So who is going to win tonight, God's team, or Alabama? I think most of you know I am an alumnus of Notre Dame, so there won’t be a lot of crimson red in my house tonight. On the other hand, I spent the entirety of my life in Alabama prior to coming to Tennessee in 2008, and if Alabama wins, I’ll have the consolation of the fact it would be four years in a row that an Alabama team has won the national championship—Alabama three times, Auburn once.
Staying on theme, in addition to their current #1 ranking in football, Notre Dame has the highest graduation rate of any football program in America. Their players go to class, study and graduate. Manti Teo, their most recognizable player, who came in second in the Heisman trophy balloting as a defensive player (the highest ever) and is a unanimous all-American, is also an academic All-American.
In fact, contrary to what many believe, one of the best ways to prepare your self athletically is to work hard in the classroom. Talk to Coach Joslin on this subject, as I did recently, and he’ll tell you that in his experience, a good student in the classroom usually translates to a good football player, a good leader, someone the team can rely upon. That’s because whether it’s practicing on the field or doing homework or attending class, how we conduct ourselves is a matter of habit, and a good work ethic is a habit that translates in multiple directions, like the ripples of a rock thrown in a pond. You don’t turn a habit “on” or “off” just because you change locations or activities. Our habits are branded, seared into our character, for better or worse, and affect all that we do.
We don’t really need to look for national guys like Teo to show this—we can look at our own alumni. One of the keys to both Golden and Wesley Tate’s success is they bought in here, did their work, and put themselves in a position where they could play football at two premiere academic institutions, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Paige Baechle, Jordan’s older sister, was a 4.0 student here, and is now playing basketball at Centre College and was just recently named player of the week in the Southern Athletic Conference for the second week in a row—she leads Centre in scoring and rebounding. Cailin Harris, class of 2012, was a four time all state soccer player, and on that basis was offered a full scholarship to Kentucky, but because of her academic successes was later offered Kentucky’s highest academic scholarship, making her invaluable to her soccer program in that they didn’t have to use up a scholarship to get her.
And let me emphasize this point: being a good student is NOT primarily about ability. It’s about work ethic. Do you remember the children’s parable about the turtle and the hare who run a cross country race against each other? The hare was faster, but lazy, and often ran ahead, took naps and played games along the way. The turtle plodded forward slowly, consistently, never taking a break. The turtle won the race in the long run. It’s tempting for people who are naturally smart to become lazy, coasting through their classes when they’re young, but in the long run, they’re not the ones who end up excelling in college or even running major corporations later on. That was one of the conclusions by the author of Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, Steven Covey, who studied top-level leaders in a variety of industries, to see if they shared any common characteristics. They did, and it wasn’t natural ability. Rather, it was the habit of “being pro-active” to solve our problems, delaying gratification, doing the hard work first, like homework before television or on line gaming.
Mrs. Mayberry, if you ask her, will tell you proudly that Wesley didn’t have strong Math skills when he first arrived a JPII, but he worked hard, and by his senior year, was taking advanced Math here. That’s what this place is all about—wherever you are, whatever your God-given abilities and talents, work hard, extend yourself, build good habits, and develop pride in yourself along the way.
Enjoy the game tonight, those of you who are football fans. But look deeper than the football---in the end, work ethic, scholarship, and a full commitment to what we often call around here the “renaissance-ideal,” --a commitment to excellence in the classroom, the arts, on the playing field, and in the development of our faith—leads to a successful, fulfilling and happy life.
And one last thing…..go Irish!