Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Go West

Wofford was selected to go to Montana for the first round of the playoffs (might as well be the fourth ring of hell for lots of reasons). Anyway, as my holiday and church activities have kept me busy, I thought I would submit something I found on the terrier fans message board a couple of days ago. It is part of a speech by Wofford President Bernie Dunlap after Wofford's defeat in the semifinals in 2003. I think it speaks not just of football but of Wofford as well.

Enjoy. I thank bestofbreed for posting this on terrierfans.com

Included below are the remarks from Wofford president Dr. Benjamin Dunlap at today's campus convocation honoring the Terrier football team for its 2003 Southern Conference championship and trip to the Division I-AA semifinals.

"We all know what Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing.” And you know what? That’s true in a lot of college athletic programs—mostly in ones with low graduation percentages and high incarceration rates for their athletes. If they don’t win, somebody gets fired. And if they do win, somebody gets investigated. At Wofford, winning is not the only thing. It’s just one of a lot things our student-athletes learn from Mike Ayers and his coaching staff.

The first thing they learn is that they’re students first and athletes second. The next thing they learn is that the secrets to success on the playing field are the same ones that will make them successful in life long after they’ve graduated. The third thing they learn is that they’re too small and too slow, with too few scholarships and too tough a schedule to be competitive in the Southern Conference. Oh, yeah, and then they learn that no mountain is too tall to climb, no opponent too big or too quick or too highly touted to be beaten by a team that’s smart, disciplined, and determined to win by playing together as team, not as a collection of prima donnas.

Don’t get me wrong. Wofford has its stars—what it lacks is prima donnas. When you play for the best coach in the United States, you play to learn as well as to win and you play together. When you lose, you know there’s something to be learned in that experience too—about your performance and about yourself. Vince Lombardi, who truly was a great coach, also said, “It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you’ve got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not yet a winner.”

I’ve had the privilege of joining our team in the dressing room after almost every game over the past four years, and some of those games were bitter losses. I’ve heard Mike Ayers in victory and defeat, and some of his most inspiring lessons have been taught when we lost. Coach Lombardi had a comment about that as well: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” That sounds like the heart of a terrier to me. It doesn’t matter how many times a bigger dog knocks a terrier to the ground. As long as it has a breath in its body, that little dog will get back to its feet and go on fighting, just as Wofford did in the closing seconds of our national semi-final play-off game against the University of Delaware. It was not our best game of the season, but those closing moments were among the most gallant in a season studded with victories.

We all know the tagline that has turned up everywhere, from the New York Times to ABC Television: “Wofford is the only football-playing Division I school whose average SAT score is higher than its total enrollment.” Look at our football success and you see what is true of every aspect of our college: we do more with less than anybody. And it’s especially gratifying to read in a nationally syndicated report that you can expect next year’s pre-season I-AA poll to list among its top five teams the “usual national powers”—Delaware, Wofford, and teams like that.

But even in that august company, there’s an important difference. Our players are not hired gladiators or Division I-A transfers. They don’t live in special dorms and major in specially designed pseudo-academic disciplines. They’re students like everyone else in this auditorium today, and they embody all the traits we would like to lay claim to ourselves—they are quick, intelligent, fiercely loyal competitors. They played their hearts out in every game, and, sometimes, they had the ball bounce off the ground right into their hands at a crucial point in the game. The difference between a great season and an unforgettable one is often a matter of a little luck here and there, and we had that too this season. Now we have the glory. We’re champions—all of us, not just the players. We’re all champions because that’s what they’ve given to us. They’ve brought these trophies home and they’ve made us all winners in the minds of people who couldn’t even pronounce our name at the beginning of the season.

Our purpose today is to bask in their achievement—to thank them for everything it cost them from the first day of practice to the last seconds of that game in Delaware. These are our guys, our coaches, our terriers.

Even beyond the gates on Church Street, even among those who graduated from institutions in distant places beset by ice and snow, there is pride in our team’s 2003 season. "

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