me most is all the comments I’ve read that disparage Jonathan Martin for not behaving like a real man, or the filth about the size of his testicles, or the fact that Incognito was bullied as a child, or just as offensive (to me anyway) for him to quit acting like a girl. So, is a real man one who takes the hazing, lets the mindless drive of testosterone rule? Is being a real man being the nastiest lineman on the field? Well, this five foot two red-head who has put the fear in many men by being a girl, calls BULLSHIT!
I say for the umpteenth time that I live in a household of men. My husband played D1 football. My youngest son wants to play college football too. And while I begrudgingly (at times) play the sports mom, I have never tolerated the bullying that goes on in the locker room or the field. My husband and I tell our son to show up, keep your head down and play hard. Do what the coaches tell you to do whether you like it or not. Reject the tendency to be that guy, that sycophant that kisses everyone’s butt to move ahead, or the one that tortures everyone else to hold power over them. I know it can be hard for him when he sees “that guy” get ahead, but in the long haul one’s integrity is what you carry with you, your whole life. The illusion of all that awesomeness fades over time, my husband has plenty of stories about what happened to the “assholes” on his University of Minnesota team. I certainly want my son to carry into his future the knowledge that he worked hard and didn’t get ahead by manipulation or force. I believe you can be a leader in sports without all that other bullshit. Yet, I know it is hard to be strong and successful and not be attacked for being weak if you won’t lower your standards and be just one of the guys.
There is a growing trend today to define men through the eyes of testosterone…a huge package, a visceral tongue, and a big ass gun. Yes, I know stereotypes aside that there are men out there with all those attributes who keep them in check, but I have so many anecdotes to the contrary that I wonder if what kind of men we’re creating would be better suited for the wild west. I think you can have a sport like football, where hazing the younger players doesn’t disfigure their manhood, and leadership knows when enough is enough. That the younger players pay a hefty amount for an expensive meal for their seniors is of no concern to me, because I think they make too much money anyway. But the disparagement over race and violence and just being dirty should never be tolerated…even if Jonathon Martin laughed about it at first because he felt the culture demanded that response. I can tell from experience that, that kind of continued bullying just beats you down over time, until it’s just not possible to take it any more. The fact that there are many great guys in the NFL doesn’t matter to me in the least in this situation, because the environment gets perpetuated some how…silence is complicity in my book.
There are far too many stories of increasing violence of players off the field. Shouldn’t we address them rather than just brush them off as incidents too few to pay attention to? Personally, when I was teaching at the Academy of Holy Angels, a football player threatened me by standing one inch from my face and asking me what I was going to do to him if he didn’t sit down and do his homework like I asked. I said: “I know you may be a physical threat to me”, and then I walked over to the phone and called an administrator who was also his football coach to come down to my room right away. Then, taking all the strength I could muster, I walked back and stood in the exact same spot and said back to him: “but if you touch me, you will have to answer to him”. And as if by divine intervention, Mr Randall Peterson came walking into my room. I will never forget that day. That moment is still a source of hope for me because I knew that Mr Peterson had my back, that he would never tolerate that kind of behavior from one of his players. And while I completely understand that my situation and Jonathon Martin’s are not the same, I do have to ask these questions: “Who was there to watch his back?”; What kind of leadership exists that could defend Incognito’s behavior over Martin’s?” Incognito may not be the anti-christ. He may actually have some good qualities. But it will never excuse that kind of bullying, or make him a real man.
So here we are, Connor John. You are about to begin the greatest adventure of your life, spring boarding into action all the dreams you’ve been building on thus far in life. Like most young men, right now you feel so ready to leave the nest and begin life on your own. You’ve outgrown your life here and are ready to move on. And as much as I am so proud and excited for you to begin this next step, I am also nostalgic and wary of letting the world have you at the same time. I have always told you that you were meant to be a great man some day, and that was predicated on your ability to rise to the occasions that were placed before you. Yes, my head may have exploded a few times when you missed opportunities because you were distracted by something else, but I think that’s true for most 18 year-old’s. What I want to tell you on this important occasion is exactly why I think you are destined to be a great man someday…and then the rest is up to you.
