“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man or woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends herself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if she fails, at least she fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Sorbonne, Paris, April 1910 (pronouns changed to apply to women)
It was Saturday afternoon, late March of 2015 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The night before the George Fox women’s basketball team had defeated Montclair State of New Jersey in the semifinals of the Division III national championship tournament. We had earned the right to play Thomas More and their outstanding All-American, Sydney Moss. We were 32-0 and playing in our third national title game in seven years – quite an achievement. The women arrived for their shoot-around at 12:45 p.m. and honestly, they looked ready.
Yes, I am a Christian, but I have always been superstitious when it comes to sports. I admit it. (In a philosophical discussion, I would probably admit that my action as a fan has little affect on the outcome of the actual game!) When we are in a streak, and we had won 32 games in a row, I always try to keep the streak alive by doing the same things I did at the last game we won. In this case, I wore the same watch (Hamilton Flight Timer) and rings that I began wearing when the streak began. I wore the same navy dress pants, sport coat and GFU sport shirt (yes, that means that I had worn the same clothes the previous day and they had not been washed; that is the whole idea). In addition, it is my tradition to eat a cheeseburger at a hole-in-the-wall place that is unique to the place we are visiting. In this case, Wealthy Street Station – an old Gulf station turned into a hamburger joint (pictured). The burger was delicious! We arrived at the Calvin gym having paid homage to all tradition and superstition that was necessary. I took my place on the second tier where I stood the night before (no, my wife Ruth does not buy into all of this stuff).
As you know, the game did not go as we had hoped. Thomas More, and Sydney Moss, played an outstanding game and defeated us 83-63. As they had all year long, our women fought to the very end of the game – they never surrendered. With about five minutes to go I left my perch on the second floor and sat with my wife and coach Meek’s family. Of course, I really do know that my “superstitious” behavior had no effect on the outcome of the game – it was simply a way for a fan like me to feel a part of the action and support the team. Nothing helped on this evening. As the game drew to a close, coach Meek’s daughters were inconsolable – Audrey had tears in her eyes and said to her mother, “I did not want this to happen again!” – referring, of course, to our loss in 2012 to Illinois Wesleyan in the final. Instead of cheers at the end of an undefeated season and a national championship there were plenty of tears to go around. It is hard to lose that last game.
Nevertheless, I have never been more proud of a George Fox University basketball team. Throughout this season these players represented the community well each and every night. They may not have been the most talented team to ever play at George Fox, but I do believe they played together as a team more effectively than any other. They had and have “grit,” to use an old term. There were several games during the year where they trailed with under 10 minutes to go, but they believed in each other and they fought hard to earn wins. I also know from my own relationships with team members that players on this team excel in the classroom. Samantha Naluai won the highest academic award at the Final Four. It is clear to me that they prayed and cared for each other. Simply, they embodied our mission – spiritually, academically and athletically.
Twenty years from now the students will remember the last game, but they will remember more the entire year – the relationships and friendships they built. They will remember that hard work and teamwork can lead to success. They will remember great coaches and a team that was picked to finish fourth in the conference but finished second in the nation! The George Fox University 2015 women will always be remembered with those who, as Roosevelt put it over 100 years ago, “dared greatly,” and it was a joy to simply be a part of the ride! I prefer to remember the season as I stood with Justine Benner following the victory over Montclair State University – champions in every sense of the word. Thank you, Bruins, for the great memories.