By the time this edition of Athens Now finally gets delivered, the last of the NCAA Basketball Tournament season affectionately known as “March Madness” will be nearly culminated, and a new winning team will be crowned. It will also herald the annual opening of our own Sportsplex on Hwy 31, the place where kids play hard, get skinned knees and road rash, bruised elbows and egos, and if done right, something else much more important occurs: they grow on the inside.
Being a part of a sports team is a personal development program for kids and adults thinly disguised as a game. And few people knew that better than legendary basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, better known as “Jimmy V.”
Jimmy V coached at Rutgers, and then was hired to coach at North Carolina State, a school whose win to lose ratio was legendarily less than pathetic. Jimmy had his work cut out for him: he had discouraged players, unhappy parents, critical staff members and alumni, and little to no job security.
What was more, he did things that back in the day were considered anything from stupid to sinister: he taught his players to “see” what had never occurred: an NCAA crown. Mayor Marks told me about some of the “crazy” (back then) things Jimmy would do that now are so main stream. He would have them practice without a basketball. He would have them practice “cutting the nets,” the time honored tradition of basketball teams that have just won a championship. In many circles the net means more than the actual trophy. He would also have them practice putting him up on their shoulders so he could make the final snip and forever separate the net from the rim and take it home as the spoils of war.
He built up his boys, turned them into men, and they did the impossible: 30 years ago the Wolf pack went up against legends such as Michael Jordan and won the championship. As important as that accomplishment was, ten years later Jimmy V won the Arthur Ashe Award from ESPN, and was so sick from cancer that he threw up on the plane all the way to the gala. In addition, he had to be helped up to the stage. To watch his acceptance speech is nothing short of miraculous, even if you could care less about basketball. It was as though for one last time the Coach coached the audience as though they were all his team, and challenged them to live a life far beyond the extraordinary by doing such things as laughing and thinking on a daily basis. He also announced the formation of the Jimmy V Foundation, which has raised more than 100 million dollars for cancer research.
We may not all be Jimmy Vs, nor may the kids who grace the grass of the Sportsplex end up being the Wolf pack, but if we model for our kids the kind of sportsmanship and healthy respect for the leadership skills that are learned between first and third base, Athens will continue to be a marvelous place to live. And, “making it so” is one of the many things that makes Ronnie Roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner