I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the North Carolina State victory over Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game. According to Sports Illustrated, it was the most seminal moment in sports in the 20th century. It is also the story of Coach Jim Valvano and his travels from the ultimate in victory to his struggle with cancer.
On the tenth anniversary of the victory, he spoke to the crowd at the North Carolina State fieldhouse about his philosophy of life. Amidst the tears of his former players he told the crowd of the three things that made his life possible. He spoke of his dreams of winning the championship, the hope that he had for the future and the love he had for his players.
It was apparent, even 24 years later, that his words meant something to his former players. Although Valvano had succumbed to cancer almost immediately after his 10th year 1993 return to the NC State fieldhouse, his players took what he said to heart. Each of the surviving players (Lorenzo Charles, the hero of the 1983 game passed away in 2015) told of Valvano’s effect on them. They seem to remember all of the hopes, dreams and love that poured out of him, even long after his coaching days were finished.
Valvano’s influence still remains in the body of the V Foundation, which has raised over 150 million dollars for cancer research. His legacy is a gift that he has left for all of us.
There are many morals to this story. My own feeling after watching 30/30 on ESPN is that you should never give up. Don’t let anyone or anything deter you from your hope, your dreams or your love for people.
My feelings are amplified by the young men that I am working with at the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School. As I watched them mentor 4th and 5th grade boys at the elementary school, I heard snatches of the same kind of words that Jim Valvano used. “Don’t give up on making the basketball (or football) team.” Somehow, these young men have absorbed these kinds of lessons from teachers, coaches, administrators, parents and friends.
As they filed out of the room that was used for the mentorship, wearing their Jasper Gentlemen red blazers, I could see the looks on their faces. They had transferred the lessons that they have learned in their lives to the youngsters in front of them. Maybe, in some way, as they meet with these boys, they will come to understand that maybe these boys will do the same thing when they grow up.
I believe that I can understand some of what Jim Valvano felt for these players. I am privileged to work with them and maybe be around when they become the men that they are destined to be.