Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Grit Factor

I have yet to meet someone who—upon revisiting their high school or college—says something other than, "I hardly recognize the place. That's not the school I went to." Or, "It is so much nicer than when I was a student. I can't believe the facilities!" Capital campaigns have certainly been more successful than hindsight being 20x20. I'm sure there are schools that haven't gotten bigger, better or more beautiful. They must be out there—or maybe they've closed—but, I'd like to find them. Why? I want to know if they have held on to a singular quality that might get lost when we re-d0, remodel and expand.  It's a quality that comes at a cost—abeit one that is not necessarily financial. No, this quality requires patience, hard work, and perseverance. It's free and yet it comes at a price. It's a very popular four-letter word. Grit.
My beloved alma mater, the University of Notre Dame could have easily been the poster child for grit. Nestled in the ever-exotic South Bend, IN students woke up every morning to the fresh smell of...ethanol (gas made from corn). Students lived like sardines in their four-year stay halls, most of which don't have air conditioning. Given that the temperatures fall below the legal drinking age from November through May, one might be surprised to learn that the campus feels like a resident swamp June through mid-September. And when you have four to six men assigned to a room the size of a meat locker, fans can only help so much. But something else can: grit. I have to wonder, as the University has gotten nicer and the Dome even shinier, do any places like "Dirty Thirty" remain? (DT was the home to 30 men in the basement of Morrissey Manor, a men's dorm at Notre Dame. I have always loved knowing that NBA Coach and former player Monty Williams opted to stay/live in this section of Morrissey despite his height of 6'8" matching the ceiling).

Part of me believes ND will always have grit—a byproduct of its location, but it's not a given. Walk around the campus today and you'll see no stone unturned, no pathway that needs to be paved (across a quad), no item that hasn't been marketed with an interlocking ND. Undergraduates: are you still met by every third person with the words: Excuse me, where's the Bookstore? I can't imagine you are. Why? Hand cut wooden signs line every inch of campus. If one gets lost from God Quad to Mod Quad, that's their fault. The flora is always in bloom and the fauna springs eternal. The dens of iniquity are no longer. Is the grit factor, too? 
Though there are hundreds more walk and pathways, I do love the aerial view of God Quad
The heart that you see symbolizes the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Grit is a hot word, a buzz term in education and child-rearing. We want young people to have grit—also known as resolve, One can watch any number of Ted Talks about grit's importance and read Forbes' five steps for getting grit. I'm on board....but I believe that's missing the point. Grit comes from grime (not literally, just figuratively). Think gritty. I'll default to an un-sports and spirituality like resource here, the Urban Dictionary. It states
Gritty: harsh, coarse, rough and unrefined, as in film depictions that portray life as it truly is, without false distortions, stylizations, or idealizations. Often, the realism is exaggerated such that the culture or society being portrayed appears more coarse than it really is.
We want grit.  Or, maybe we think we do. What athlete doesn't want to be considered "tough" or what person wouldn't want to be known as "real." Yet, we've handled the harsh, eased that which is course, and made smooth a lot of the rough. Grit comes at a cost. The field has too many gopher holes, the weight room is sweatbox, the tennis courts have a crack or three, the gym is dank,  dead spots on the floor abound, and the differentiation between the fairway and the rough? there is none. Grit means that an athlete makes due with what he or she has. Grit is another reason we love sports. The team with the most toys or even the best ones doesn't always win the title. But many times the teams with grit—those do.
And what of a fan base that shows some grit? Do they enjoy the wins more? Take the losses harder? I'd like to think so, but maybe not. Just this week, I gazed at a banner celebrating the three World Series championships by the San Francisco Giants; I am still awestruck by that feat. We did it. AT&T Park doesn't have the same grit factor as Candlestick...but it has more than the new Yankee Stadium, which according to Brian Murphy has "Zero percent." 

I've asked myself the hard question: Would I have enjoyed the titles more if the Giants had earned them in Candlestick? Tough to say. In that way, I think Urban Dictionary is right—we exaggerate, we tell our tales of frostbite and fight nights in the Bleachers with a reckless aplomb. And yet my appreciation for AT&T, which does not diminish, must be more than those fans who grew up the most beautiful diamond in MLB. Why? Because I know from whence we came—a place that former 49er Wide Receiver Dwight Clark referred to as a "dump." He said, "it was a dump. But, it was our dump s0 we could talk badly about it. But we didn't want anybody else to talk badly about it." Fans were there for one reason: the product on the field. Not for the garlic fries, the give-aways, the vistas or the Splash Hits. We brought our blankets (I still do), drank our domestic beer and hoped for a win. We made due with what we had...and got a lot. Sounds like grit 101 to me.

I can't imagine the President or Principal of a school opting out of improving the plant for the sake of the grit factor. But it is an interesting idea. What can we leave much of what we have "as is"—even just "good enough?" Time and grime, sun and seasons will make things worse for ware, but maybe not for the grit factor. I'd talk more about it...
  • Five Grittiest Ballparks in MLB
  • Sports that require the most grit
  • Poster Children for grit (in sports)
  • Grit and Spirituality?!
Photo Credits
Yankee Stadium
Grit Girl


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