Hall of Fame Integrity by: Jon Gordon
A few weeks ago I attended the Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame dinner where 11 new people were being inducted and honored. For the record, I was not one of them. : )
As I sat in the audience and listened to the honorees give their speeches, the stories they told contained lessons that went far beyond sports and I knew I had to share a few of these gems with you.
Kate Varde, a record setting softball player who graduated in 2004 didn’t talk about herself. She talked about her teammate Joanne Keck instead. Kate said, “As I look out at a room full of accomplished athletes, I’m aware that we all understand the sacrifices we make in pursuit of a common goal, but when that sacrifice threatens our personal success it is often much harder to act with the dignity and poise expected of us. An example of this is when I came to Cornell as a freshman and was chosen to start over a three year starter, Joanne Keck. I earned this spot because of my success with a bat, not a glove. It would have been natural for Joanne to treat me with anger and resentment, but instead she was the first person on the field to celebrate with me when things went well and the first person to pick me up when I was down. She showed the strength, selflessness, and grit that exemplify what true class looks like. Even when it was clear that we were competing for the same playing time, Joanne was a mentor to me. She advised me about the intricacies of the position despite how it might impact her personally. If I hit an important home run, she would be the first person lined up to congratulate me and celebrate the victory. When I made an error, she would be there to pat me on the back and tell me to keep my head up. She was a true leader that put the team first and reveled in our team”s success.”
David Eckel, a cross country track and field champion, shared a story from the fall of 1955 that took place during the Heptagonal Championship in Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. David said he led most of the race with his Cornell teammate Michael Midler right behind him in second place and Doug Brew from Dartmouth about 60 yards behind them. With about a mile left in the race David and Michael took a wrong turn and headed on a path away from the finish line. Doug Brew saw them going the wrong way and shouted to them, “You are off course! You are off course! You are going the wrong way!” David and Michael quickly got back on the right path and finished in first and second place while Doug Brew finished third. That year Cornell won the individual and team championship and if it wasn’t for the integrity of Doug Brew it never would have happened. Years later David and Doug still keep in touch and Doug said he never regretted it. He felt it was the right thing to do and that the Cornell guys would have done the same thing for him.
When I asked Kate Varde why she talked about Joanne Keck she said, “I have always felt that the true team leaders are the people who exert the same effort without the glory; the players who are enthusiastic and engaged in the success of their team regardless of whether they set foot on the playing field. Teammates like Joanne are a big reason why I am here.”
David told me he spoke about Doug Brew because he knew his induction to the Hall of Fame might not have happened if it wasn’t for the integrity and help of his competitor. Doug Brew could have easily let his competition go the wrong way and become a champion. Instead he became a champion of integrity.
Ironically on a night that was all about honoring the achievement of the individual it was clear that making it into the Hall of Fame requires the Hall of Fame Integrity and selflessness of others. And while very few of us will get elected to a Hall of Fame, we can all choose to live with Hall of Fame Integrity and receive the greatest prize of all – the gift of knowing we did things the right way and made a positive difference.