It’s a fall Saturday afternoon and I’m typing rather than lugging a telephoto lens up and down the sideline of a football field. High school football season has ended for our Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars, after a semi-final playoff loss last night. To balance the feeling that last night was the last time some of the seniors will put on footall pads, here’s an open letter to this amazing group of young men.
Your teamwork created a gold standard. From a 1-9 season two years ago, to 5-5 with a playoff bid to 9-2 with a trip to the semi-finals, the journey began with teamwork that led you, consciously or not, to call each other “brothers.” Use that yardstick of measuring contribution, mutual re-inforcement and peer leadership in every situation, and you’ll always move the ball forward.
You had the benefit of outstanding, dedicated coaches who treated you with the love normally accorded your own children. You honored their preparations and advice, you corrected as needed, and you remained focused from the heat of August until a frosty late November night. There are no better courses in leadership and development than having an amazing coach; use them as role models when you evaluate management from any angle. Not many people would equate your coaches and Steve Jobs, but they both got their teams to produce results the rest of the uninformed and uncoached world thought impossible.
You will always play to your standard of integrity. Whether it’s on the field of play, in the sphere of public opinion, or in a closed door discussion, there will consistently be influences that are below or controvert the level of self-discipline and fair play to which you’ve adhered. Bring a high level of competition with even higher senses of fair play.
You will relive the joy. After the label of “last” is applied, it’s easy to fear that you won’t know the happiness that comes from a great team again. Individual memories of well-placed blocks, game preparation that made it seem you knew plays before they developed, flashes of brilliance from all corners of the turf – those feelings will return again and again because you know how to create them, and how to find them, and how to appropriately relish them, on and off of the field. If you doubt that, ask any of your parents how we felt every single week of this season, from spring weight training until driving home last night. We have the benefit of middle age, knowing that the end of the season is merely a pause in the happiness flow.
As I packed up my camera bag one of the fathers thanked me for capturing and preserving memories of the season. I owe the thanks to the team, coaches, and other parents, as I was merely a first hand, close-up observer of what a local newspaper called “the greatest MKA team ever.” The emphasis is on “team,” and I thank each and every one of you for allowing me to join you on the sideline with humor, hard work, humility and grace.