This past weekend we watched our beloved college football teams take the field. Some were victorious, others were not, just like my Tennessee Volunteers who lost to West Virginia 40-14. Last year my Volunteers went 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference, and let me tell ya, SEC fans can be brutal, but that is part of life. I attended and played football at Henry Grady HS in Atlanta. In my two varsity seasons, we went 1-19. Yep, we won our first game in my Junior year, and never won another game. But, we didn’t quit. We despised losing, but we practiced even harder, and suited up for the next game. We just did not have the talent of the other high schools in our class in Atlanta.
I remember when I was assigned to the First Infantry Division at Ft. Riley Kansas in 1988. I had an apartment in Westchester Park, near Cico Park, just down the street from the Kansas State University football stadium. K-State was touted as having the worst Division I college football program in the nation, along with Kansas University. As a matter of fact, there have been two games, 1966 and 1987, where the Wildcat and the Jayhawk football games ended up in a tie. But, you do not quit. I will never forget the day when K-State brought in a fella named Bill Snyder to be the head coach, and the rest is history. K-State became a championship college football team.
Thus, when I read the following story, it was depressing. I was raised to believe that you never quit, regardless of the challenge, or the situation.
As reported by the Washington Post:
“Between the rolling hills of vineyards and vegetables, soy beans and hops, there are little towns that haven’t changed much for generations, locals say, where the average temperature is 60 degrees in 280-some annual days of sunshine and the Healdsburg High Greyhounds take the field at Recreation Park on autumn Friday nights.
“There’s a rich history here of successful football programs,” Principal Bill Halliday said in a phone interview. “We have lots of dads and uncles and granddads that all played for the Greyhounds. Even in the years where the school didn’t have championship-caliber teams, we’d always have big crowds.” Just not this year. When the season began and only 18 players came out for the varsity team, Halliday knew this team probably wouldn’t compete for a league championship. As the school’s enrollment has dropped — a decade ago it had close to 1,000 students; now it has just more than 500 — Healdsburg has stopped scheduling larger schools it used to compete with regularly.
Still, the Greyhounds dropped their season opener, 41-0, to a team with 24 players, then lost the second week, 61-0, to a team with 35 players. It was demoralizing, Halliday said, but not the end of the world. Another week of practice would get the Greyhound offense revving and light a fire under the defense, even though most players lined up on both sides of the ball. But over the weekend after the game, five players left the team. On Monday at school, another player quit. Coach Dave Stine, also the school’s athletic director, held a team meeting instead of practice after school. “They had a long talk about commitment and what that means and about quitting. Once you quit, it becomes easier to do it,” Halliday said. “It was all the things coaches are supposed to say.” And then Stine called for a vote: continue the varsity season or stop now. The result was inconclusive. Stine called for another vote, this time anonymously. The result was clear: 7-4, stop the football season.”
What is disconcerting about this story is not the two losses, but the response of these young men to those losses. My mom, “Snooks” West, taught me that the measure of a man is not how many times he gets knocked down, but rather how many times he gets back up. She imparted that lesson to me during my high school football years. Mom was a big-time football fan, and she realized that it was not about the game, but the life lessons it would teach me. The lessons that helped me to understand that you never quit.
Imagine if King Leonidas and the Spartans had quit at the hot gates of Thermopylae? No, they made a heroic stand for three days, and even as they realized that they were surrounded, they fought to the end — and we remember them for that. In the early days of our Revolutionary War, at Valley Forge, cold, starving, diseased, our brave Patriots did not quit, and we have this blessed America today thanks to them. Soldiers in Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812 refused to surrender, and kept our flag flying during a massive naval bombardment by the British — inspiring the words of our National Anthem, and, today, multi-millionaire athletes disrespect their bravery. When faced with another frontal assault by the Confederates, on a hot July day in 1863, at a place called Little Round Top, Gettysburg, a simple professor of rhetoric led a unit that had run out of ammunition, mounting casualties. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been ordered to not retreat, as his 20th Maine Regiment was the end of the entire Union Army, the Army of the Potomac. And so Col. Chamberlain ordered a bayonet attack, the first in the Union Army. He saved the day at Little Round Top, which saved the Battle of Gettysburg, which saved the Union.
Our Marines did not quit at Iwo Jima. Our Soldiers did not quit at Normandy. And never forget, World War II started with massive losses at Pearl Harbor, Kasserine Pass, Coral Sea, and in the Philippines, where General MacArthur did not quit, but he vowed to return, and he did.
At Chosin Reservoir, our Marines were surrounded by the Chinese, yes the Korean War, they did not quit, they attacked in every direction. At the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, LTC Hal Moore was outnumbered 4 to 1, his Battalion of Air Cav troops went up against a North Vietnamese Division, and they prevailed . . . even a cut-off, surrounded platoon fought until they were rescued. Maybe what our high schools need is for our American history to be taught, instead of the crappy lessons of indoctrination that are occurring. Maybe we need more moms and dads who impart the lessons that my mom did, and that a World War II Veteran dad did as well.
What I found even more disturbing was the Washington Post article seemed to promote the idea that participation in high school football is waning. Well, it ain’t in places where they still are raising strong, tough young men. Young men who are taught that life will always deliver its hard hits, so get up and hit back . . . the ultimate lesson of football. Even in losing games, you can still be a victor, and never surrender to being a victim. What happened in Healdsburg, California, is a continued manifestation of the culture of the participation trophy. As these kids quit, they will find that it becomes easier to quit in other aspects in life. Or, sadly, when facing great challenges, they may turn to drugs to escape the reality of life, something we are seeing with the opioid crisis.
Sports, and physical competition, aren’t just about winning or losing, it is about building character. It is with great disappointment that we watch these young men fail this test of their character. I can only pray that they do not wither under future stresses or challenges. Our great nation must continue to produce men and women of strong intestinal fortitude — not snowflakes which melt under any semblance of heat.
During his 22 year career in the United States Army, Lieutenant Colonel West served in several combat zones and received many honors including a Bronze Star, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, one with Valor device, and a Valorous Unit Award.
In November of 2010, Allen was elected to the United States Congress, representing Florida’s 22nd District.
He is a Fox News Contributor, Director of the Booker T. Washington Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center, contributing columnist for Townhall.com, and author of Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Family, Faith and Freedom. His forthcoming book, Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death, is due fall 2018 from Brown Books Publishing Group.