Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 07:09:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: 877
877. That's the number of career wins reached this weekend during the
NCAA tournament by Dean Smith, basketball coach at the University of North
Carolina. The accolades poured in and the testimonials poured out as he
became the winningest coach in the history of college basketball.
One simple, profound comment summed up all the reason for and the true
meaning of the sincere praise, "Dean Smith: to his players, a coach, a
father, a friend.."
Many people--players, fellow-coaches, normally cynical and hardened sports
writers, avid fans, anyone who has come into contact with him or those who
were on his teams--understand that there are records and there are
records. This record by a truly humble man who never curses, who
acknowledge that his accomplishments rest with his players, whose program
these 35 yearshas remained squeaky clean, is more than about winning
basketball games. The fact that his old players--without any urging from
a public-relations minded athletic director--did everything possible under
the sun to get tickets to Saturday's game, were willing to travel long
distances and put their lives momentarily on hold, wanted to be in the
collesium on the campus of Wake Forrest and share with Dean Smith in his
achievement shows that this record is more about people than basketball.
And if I can add my little whisper of praise, during those years in the
early 1960s, when I was a graduate student and had the honor--yes,
honor--of helping tutor some of the players on the basketball team, I came
to see personally the real meaning of all this applause for Dean Smith.
For him, it was never merely about basketball and basketball players; it
far more was about life and people. For him, it was never merely about
making his players better basketball players; it was more about making
them better persons. The stories abound--one or two of which I was a
part--bearing witness that he truly cares for each player--whether a
starter or pernnial bench warmer everyone is important to him--as a whole
human being, touching people, impacting on lives, making a difference.
The memories and relfections stand as testimony that his love for his
players and involvement with them never was confined to the basketball
season, never was limited to the basketball court, extended far beyond
their tenure as a player at UNC, never ceased. "Dean Smith: to his
players, a coach, a father, a friend."
And it got me wondering all this weekend about how this can be or will be
said about each of us in the classroom. I thought about how it is that so
many--far, far too many--of us academics have missed the boat on this
simple truth that Dean Smith see so clearly; how so, so many of us coldly
proclaim that our task in the classroom is limited transmitting
information and merely striving to instil in students something called
"subject mastery"; how easy it is for so many to so love their subject and
so callously treat their students; how easy it is for so many to warmly
hug the material and so coldy keep students at arm's length; how so many
know their subject while students remain strangers in their classrooms;
how so many are engaged with their subject and so disengaged with
students; how so many denounce efforts to engage in the task of
communicating with, caring about, loving other human beings who happen to
be in the role of students as "touchy-feely" nonense; how so many practice
distance education by asserting they cannot befriend students and still
properly educate them; how so many clinically declare that "interpersonal"
relationships are inappropriate in the classroom; how so many rush to
declare that they are in such a rush that they don't have time for that
one student; how they clinical declare that student problems, however they
may impact on performance, is not their concern; how they refuse to grasp
the full sense of value of their students' lives and treat their students
as one-dimensional decals slapped on the cover of a notebook rather than
as whole people; how the vision of so many are myopically limited to
subject, the classroom, and a particular course; how Dean Smith's
basketball court is a far, far more a viable place of education than so
many of our academic classroom.
Yeah, it makes me wonder how it is that this successful and beloved coach-
of something as supposely inconsequential as basketball-whose players have
gone on to be stars in professional basketball, in business, in other
professions, in life--knows what so many of us supposed educators and
teachers haven't yet begun to figure out: that people are far more
important than basketball; that winning in the game of life is far more
important and meaningful than winning a basketball game. Maybe Dean Smith
ought to give a bunch of us academics a summer clinic or two in education,
people, and life.