Sunday, December 5, 2010

University High School XC: Proving that Sports are a Real School of True Human Virtue

Sports are a real school of true human virtue. – John Paul II
Call me biased, but I like to think cross country reveals an athlete’s character like no other sport. It makes the same demand of every participant—to complete a 3-mile course as fast as you can. There are no short cuts; there is no debate about how much playtime the athlete gets, no poor officiating, no questionable fouls. Cross country is the great equalizer. 

Wealth and affluence are of limited influence. Yes, competitive runners can get specialized coaching and attend summer running camps, but pricey equipment, access to clubs and managing facilities are a non-issue. Cross country requires a pair of shoes, seven runners and an open trail.

A popular story that came out of University High School proves the egalitarian nature of the sport. UHS is one of-- if not the most elite high schools in San Francisco. Set in Presidio Heights, it is safe to say the student body at UHS has been given a lot; they are people of privilege. But you cannot give a young man or woman their character—their virtues or their vices, for that matter. 

In their article, Ethics and Virtue by Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez states "Virtues are attitudes, dispositions, or character traits that enable us to be and to act in ways that develop our fullest human potential. They enable us to pursue the ideals we have adopted. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues." 

All season, the UHS girls cross country team witnessed courage, generosity and loyalty vis a vi their head coach Jim Tracy. Despite his diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tracy mustered the strength to lead and oversee practice, as he has always done since 1994.

His fortitude must have allowed for Holland Reynolds, University’s number two runner who collapsed and crawled across the finish line to complete her race. In doing so, she helped her team clinch the state championship. You can get the full story here.

I don’t care that the tuition for the 2010-2011 school year is $32,750 at this elite private school, this young woman and her teammates made the choice to compete with everything they had. Reynolds had a goal for herself, her teammates and her coach. That may be revealed on race day, but it is inculcated each and every day of the season.

In my 8 years of coaching cross country, I have worked with some tremendously talented runners. I have been inspired by the work ethic of many of my own athletes and others have encouraged me to be a better human being.

In the increasingly competitive and specialized world of high school sports, I am grateful that cross country remains “no cut.” That policy however comes its own set of challenges, and one of those can be working with young people who are deciding if competitive running is for them. These folks enjoy running and staying in shape (or perhaps the idea of staying in shape) and they love the social nature of the team, especially that it’s a co-ed! But, the demands of the sport on race day are very challenging—too challenging for some. 
Let’s be honest, cross country embraces the athlete who is a glutton for pain. Racing a hilly, dusty and hot three mile course—there is no where to hide, no one to blame. And THIS is where character is revealed--how a young person responds to task he or she must complete: Do they focus? Do they compete? Do they rely on their teammates and coaches? Do they complain? Do they cheer for their teammates? Do they learn from their mistakes? Do they coddle an injury? Do they find that something *suddenly hurts*? Do they go to the line regardless? 

Pope Benedict XVI said “sport possesses considerable educational potential particularly for young people. So, for this reason, sport is of great importance not only when applied to free time but also in the formation of each individual.” 

Cross country begins in August and concludes in November. The personal growth that I have witnessed in the course of one season is encouraging and truly, it's amazing. However, our young people don’t get there alone. It’s their teammates, their coaches, their program and no doubt about it—the sport itself, that do. 

Congratulations to University High School, Jim Tracy and Holland Reynolds for sharing that message through your example AND your victory! The video clip of her race/finish is here 

Photo Credits 
University High School Championship Team 
UHS in SF
Injured Runner 
SI at the State Meet!--the Otto Family 
Thanks to Nora Miller for the video clip

1 comment:

  1. Holland Reynold's courage and determination to finish the race not just for herself, but for her team and her ailing long-time coach speak volumes and is an epitome of the type of young men and women that have run over the decades under Jim Tracy's instruction.

    Hopefully, we can be just as supportive of Jim off the course in his battle against ALS. He will need significant financial support in the coming days. If you want to contribute or just learn more, please visit http://coachjimtracy.com/

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