Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pep Talk: "Better Each Day"

It was a recent Thursday spring day in the Mile High City. I’m hanging at Brandon’s Pub in Cherry Creek North. I love the restaurant’s salsa, chips, food and, except at lunch, margaritas.

ESPN is on in the background. The big story is Pat Summit stepping aside as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols’ basketball program after 38 incredible years and many championships. The 59-year-old is suffering from early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and, as her son said, “Wanted to do what’s right for the team.”

In all my years of sportscasting I don’t recall ever meeting Summit but do know former CU head women’s basketball coach Ceal Barry always spoke highly of the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history - women or men. Coach Barry’s endorsement is good enough for me. If you need more proof about the reverence held for Summit, within a day of her announcement - she will remain involved with program as head coach emeritus - President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award. And whenever I think of the Medal of Freedom, it takes cranium to Whitney Young.

I speak of him often during live Pep Talk presentations. Young was born in 1921. His Kentucky childhood was rather uneventful and he earned a degree from Kentucky State University. Then he marched off to World War II and into the record books. Young was assigned to an all black regiment of soldiers responsible for repairing Europe’s bomb-ravaged roads. The war was over but to get people back to work and economies percolating, road reconstruction was necessary. The engineer and other black soldiers were supervised by an all white, Southern, officer crew. This was the 1940’s folks. However, Young stood out and was quickly promoted from private to sergeant, causing consternation on both sides of the racial divide of the time.

That division planted a seed inside Young’s soul to, upon exiting the military, dedicate life to improving race relations in our country. He worked for the National Urban League office in Omaha; taught university classes on race relations in Atlanta; checked in with the NAACP for a bit and then, at the age of 40, was named the national president of the National Urban League. In the ten years he ran the organization it saw tremendous growth in size and stature. At the age of 47, then President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Young the Medal of Freedom too. He was a stud who sadly drowned at the tender age of 49 while swimming on an African vacation.

Young’s life mission statement was “There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. True nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” Wow. I have always loved that statement and hope you embrace it too. What’s the old saying, “There’s always room for improvement?” Ironically, the music being piped through the neighborhood pub just landed on Todd Rundgren’s Bang the Drum All Day and it’s lyrics, “I don’t want to work.” I promise that’s the truth.

Anyway, the point is this: this week let’s focus on becoming superior to our former selves - home, work or elsewhere. Becoming superior to our former selves requires a passion for getting better. It requires work. That was one of Summit’s final thoughts on this transitional day for Tennessee athletics, she said, “I made a vow early in my career to always try and be a little better each day.”

It worked for Whitney Young. It worked for Pat Summit. It will work for us too. I know, it ain’t always easy, stuff happens. However, this week let’s keep our eye on the prize of being a little better each day.

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