From the moment you could move around on your own, you were driven by curiosity…mostly expressed by breaking or taking apart everything in sight just to see how it was put together, sadly you could have cared less how to put things back together. You were as curious about people and seemed to inherit your mother’s no filter quality. Early on, you understood the art of conversation was something that involved an exchange between two people, and you liked to practice on the way to Montessori school. This was a line you repeated almost everyday: “Mom, let’s talk about the power lines…you start”, and then we’d have an exchange of ideas about the power lines, unfortunately you never let me talk about anything else, and I’d try to get you to sing songs instead. I’ll never forget your first conference at kindergarten when the teacher asked the school psychologist to be present; my heart sunk to my knees in fear that something awful had happened. When she told me that you liked to hug everyone, and some kids don’t like that…I literally laughed out loud, some in relief and some in utter shock that we fallen so low that hugging somehow was considered a problem, and then I got incredibly sad. So, trying to be a good parent and help teach you about boundaries, we had a talk about social bubbles. Like all the Edling men before you, you just loved everybody and were never self conscious about sharing it. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t quite ready for that lack of inhibition. It still makes me sad sometimes.
You loved music from the womb, it soothed you and moved you always, as it still does. When you were little, we went to the wedding of the great niece, I believe, of Lawrence Welk in his home town of Strasberg North Dakota and you were so mesmerized by the accordions played at the reception you begged me for weeks to sign you up for lessons. After I did my research, and got over the OMG factor of this has got to be the worst instrument ever, (an apology to all you fine accordion players out there) I did a final check on whether or not you were really serious about the accordion, and here was your reply: “No, mom, I changed my mind, I think I’ll learn the glockenspiel instead.” Well…you ended up with the trumpet, and it’s bass counterpart, the euphonium, and I’m proud of your accomplishments. Beyond just listening to music, you were the first one to dance to any band that was playing, or yell out to all our friends around the pool, “Hey everyone, how about a dance party!”. You were the sensation at the dance recitals the girls in the neighborhood would put on. Remember the group called “Connor and the Connorettes?”, hey it is a great memory, one that always makes me smile.
You were always deeply spiritual, perhaps not in the traditional sense, but then really, neither am I. I remember once, when you were about 6 years old, in the midst of summer fun at jelly stone park, while we were getting ready for a day full of sun and junk food, (Steve was at Wall-Mart, or golfing…the neighbors reading this will understand) you turned to me and said, “Mom, there is no place in hell that could keep out the love of God, right?” My neighbor Lisa D’s mouth dropped open at the depth of that statement, but I was used to it at that point. I also remember you breaking down at a Osceola football game because you had discovered that there were diseases out there, specifically cancer, that didn’t have a cure. How could God let that happen? It shocked your small world that some things can’t be fixed, and that there truly is darkness out there. You were almost inconsolable until the friends sitting around us told you that a cure was just around the corner. We’ve had some great conversations about faith, and I hope that it will continue to develop as you venture on your own.
Walking to the beat of your own drum hasn’t been always easy though. When bullied in middle school, I had to explain the concept of male posturing and drawing a line in the sand, you told me that you just weren’t interested in playing that game, that beating down the weak to feel strong was just ridiculous. And while I agreed with you, it was because you wore your heart on your sleeve and they knew they could get to you that you were an easy target. There is nothing more horrible for a parent than to find out their child is the victim of bullying, frankly it kept me up nights. But I also believe that God would never give you anything that you couldn’t handle, and it took all my energy to not to open up a can of whoop-ass. I took solace in the fact that adults have always seemed to love you, and talk about what a remarkable kid you are. Truthfully, I never fully understood why so many of your peers could never see you the way the rest of us did. You found out the hard way, that choosing to be different isn’t always acceptable. While you never let bullies define you, you never held it against them either. You forgave them and from what your class mates have told me, you now hold great respect in your class. That makes me so proud. You, with all your hats and freestyle attire, are a true character.
Being proud doesn’t imply that you aren’t flawed, though. So here is some advice for next year:
1) Wanting life to be easy, won’t make it so. The best truths in life are the ones that must be fought for; the greatest successes are usually preceded by failure, with the difference being the ability to get back up, learn from your mistakes and work even harder.
2) You are starting fresh. No one knows you, therefore you have no baggage or reputation to worry about, so remember the golden rule: treat others like you want to be treated.
3) School comes first. College is a blast, I won’t lie…but you are there first and foremost to obtain an education (and a 3.0 if you’re going to keep your scholarships)
4) Remain true to your values. It’s true, dad and I won’t be there to nag you, but there will be all sorts of temptations that we can’t protect you from either.
5) Never spend what you don’t have…and that means NO to credit cards. You’ll thank me some day.
6) Remember the talk about boundaries and social bubbles we had in kindergarten? Remember all those basics and you’ll be fine.
