The 129-year-old Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago, established an athletic hall of fame in the 1994-95 school year to honor men and women, teams and now coaches, who established themselves as outstanding in their athletic or coaching endeavors either while in school, or beyond. This includes for a team having had a positive impact on the community as well. Inductees have included many athletes whose names would be recognized in the sports pages of any Chicago newspaper, not only at the high school level and intercollegiate level, but all the way into the professional ranks. I am sure other high schools have established similar athletic recognition entities.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of joining these ranks as a member of the 1965 ETHS state champ boys' soccer team, the first such team to be recognized by the school's athletic Hall of Fame. Actually, I had a "little" to do with it, since I started the inquiry into it well over four years ago, undertaking hours of research, and gathering and analyzing data for those who would decide our team's fate. It became a "labor of love," or, undertaking a path best described by Abraham Lincoln who once said, "You can have anything you want, if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish, if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose." To be clear, I never knew President Lincoln said this during any of my work, but my wife, Elena, brought his words to my attention recently.
Joining our team in this recognition was also the high school's 1951 state champ football team, a former outstanding Olympic and Big Ten champ track star, coach and athletic director who passed away earlier this year, a multiple state champ, NCAA women's track star and Olympic aspirant, as well as a state and Big Ten champ and pro-circuit tennis player. Quite select company to be in to be sure, though Evanston High has a reputation for producing such top-tier student-athletes.
The ceremonies brought into town our former head coach, Dr. Kenneth McGonagle, from Minnesota (also a star baseball player in his playing days and long-time baseball coach at the high school who retired in the late 1980s), as well as players from as far away as Alabama, Florida, Kansas and Wisconsin. I had not seen any of these folks since we all graduated in 1966, so it was truly a pleasure to reacquaint with them. They all seemed genuinely pleased with what the induction ceremonies meant, though as explained below, the meaning of this past weekend went beyond the "surface." Certainly Coach McGonagle had an ever present gleam in his eye and energy in his every step. I also received emails from additional team members who could not make it -- from Philadelphia to Memphis to Seattle -- who expressed well wishes, genuine pride in being part of the recognition, and regrets for not being able to make it.
Even those who played on that 1951 team (I was only three then) who were able to make it -- and there were many, as far away as California -- displayed a sense of spirit that had not (obviously) waned with the passage of some 60 years since they all played together. Maybe it was harkening back to the days when concerns of adult life had yet to develop and materialize, but each seemed to reflect a boyish attitude that reflected genuine respect for one another on and off the field.
But the real meaning of the day and event for me did not arise until the ceremonies had long concluded. I received the other evening an email from one of my teammates who attended. He spoke about his successes in another sport on a competitive level, including during the summer before our championship season. This took away from his preparation for the soccer season, and as a result his playing time during the season became limited. Life had its twists and turns for him after high school, but he now devotes some of what he does to mentoring other men who have traveled a wrong path for a long time. He recalled how the athletic director, Mr. Chris Livatino, said during the ceremonies that the Hall of Fame induction would help inspire and motivate students to excellence; "sometimes the effect may not be immediate, but a seed has been planted", said this former player in his email. The induction of our team and this player's role with it obviously had offered much more. I was touched by what he had to say---as well as seeing the delight in those who could attend, being recognized 47 years after the toil we all had to put in to achieve what we did. This no doubt was multiplied for those 1951 football players given their present ages and having to look back another 13 or so years more than we had to do.
So, in the end, the ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame has become more than getting a plaque installed in the athletic wing of the school for its inductees. It has become, metaphorically speaking, a house where our past rekindles a present avenue to inspire and motivate those still in school to seek and maintain excellence, knowing that life's challenges may still be on the horizon. The hall of fame honor lets us know that life is a journey, and, occasionally, if we are individually lucky enough as we soccer players who composed our '65 team, to recall days of pleasure on the athletic field that lessen, even if only briefly through a window of moments, present-day concerns and issues.
I at least have come to realize the true meaning of the ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame and being one of its inductees. Thanks again athletic hall-of-fame committee for selecting us.