As 17-year-old boy, I learned a lesson from an experience I had as a senior in high school that at the time was very traumatic but, in the end, turned out to be an awesome life lesson. To fully appreciate the life lesson, you need to understand a bit about myself leading put to the fall off my senior year of high school.
Growing up sport was my everything. In our household the five of us played football, basketball, baseball, track, swam and played tennis. Each of us performed reasonably well. I always wanted to impress my brother, sisters and parents with my performance. Notice I said my performance. Not the team performance. This past weekend I found statistic sheets from my seventh grade and eighth grade basketball season that were quite impressive. These sheets reminded me of the emphasis on personal outcome vs team outcome.
When I headed to St. Xavier HS, there were 110 boys that tried out for the freshman basketball team. Both my freshman and sophomore year I made the team and was squarely part of the top rotation. Both years we won our league and collectively lost 2 games.
I knew going into my junior that that making the varsity team was going to be a big accomplishment. The talent pool was rich. From this group, we had 9 players go onto ay a college sport (5 basketball, 3 football, 1 soccer). When the tryouts wrapped up I was so excited that I was going to be a part of the team. I had made it. From that point forward the season was an absolute blast. We had one of the top teams in the state. I saw very little meaningful playing time, but I was part of a special that sat at the end of the bench. The group of 5 bonded very closely, and we coined ourselves the scrub club. We took pride in pushing the top 8 during practice each day. On occasion we would beat them. We had a blast. During games we would sit together praying we would get 3-4 minutes of playing time when the game was wrapped up. This usually happened. We measured our success by the score when we entered the game and what it was at the end. We generally widened the margin. That season, we won the City title and were poised to make a run in the state tournament. We beat a good Kettering Alter team at UD arena to win the district championship. The next game we face Mount Healthy, a team we beat in the regular season. The game was back and forth but we ended up on the short end that day. Our season was over but it would live with is forever. Rarely does a week go by without thinking of this special group. Our final ranking was #4 in the state. I loved being part of that team.
Now the summer between my junior and senior year came. While I worked hard, it was not at the level of what I had done before. I took for granted that I was part of the special team the year before and that earned me the right to be on the team as a senior. Boy i was wrong. I had Coach Berning for Accounting class the last period of the day. As class was letting out Coach Berning asked if he could talk to me. He looked at me and said, Matt, “I do not think you are going to play that much this year and I think I have to cut you.” My initial reaction was one of frustration. I got a little emotional and took that as I was being cut. I do not know this for sure but I truly believe that had if I looked coach in the eyes and said coach I will do anything to be a part of the team. I will carry the balls, drive the bus and clean the floor I believe I would have been a part of the team. Not so. God had a different plan. While I was crushed, as time went on it motivated me. Sometimes, to fully know how much you want something you have to lose it first.
What I learned at 17 was that scoring 16-20 points a game really did not mean anything to me at all. What mattered to me was being part of the team. I missed that dearly me senior year. The second half of my senior year was tough in many aspects.
At that point, I made my mind up that never again would I let effort be an issue with respect to the outcome. I told myself that I would do everything possible to improve my odds of success. While I learned a tough lesson at 17 I am grateful for this today. I also learned that being part of a team is enormously more fun than flying solo. I am part of some awesome teams today. I am part of my family team, my professional team, my friendship team, the alumni team, my spiritual team and today the beating cancer team.
I hope today each team I am part of can look at my participation in the team as being one of positive contribution. I ask you if your contribution is adding to or detracting from your team’s goal? While I valued being part of the basketball team in 1985/86, I gain much more gratification from the teams I am part of today.
On each team there are different roles. Know your role and perfect that role. The dynasty teams are not built will all super stars. There are leaders and contributors or role players.
35 years after leaving accounting class, I can look back and thank Coach Berning for the gift he presented me. While I have had some amazing accomplishments along the way, I believe my greatest performances are ahead of me.
Do the little things today that others are afraid to do and be awesome!