GRAND RAPIDS — I remember when I was coaching at Greenway we had a home game toward the end of the season against the undefeated, No. 1-ranked Bigfork Huskies. It was a fantastic contest, close all the way; the lead changed hands almost every possession. The gym was packed and the fans were treated to a battle. We had an opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds but came up short, losing by one.
I really felt bad for my Raiders. We had the game; we gave it 100 percent the entire 32 minutes. I talked to the players in the locker room after the game and needless to say, the guys were pretty down.
I went back to my coach’s office and just sat there. I felt my eyes getting a little teary; I felt so bad for the kids, they played their hearts out. In a minute, my office door opened and in walked Bigfork coach Jerry Chiabotti. Jerry looked almost as sad as I felt! He came up to me, looked me straight in the eyes, gave me a guy hug and told me what a great game our guys played. He sincerely felt bad for our team. He asked if he could go into the locker room and talk with the players. I said sure.
I don’t remember much of what was said but Jerry congratulated them, told them they played a great game, that they played their hearts out and said something about it being too bad there had to be a loser in the game. I believe he went around the locker room, either shaking each player’s hand, or giving them a pat on the back or having a word with them. And Jerry wasn’t just going through the motions, he spoke with such sincerity. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. What a class guy. I’ll never forget that.
I consider myself very fortunate to have lived in northern Minnesota and worked with so many good people, especially in the sports arena. In Greenway, I was surrounded by good guys – Bill Hare, Bob Schwartz, Jay Gould, Lew Smiley, Paul Koplitz to name a few. Referees like Jim Erzar and Pat Pollard and Babe Glumack and Gary Southgate, the Bergan brothers, Bill Novak and others were just good people, class acts, and outstanding officials. Hal Leasure, our bus driver. I thought the rides at Valley Fair had some sharp turns!!! But Hal knew the roads so well he could have probably driven the bus blindfolded.
Guys like Pete Filippi in Keewatin, who lived his life it seemed, for kids, whether baseball players in Nashwauk and Keewatin or Golden Gloves boxers throughout the Range; Steve Kerzie of Gilbert – what an ambassador for high school athletics. There are so many more, but I better stop; I know I’ll omit so many.
The point is, there are a lot of great people in the world of sports. The great people though, seldom make the headlines; it seems to always be the bad guys who get the ink, who we hear about. But there are many good guys, likable guys. Sometimes we like them because they work so hard, other times it’s because they just seem like nice people, sometimes it’s because of their humanitarian efforts and contributions outside the game.
Tennis’s Roger Federer has aided victims globally wherever and whenever there is a catastrophic event. He’s a UNICEF ambassador, works to raise AIDS awareness and organizes charity drives for Haiti.
Remember basketball bad boy Ron Artest, the guy who walked into the stands and punched out some fans? He has struggled with mental health issues all his life. He raffled off his only NBA championship ring and raised $500,000 for Xcel University to help high risk youths with mental health issues.
Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett turned down a substantial raise from the University and instead asked for additional pay for his staff. He and his wife then donated $500,000 toward a career development program for current and former players.
For the past 7 ½ years Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson spends his Tuesdays at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital visiting kids, inspiring them. He said “It’s probably one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.” He doesn’t just show up, do a couple photo-ops and leave. He visits the sickest of the sick, visits kids in the burn center and cancer ward.
Tim Tebow, who was born in the Philippines, helped build a five-story, 30-bed pediatric hospital with three operating rooms in Davo City, Philippines.
Cristiano Robaldo, LeBron James, wrestler John Cena, Michael Phelps, Eli Manning, Ndamukong Suh, Serena Williams and others all have given millions to various humanitarian efforts.
Nice guys, nice ladies. Good people. They’re all over the place. Except in the headlines.