Lessons learned in quitting

Published 10:21 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

I came upon a noisy and raucous basketball game at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy on a recent Friday night, and found our Saints down 34-12 at halftime. A friend who was visiting from out of town stood with me as we took in the second half to see what kind of opponent could amass such a lead.

When we then saw a 10th grader from the opposing side present the crowd with a dunk, we murmured a “wow” and then started to cheer on our players toward what seemed an insurmountable object – to win the game.

Let me now add that NSA was unable to overcome the 22-point deficit to win the game. But I was not so much following the scoreboard as I was watching the passionate way our coach urged on his players.

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It took my friend to point out that the Saints had outscored the opposing team 18-7 at one point in the third quarter. And as he was doing the arithmetic, all of the NSA team members were learning more than they realized about the fundamentals of the game.

And it all started with a coach who had a grasp on what strengths and weaknesses were before him. More importantly, he had a command of what was most important in that “precious present” – not to quit.

I believe that a great school atmosphere has many components – some honorable and some not so honorable. Education is not easy; it is not always enjoyable or pleasurable. Like the Tom Hanks’ quote in the movie, “A League of their Own,” “It’s the hard that makes it great.”

There are failures to face, challenges to overcome and humility to be instilled. And since an independent school espouses a rich and full curriculum of academics, arts and athletics, we are fortunate in exposing our children to things that they might not otherwise experience.

That is why the great lessons of not quitting or not playing to one’s full potential, is best done in an educational environment with range and depth – where it is not always comfortable.

As a boy growing up in an independent school, my school had mandatory athletics, and cross-country suited my taste, with basketball providing a conditioning season. The problem was that I despised running. In the last regular-season race in my senior year, I quit, thus, quitting on my teammates.

A week later, I emerged from a forest to find myself in 5th place for the State Championship. I was exhausted and wanted to quit, but the sting of quitting the week before was too much. I persevered, and overcame 4 runners to win the state meet and help my team secure second place.

I remember the quitting more than the winning. It was the best lesson of my adolescence, because I am reminded of it in every aspect of educating the whole child. The object of our game in education is never to quit, for if we do, we quit on our students, we quit on their futures.