7) Never pick up a t-shirt or underwear from the floor and smell it, to see if it’s ok to wear. That is just gross.
8) BRUSH YOUR TEETH. Your smile is one of your greatest attributes.
9) Utilize your time well. Don’t wait until the last-minute to do an assignment or study for a test. OH, AND GAMING AND BEING IN THE MIDDLE OF AN IMPORTANT CAMPAIGN IS NEVER A REASON TO BE LATE FOR OR MISS CLASS.
10) Finally, always remember that you are meant to be a great man some day and that day is today!
When it comes to influence, sometimes I think we underestimate the simple things, those simple gestures that may not seem so significant at the moment, but whose gentle influence has somehow altered the path we walk in life. My father-in-law is like that. He is a central figure in our small hamlet of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. My husband’s family ran the funeral home in town, and everyone knows his father John. I always laugh when my husband answers the phone with the phrase “Who died?” because I know he is talking to his father, who mentally keeps record of the people in his community. He’s the kind of guy, you could meet once, and I don’t know if it was because he was a mnemonic master, but he would not only remember you but have pertinent details about your family and life events as well. We’d travel all over the country and, it happened all the time, we would be at a gas station in Texas, or some other far out place and someone would come up to him and say, “Aren’t you John Edling?” and talk about how he had helped them, or how he knew a family member of theirs. When I was in Law School, my torts professor had to miss a class because of the death of his mother and when he came back and found out I was married to an Edling, he told me that my father-in-law had arranged the funeral and what a wonderful person he was…(his father had been the butcher in town). Things like that happen a lot. John was voted the best athlete of all time in St. Croix Falls a couple of years ago, his high school basketball team still holds the record for the greatest point spread in Wisconsin state high school tournament history. He in turned passed that passion forward through his children, and countless other town athletes. Even after he stopped driving, he would still find a way to stand on the side lines of every varsity football game.
Right now, John is sick, and he is moving closer to the Kingdom of God. His mortal life may be coming to a close, but the ripples of his influence will go on and on forever. To him, it is effortless to help and comfort people, which is why he is so beloved. Simple gestures are what make him a great person, gestures that touched more hearts than he will ever know, and will ripple outward through others who learned how important those gestures can be to someone’s life. I hope it makes him happy and gives him comfort to remember that. I also know it will give comfort to My mother-in-law Rayola, to Steve and his siblings, Jude, David and Barbara to remember how many lives he has influenced. He is a true character, and in many ways, Steven is just like him…generous to a fault, kind and altruistic, passionate about sports and feels totally comfortable in hanging out in boxer shorts. Blessings John, fear not…I see a heavenly ticker tape parade in your future soon.
Last Saturday, our local high school football team played the first round of sectionals 31/2 hours away in Mosinee Wisconsin. The game was a nail-biter down to the end, and they won in overtime. This particular win was not only sweet for many reasons not withstanding their talent, it was even sweeter because of what they’ve overcome. Last year our varsity didn’t win a single game…not one. This year, with dedication and a renewed sense of team over the individual player, they won almost every game. What a difference a year makes. That difference, specifically, was a commitment that went far beyond the season, to all year conditioning, to health and creating the environment necessary to imbue our players with success, and most definitely a strong core of leaders. As a parent, it was a wonderful experience to come together with the other parents and provide a meal for the team the night before every game. Arriving early to decorate and have posters and placards, beads and necklaces, pompoms and noisemakers and infuse the crowd with enthusiasm were also necessary elements in pulling out the best qualities in the players. A good positive environment does make a difference. Most of these players were on the team last year, and while difficult to explain, the whole tenor of the team is different this year. Maybe the boys realized after last year’s dismal season what needed to happen this year if they were going to turn it around, and most probably it was a combination of many different things. What I do know, is that these young men do respond favorably when there is a clear message that the community cares about them. I don’t think our young people see it enough in these trying times. I, for one, am proud of this community for rising up and showing support in a myriad of ways: to all the hard work of the boys; to the coaches for upping their game; to all those businesses and parents who donated food and whatever else was needed without ever batting an eye; to Dr Edling (my husband Steve) who was there at every game to act as team doctor and all the time during office hours and days off when he adjusted, taped, lasered, rubbed out, ARPed and decompressed anyone that needed it, most at his expense; and to all the fans who made road trips and at times froze their patuties off to yell and cheer support for our team. They could teach our politicians a thing or two….