When the last ball dropped I didn’t cry. Sitting in the BYU Fieldhouse, I felt the emotions and understood the tears and the angst of the athletes on the deepest level, but something in me knew that it wasn’t over. I guess that’s my optimism swimming for the surface. It’s done it over and over again in my life, but as we all know, it’s one thing for life to mess with us, but it’s another feeling when it comes after our kids.
I’ve had the chills consistently since last Tuesday when Stanford announced that it would reinstate all 11 Varsity sports that were cut amidst the pandemic.
At the time of the cuts, it was the only thing where I couldn’t find a silver lining. Even when the senior season of 2020 was lost, and everything was closed, the thought that all of this would come back together at some point and the teammates who lost the time competing together would get to look at each other across the net at the next level soothed that feeling of lose, so the idea of that not happening after years of hard work was unfathomable. But in a massive reversal last Tuesday, the sentiment that it couldn’t be done was tossed out the window, and 240 deserving athletes got their training ground back and, with that, the silver linings began to emerge.
I’ve spent the week reflecting and talking with people involved in the monumental effort to reinstate these sports. Being a part of an effort on the smallest level that kept the faith, but more than that put in the work (for many it was the equivalent of adding another full time job on top of the one they already had) to make reinstatement a possibility was a rewarding life lesson on the deepest level. Relationships were built through adversity and friendships were forged through mutual understanding of what was at stake and almost lost.
One of my favorite conversations this past week was with Jeremy Jacobs, Stanford volleyball alum who spent countless hours, on top of a full time job, and a family with two young children. When the Volleyball Magazine pictures emerged after the BYU game, he cried in his kitchen, with his wife, who was the team manager when he played at Stanford. Real families have emerged from this storied program and inspired his fight…I got a strong sense in our conversation that we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. Our conversation had the quality of the angsty athlete, the one that always feels like there is more they can do, that slightly dissatisfied feeling that keeps us moving forward in life. He wanted to give back to the program in a way that he said he felt didn’t manifest on the court during his playing days. While I’m sure that he is being harder on himself than history or Coach Kosty would remember, what a blessing for this program that his grit inspired the hours of work necessary to stand where we are today.
It occurred to me during our conversation that maturity is wanting to do something greater for the next generation than you were able to do for yourself at a earlier stage of life and awareness.
It’s using the gifts and lessons that we didn’t even know we were acquiring at the time and letting them serve the next generation because we had our eyes open and the courage to build our own self awareness.
Although so many advised against it, optimism kept me believing that we could battle a giant and win. When the door was cracked open by the administration at Stanford, 36 Strong was there to inch their way through, having put in the work to deliver a plan that serves not only the athletes and programs, but sustains the training ground for life and the stories and relationships that come out of them. In the end, that is the real win. Playing days are something to be cherished, and while bodies in motion at the highest levels of the game are always something that are awe inspiring for me, it’s the qualities and experiences that become part of who we are on a mental and even spiritual level that make these athletes the people they were born to be.
I had the chance to talk with Olympic volleyball great Reid Priddy the day that the reinstatement news broke so inquired about what he thought the news meant to the game:
“I was recently asked if volleyball was as big when I was young as it is now and the simple answer is no. Through the years of being in this sport, it seems there is a close correlation between the amount of opportunity at the collegiate level with the growing demand at the junior level. In other words, the more college programs there are, the more the game grows beneath it at the junior level. So the threat of losing one program (albeit a cornerstone program like Stanford), has a ripple effect at the junior level that is hard to quantify but anecdotally seems quite significant. Seeing Stanford reinstate the program not only directly helps those that are associated with Stanford but maybe even more coaches, athletes and clubs at the junior level.” - Reid Priddy
Thank you for taking in new information and recognizing the need to change Stanford. The ability to listen and change our minds when we learn something new is a sign of incredible strength. Let’s go forward together and fulfill not just the athletic vision that was given new life on Tuesday, but all of the amazing plans that Stanford has in it’s sight. Optimists know that we are stronger together, that we lose 100% of the battles we choose not to fight, and that we all have so much more in common than the things that set us apart, especially when given the opportunity to align with our passion. Thank you to everyone who worked tirelessly, with our team lead by a charge of a mom who just wanted our guys to have the experience her son had, to keep Stanford the place that my son remembered from some of his earliest memories. There is a story behind every single one of these 240, and I’m so thankful that they get to keep telling them.
With Love & Optimism,
Because it’s Sunday…the lyrics that reminded me