After retiring from my educational career in D.C., Mary Ann and I moved full time to our postage stamp of land in the Shenandoah Valley. Our drives to and from each weekend now ended, and we settled in for our “golden years.” However, before long a small, public high school near us needed a wrestling coach. I returned to teaching with Mary Ann’s enthusiastic support.
The wrestling program suffered from lack of support, and I asked some of my former students/wrestlers from D.C. for help. A generous fund was established, and I purchased new singlets, warm-ups, and tee-shirts. Every activity in the schools I worked had used the simple “tee” as a way to help build camaraderie and team spirit. But every good “tee” had to be printed with inspiring words, not just the name of the school and team. I decided on “Iron sharpens Iron” which is taken from the King James translation of Proverbs 27:17. Although the school was a 2-A public school, no one ever questioned the words and once at a tournament a father from another school commented that the verse was one of his favorites. The team understood the importance and reason for the words: Each day for the season they worked to make each other better people, students, and wrestlers. For the three years I coached there, each wrestler demanded of himself and his teammates.
During the pandemic, I have been watching the role of sports—professional, college, high school, and even club-try to maintain a pre-pandemic level. Just last week, the Super 32 Wrestling Tournament was held with about 1500 wrestlers competing. The NFL tries to flourish and even MLB held a sort of World Series. When the Connecticut scholastic association cancelled football games, some parents with the money formed a league for clubs. The Power 5 continue to push against the affects of the COVID-19 disease. And because of reduced revenue from televised football games, many colleges and universities have cut less lucrative sports, such as indoor track and field or swimming or wrestling or baseball. It is obvious what the objective of sport is—money. That is supported by the way in which we as a country and culture have reacted to the pandemic. The only excuse for the forced continuous of play that I have not heard is that it is someone’s Constitutional Right. But, given time, that may come.
I fear where we will end. We have yet to accept the reality of COVID because we keep trying to deny it. In the midst of a pandemic, we act like the athlete who has not scouted his or her opponent. We are the batter in softball or baseball who does not know what pitch is likely to be used when the count is 2-1. We are the offensive line that does not know how many linebackers will be used on a 3rd down conversion attempt. What I mean is that we do not understand this virus as well as we need to, and we slowly learn more about it. For instance, we are now realizing some its long-term effects on the brain and other organs. Yet we continue to expose our athletes to it.
We are not iron sharping iron. Instead we rattle about as we commit dangerous athletic events as if we are in control. We have become like a herd of lemmings, full of herd mentality that will take us over the edge. Like the mother in The Rocking Horse Winner, we will discover the lure of lucre leads to doom, not happiness. Let us toughen up and be iron that sharpens iron, not blind lemmings.