The film, We Are Marshall tells the story of the tragic plane crash that killed almost all the members of Marshall University’s football team in the fall of 1970. The movie focuses on the following year when the school, the coaches and the community struggled to rebuild from the ashes and carry on.
While the story is heart breaking, one scene is filled with inspiration. At the time, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play on varsity football teams. So, many in the community thought that the team should wait until the next season to field a team when players would be sophomores. But, the new head coach, Jack Lengyel [played by Matthew McConaughey] believed that it was critical that the school play their schedule in the fall. Thinking out of the box, he believed that if they could get an exception to the freshman eligibility rule, they could field a team without skipping a season. He persuades University President Don Dedmon to seek the exemption. But after Dedmon sends letters and makes telephone calls to the NCAA without response, he reports his apparent failure to Coach Lengyel and his assistant.
Did You Ask Her on the Phone?
Irrepressible and convinced that there is a first time for everything, the coach convinces President Dedmon to pursue his request in person. Reluctantly, he does as suggested and obtains the approval.
Please watch the clip before you read further. click here
Armed with this unique advantage, the Marshall coaches went about recruiting players by offering them the opportunity to play immediately as freshmen. They assembled a full roster of players. Even with that advantage, the Marshall season was not a complete success on the scoreboard . In a later scene, when questioned about the team’s win-loss record, Coach Lengyel says that some day winning will be the most important thing, but this year, what is important is not whether we win, but “that we play”.
About ten years ago when we were starting Be There Dad groups, the National PTA conducted a survey. At that time, few men participated in the local school PTAs which were comprised almost entirely of women. So, the PTA asked men, why they did not participate in PTA activities. The overwhelming response was that no one had asked them. Looking deeper, it was discovered that there was no place in the typical local organization for men to readily participate.
Thinking creatively, Coach Lengyel developed a strategy that could work in their circumstances. He knew that players might not find their way to Marshall unless he “asked” them. So, he did. He knew they might not choose to come to Marshall unless they had a “place” to play. So, he offered them a place where they could have an immediate impact. Upon recruiting those players, the Thundering Herd football team was rejuvenated. The university survived the loss and historically the team has been successful ever since. All because someone had the perseverance to build the team.
[By the way, eventually Coach Lengyel went on to be the Athletic Director at the U.S. Naval Academy and he was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame]
Building Your Team
In the next few weeks and months, within the CMS M.E.N. framework and guided by Be There Dad, schools will hope to create dads groups. Already schools have begun to identify and recruit dads. Others will soon follow. As you go about developing your own strategy for recruiting dads at your school, I hope you will think about Coach Lengyel. Emails, flyers and other communications are good starting places, but dads are most likely to respond to an invitation made in person. And, most dads will respond more positively when they know that they have a place where they can make an impact immediately. Please consider a plan that accomplishes both those objectives. Ask men in person and let them know that there is a group where they will participate. Many of these men are like freshmen football players who just need someone to take them by the hand and show them the way.
How to Ask
Networking with friends, meet ups after work, conversations at church, and invitations to car pool line, donuts for dads, and beautification days are all ways to connect with dads directly. If dads are going to impact the children, they have to come to school. Asking is the first step.
That We Play
At his time, it is not so important how we participate. There are many ways dads can have that immediate impact … car rider line, beautification days, doughnuts for dads, and lunch buddies. It is not important what shirts we wear or what we call ourselves. There need not be a formal structure or time schedule, yet.
One day soon those metrics will all be important. But right now, for the lives of our children, in the words of Coach Lengyel, it is most important that we play. That we show up. Because if we do, the rest will follow. Be There Dad has always said that when dads are engaged, good things happen. And they have. The power of presence will emerge in each school and be rekindled year after year. There will be seasons to follow and traditions to keep. Generations of dads and children will benefit from a culture built by those who were willing to take that first step.
Amid the academic gaps left by the pandemic, the fears of mass shootings, the anxiety caused by social media and all the other influences on our children, we should not wait until next season. We need to field a team. It is vital that as dads we choose to play. The children are waiting on the sidelines for dads to engage with them. There is a first time for everything. Let this be the time for us.