On Friday, Aug. 30, Head of School David Lourie spoke at Convocation, the official opening the 110th session of St. Anne's Belfield School. Below is the full text of his speech.
It is 1986, twenty-fifth of October. Actually, early morning on the twenty-sixth. The Red Sox had been one strike away from their first World Series win since 1918, but the Mets had staged an improbable comeback to tie the game. But we still had a chance if we could just get one more out . . . [Video shown to audience]
This still hurts, but despite that, when I decided to talk about sports today, I knew that I would play this video. It captures why I love sports and feel they are such an essential part of growing up. This iconic sports moment is a slice of life. Fortunes can change so quickly in sports, without notice. All at once there is elation and despondency, triumph and tragedy, a historic comeback and a fateful error. “[Sports] tests you in so many ways,” as Sonia read, and the same is true for life. Am I prepared for the unexpected? How will I react? What am I truly capable of achieving? Do I have the will to accomplish ambitious goals? Sports helps us to answer these questions.
Now, I am not here this morning to gloat, but it is important for the youngsters here to know that the juggernaut that is 21st century Boston sports teams was not always the case [slide shown to audience]. Red Sox and Patriots fans savor these championships because we endured so many heartbreaks. The thrill of victory is sweeter when one has tasted the agony of defeat [slide shown to audience].
From this low point in the history of U.Va. sports to its zenith [slide shown to audience]. UMBC and The Error: sports imitating life, throwing us curveballs; reminding us that we will make errors; and providing us the chance to bounce back, in the next game or the next season.
Our goal at St. Anne’s-Belfield is to prepare you to live a fruitful, purposeful, fulfilling life; to recognize and realize your full potential; to become visionary leaders and engaged citizens. How to do this? How to provide you lessons that will endure for a lifetime, experiences that burrow so deep into your psyche that you will never forget them? Sports does just that. When delivered and done with integrity and purpose, sports can prepare you for real life as no other “schooling” can.
Sports is a huge part of St. Anne’s-Belfield. In a given season, 80% of our Grades 7 – 12 students are playing a sport here. Many others compete outside of school. On the court or field, on the trail or track, in the saddle or in the pool; with a stick, a bat or glove, a mallet, a racket, or an epee; on a School team, rec team, or club team; in PE, fitness, and athletic conditioning. Whether competing against others or competing against yourself for a personal best, your athletic experiences have the capacity to stretch who you are now, and form who you are becoming. And whether you agree or disagree with their role here and in our society, the growing influence of youth sports is inarguable, as it is now a $15 billion-a-year industry.
Yet despite this fiscal growth, more kids are actually quitting sports than ever before; overuse injuries are on the rise; and for the first time in 30 years, participation is declining. Youth sports have become “professionalized,” risking an experience that is less fun, more stressful, and more inequitable. So today, I do champion sports, yet I do so with a caveat: it must be sports of the right kind, in the right way, and for the right reasons. And I wish to share these reasons - essential lessons, if you will - which must remain at the heart of your experience with sports.
The first lesson comes by way of another iconic moment from Boston sports. Four games into the 2014 season, the Patriots have just been destroyed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Questions abound about the quality of the team and whether Tom Brady was washed up, and that is when Coach Bill Belichick delivers a press conference for the ages [video shown to audience].
Behind that grim facade is a lesson essential to success in sports and in life: you have to move on from setbacks. Belichick knows the Patriots could not rewind that game; they could learn from it, but couldn’t dwell on it. In sports, setbacks come constantly, numerous times in any given game or competition. If you wallow in the bad play, the bad call, or the loss, you’re done. As Mr. Stinnie read, “A setback can give you a ticket to a place you never could have gone,” IF you choose to take the ticket. The ‘Hoos took their ticket to a national championship, and the Patriots took theirs to the Superbowl four months later.
And that very Superbowl presents a second lesson of sport. New England should have lost that Superbowl, with Seattle on the Patriots’ one-yard-line to win the game with 20 seconds to play . . . but then this happened [video shown to audience].
Al Michaels called the play “unreal,” but this interception was not only real, it was expected [video shown to audience].
“You’re gonna win or lose games in practice.” The Patriots practiced this exact play just days before the game. The scout team ran it, Butler got his coverage wrong, learned from it, and he knew what he needed to do when he saw this same formation with 20 seconds to go. Result: their fifth Superbowl title.
How much you run plays, how much you study film, how many sprints you run, how much you listen to your coaches. To reach ambitious goals, there are no shortcuts around preparation. Success, in sports and in life, is simple: practice and concentration, followed by more practice and concentration.
And then . . . it’s game day, and it’s your opportunity to deliver on your practice. An opportunity at success, but never a guarantee, which is why sports can lift us up one day and humble us on the next. You can’t fake it on game day, where success is measured objectively. You score, or you don’t. You beat your personal best, or you don’t. You find the distance, or you don’t. You stick the landing, or you don’t [video shown to audience]. As Joseph shared, in a baseball game, no one starts on third base; you have to put in the reps in the cage, step into the box, and then you try to hit the curve into the gap. Not everyone has the will or the talent to do that . . . and that’s okay. Not everyone gets a trophy, the timeless lesson in sports. Imagine what Simone Biles had to do to get to this: the time, the work, the will . . . the falls, the injuries. That’s why she is – objectively - the best. Not everyone can be; not everyone wants to be.
Twenty-two years after the error against the Mets, the Red Sox were celebrating their 2007 World Series Championship, and they did so with a special ceremonial first pitch [video shown to audience].
I was a puddle when I saw watched this for the first time. One can misread this as a moment when Boston forgives Bill Buckner for his error, but this was not about forgiveness at all (unless it was him forgiving Boston). This moment was instead about perspective, or rather realizing our loss of perspective at the way he was treated after that error. Literally self-exiled in order to avoid the media and harassment. Death threats. Because of an error in a baseball game. An error which anyone who has ever played baseball at any level has made. I was crying because I felt terrible at my own lack of perspective. That poor man.
So as youth sports change and grow, let’s remember another important lesson of sports: keep it all in perspective. If youth sports is becoming “an industry,” educators, coaches, and parents must ensure that sports remain formative and fun. I think Ms. Corbin’s quote about poetry applies here: like poetry, sports are useless, BUT they are valuable . . . valuable in their unique ability to build our capacity to persevere in the face of challenges, to reveal our own strengths and weaknesses, and to equip us to achieve bold goals - and do all of this while having fun.
I’ll close with a recent sports story, with some valuable perspective about what is most important in sports and in life. A few weeks ago, Henry Frasca, a nine-year old Red Sox fan, wrote a letter to Chris Davis, a player on the Baltimore Orioles, who has been in the midst of the worst hitting slump in MLB history. Frasca wrote:
“Dear Mr. Davis . . . There are two things I want you to know. First, the way you play baseball has nothing to do with how good of a person you are. Also, you are incredible. You’ve played in the MLB. . . and everyone goes through a slump. Don’t give up. We’re rooting for you.”
Just a few hours after reading this, Davis broke out of his historic slump with a four-RBI game. And fittingly, his breakout game came against the Red Sox.
I wish all of you a school year filled with perseverance, practice and preparation for big goals, and a healthy perspective so that you always enjoy the game.
Baker, Kendall. Axios Sports. Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019.
Flanagan, Linda. “Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling with Depression?” The Atlantic. April 17, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/04/teen-athletes-mental-illness/586720/
“Prep Sports Involvement Falls; 1st Time in 30 Years.” ESPN. Aug. 27, 2019.