Class and Character
When Correct Hard Work Becomes Fun!
By Len Walencikowski
Published: Spring 1996
October 13, 1995, fell on a Friday this year and it has a new meaning for the members of the Southridge Football family. For some, it was the first time traveling outside of the Miami area, for others, the first time on an airplane and, for all, the first time playing against a team with a winning tradition that dates back over one hundred years. Our players looked very businesslike as they traveled in their Sunday best and conducted themselves in a manner that would make the pickiest mother proud.
The Spartan entourage arrived at the Akron/Canton Ohio Airport about 10:30 a.m., greeted by members of the Massillon football program in such a way that made us feel as though we were at a family gathering. The tiger fans, players and coaches treated us as though we were important to their program and not just an opponent they wanted to beat. Watching these two teams prepare for a hard-hitting competitive football game truly defines the words, “Class and Character”.
It was awesome going through our Friday practice at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium with 500 plus spectators from the opposing team watching us and complementing us, rather than trash talking. This is what athletic competition is all about….correct hard work and fun. Friday night our players chose to stay at the hotel and watch game film rather than go to a movie.
Saturday morning was spent touring the Professional Football Hall of Fame. What a way to get ready to play a game of this magnitude! Our kids were in awe as our busses drove through the town of Massillon to see 32,000 fans supporting their high school football team with Tiger paw prints, Tiger tails and posters of all sizes echoing “Beat Southridge” everywhere we looked. The tempo was set for a 7:30 p.m. “Experience of a Lifetime”.
We arrived a Paul Brown Tiger Stadium at 6:00 p.m. to the blaring sound of “The Eye of the Tiger” echoing throughout the 20,000-seat stadium filled with fans proudly wearing their orange and black colors. The temperature was 62 degrees (not what the kids from Florida were used to). It was a proud sight to see that our kids did not let the noise, the temperature, the live prowling Bengal tiger, or even the fast all-purpose turf take us from our focus…to have fun, to perform, to play hard and to put on a show for the fans. Our players were bringing together the preparation that started last January when we asked them two questions….#1 “Do you care” and #2 “Can I trust you?” Those that answered these questions with a “Yes” were challenged each day to make good decisions, to compete and to help others to get better. Our players attacked each Bigger Faster Stronger workout as a game day experience, emphasizing that when correct hard work becomes fun, success will follow. We feel the Bigger Faster Stronger Complete Program is more than a way to lift weights. We believe it is a way of life….to compete, to make good decisions, to help others to get better and to reach one’s Upper Limit Potential.
It would have been great if everyone who has ever played or watched a high school football game could have witnessed this game….two teams playing the game of football the way it was designed to be played: violently, aggressively, with discipline and spirit. There was no trash talking, no cheap shots, no finger pointing just two well-coached hard-hitting teams having fun. What a great game to watch! When time ran out, the score was Southridge Spartans-20 and Massillon Tigers-7, what a great feeling! Our kids had played hard, with consistency and came out the victors this night.
After the game, the players and coaches exchanged gifts as they shook hands and then joined hands at mid-field to form a F.C.A. prayer circle at give thanks for the honor to be part of this great competitive experience. The night was concluded with the taking of a panoramic picture of these two Upper Limit teams. This picture will be just a small memory of an “Experience of a Lifetime” for all.
When we got back to the hotel the players and fans had another treat. Steve Everitt, #1 draft pick of the Cleveland Browns and a Southridge graduate, was there to sign autographs and to talk to the players and fans from both schools. It was an honor to listen to the kids and to Steve compare war stories about their experiences as Spartan football players preparing for the game of life. Steve Everitt truly defines what it takes to become an Upper Limit athlete and person. Thanks, Steve, for all your help and support, and most of all for being you, a professional football player, that young players can look up to and by your example better understand that, when “Correct Hard Work Becomes Fun”, success will follow.
That Sunday morning, as we were getting on the plane, I asked some of our seniors (who had played 38 Varsity football games) what they thought of the Tigers. They told me the Massillion players were the strongest team they have played and they also felt one of the hardest hitting teams they have ever played. These comments insured me that football can be played without trash talk and finger pointing, and that it can be played violently and aggressively, with discipline and spirit and still be fun. Thank you Massillon Tiger Football Family, for inviting me and the Southridge Spartan
Football Family to be a part of this “Experience of a Lifetime.”