It has been 25 years since I loaded four high school wrestlers up in my Pontiac Grand Am and headed east to Hampton Sydney College in Virginia for the Granby School of Wrestling. I was a young high school social studies teacher and wrestling coach and I had some very promising young wrestlers coming up and I wanted a chance to learn more about the “Granby system” of wrestling and to expose these young wrestlers to what I had been told were some of the best teachers of technique in the country. I could spend a couple of hours telling stories from that trip, but that would bore most of you! Why I mention this is because of one moment that took place on the trip that changed my life, and it did not take place at the wrestling camp.
I have described in a previous article how my parents always built in learning opportunities for my brother and me when we traveled. Going to Virginia for the first time, and being a social studies teacher, I could not pass up the chance to spend extra time with the boys going to historical sites in perhaps our most historical of states. The problem was choosing what to see! One of the stops we made was Monticello, the home of our third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. What an incredibly beautiful home! And it was less than five minutes into our tour that we were standing in one of the parlors and there were thirteen portraits hanging on the wall. The guide went on to explain the significance of the individuals featured in the paintings.
Thomas Jefferson was a man of incredible talent with a keen sense of curiosity. He was also a student of culture and history, and recognizing his role in the creation of a new country, he collected ideas and philosophies from some of the great minds of the world. In his parlor he had a collection of portraits of individuals he admired and respected for one reason or another, including the “three greatest men that ever lived” – John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon. He also included explorers Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, as well as American statesmen George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison. As we continued our tour I remember thinking about who are the people that I would have on my wall, and a number of individuals emerged.
I’m not going to bore with a list and stories of the people I have on my wall. It is kind of funny because some of the pictures have autographs and people think that is why I display them. In reality, each of these are people I have tremendous respect and admiration for, and I do find myself thinking about them from time to time. Pat Summit is in my opinion one of the greatest coaches of all time, regardless of sport, and her indescribably will and determination to get her players to play as a team is something that few have to extent she does. Now, the way that she is battling one of life’s most unfair diseases – Alzheimer’s – with class and dignity, only adds to my respect for her. Hank Aaron was not the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, but he was one that broke the color barrier in the South playing for the Atlanta Braves. My reason for including him is because I was very aware of the blatant racism he experienced in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record. Again, the way he handled unbelievable stress and threats with class and dignity is a lesson for all of us. Brook Berringer is a young man most of you do not know. He is the one of two people on my wall that I actually met. Why a 22-year old college quarterback who died tragically in an accident when he crashed a plane he was flying? Because Brook met the bell when his number was called. He stepped up and led Nebraska to a National Championship as the second team quarterback, only to be relegated to backup the next season. Yet he was there for the team and he put himself second to its success.
I don’t know that everyone needs to have a set of pictures of people they admire on the wall. Maybe that’s a little over the top. However, we all have people that have had an impact in our life, and there are those who we can learn from, whether they are role models or a trusted friend. I just choose to put their pictures on my wall to remind me from time to time of the person I aspire to be. And, they also serve as a great discussion starter when I have a student in my office, particularly when there may be a few character issues to discuss!