By Roger Barbee
This past Sunday some 111.5 million people watched a professional football game between Seattle and Denver. Both teams were led by well known quarterbacks who have overcome obstacles.
Russell Wilson, a native of Richmond and the Seattle quarterback, is in his second year of professional football, and his story of perseverance against odds is well known - not many scouts thought he could be a pro because he is only 5 feet 11 inches tall, rather short to see over a lineman.
Since his first season, Wilson's story of rising to the top of his profession has been well publicized, and he has become a hero to many aspiring football stars. Of the 111.5 million viewers who watched him and Manning on Sunday, I am certain that a good number of them were here in the Shenandoah Valley. I am also sure that many viewers are impressed with young Wilson's accomplishments against stiff odds. All of this is deserved, but we have here in our midst many kids who have overcome obstacles also. Yet their success is not publicized and if known, only known by a few people.
Two years ago our wrestling team was at a Christmas tournament in Alexandria. During a match one of my younger wrestlers, an old friend watching the match with me, asked, "Why you wrestling that kid?"
I nodded to the stands where the boy's father and older brother were watching, and said, "See those two big fellows sitting against the wall - one is his dad and the other his older brother. He's got the genes and the desire."
As I recall, the "kid" lost that match, and for his entire sophomore year he lost many more matches and ended up with a 5-22 record for that long season. His season last year was better, and he qualified for the state tournament. This season is even better, and this past Saturday he won his weight class for the Bull Run District. Quite an improvement from two years ago, and all of his work is paying dividends, just like money saved. Every bit has helped him to end up where he is today. He is not alone.
It seems that we, as a culture, are too quick to glorify the accomplishments of many professional athletes. Yes, what Wilson has done is admirable. If you talk with people at Collegiate School in Richmond, they will tell you what a remarkable young man he is. And, much has been written and broadcast about other professional stars. Gads, how much more can we be told about RGIII, John Wall, or some professional or college coach. That is, sadly, what we pay attention to, and glorify, while we ignore, relatively, the heroes amongst us.
During this wrestling season, I have enjoyed working with the wrestler I noted above. But I have also enjoyed meeting a coach who, in his first season coaching a local team, has changed not only his team for the better, but has raised the bar for all of us coaches. And, he drives over 70 miles one way to do it. This season a boy with one leg wrestles for a Winchester school and wins matches. The wrestler who had the pressure of knowing that if he won his championship his team would win, but if he lost, his team would lose the team trophy, was heroic as he went out and did a yeoman's job, just as his coach asked of him. No fanfare, just a win for himself and his team. Several girls win junior varsity matches, as one of my wrestlers discovered this past weekend. But this is only one activity where our kids or coaches or parents or teachers shine, no matter their records.
Our team tires to keep things in perspective. This past Saturday when one wrestler lost a close match for a championship, I reminded him that he had wrestled a good match, but it was, after all, only a wrestling match. Yes, we want to win just like Wilson and Peyton Manning and others. However, it is what we learn about ourselves while competing that will carry us through that four-letter word named LIFE, and life is tougher than any opponent in any activity. Yet, I wish we as a culture would look inward more and see the heroes in our midst. They are everywhere - we just need to look for them and applaud them for their perseverance and grit. They walk among us.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.