When I looked up "winning" on the computer, the individual most often quoted was Vince Lombardi. We are all aware of the legendary NFL coach's passion for winning. Who was it who said "show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser"?
I grew up in the 1930s and '40s, when winning was strongly promoted. As a businessman who employed scores of sales people, I tempered this by establishing "campaigns" rather than "contests." A campaign was designed to challenge oneself to surpass one's previous best. A contest was designed to create winners and losers.
I had a large family and attended countless Little League games. Today's parents add soccer to their responsibilities. We have seen coaches and parents attempting to instill in their children a "winning desire" — sometimes to the detriment of the participants. I am a believer in setting realistic and challenging goals and always being a competitor.
During a fund-raising dinner some time ago for a school that serves developmentally challenged children — the father of one of the students delivered an unforgettable message.
"Everything God does is supposedly done with perfection," he told the crowd. "Yet, my son, Sean, cannot learn or understand things as other children do. Where is God's plan reflected in my son?"
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued: "I believe that when God brings a child like Sean into the world, an opportunity to realize the divine plan presents itself. And it comes in the way people treat that child."
He then told this story:
Sean and his father had walked past a park where some boys Sean knew were playing baseball. Sean asked, "Do you think they will let me play?"
Sean's father knew the boys would not want him on their team, but that if his son would be allowed to play, even for only a few minutes, it could give him a much needed sense of belonging.
The father approached one of the coaches and asked if Sean could play. The coach responded that his team was losing by six runs, but he would try to let Sean have a chance to play toward the end of the game. In the top of the final inning, Sean was allowed to fill one of the outfield positions. Although no balls came his way, Sean was obviously ecstatic just to be on the field. In the bottom of the inning, Sean's team began to score some runs and the bases were loaded with two outs and the winning run at the plate – with Sean scheduled to be the next batter. Everyone wondered if Sean would be allowed to bat at this critical time, knowing, as they did, that a hit was all but impossible because Sean didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.
Then, as Sean stepped to the plate, the pitcher moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Sean could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Sean missed clumsily. The pitcher again took a few steps closer and tossed the ball softly. Sean swung and hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher. The pitcher could easily have thrown Sean out to end the game, but, instead, threw it over the head of the first baseman and everyone started to yell, "Sean, run to first. Run to first!"
The catcher even had to point him in the right direction and give him a little push. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. The stands and players increased their excited yelling.
"Run to second!"
The right fielder, while the other base runners deliriously circled the bases to tie the game, sensed the pitcher's intentions, and threw the ball high over the third baseman's head. The players from both teams were now yelling and giving directions to Sean as he rounded third and headed home to touch home plate. He was cheered as a hero for hitting a "grand slam" and winning the game.
"That day", said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped to bring a piece of the divine plan into this world."
As important as achieving and winning are, there are times when winning is not as important as touching lives for good. I am praying that my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are always striving to be their best, but tempering their efforts to ennoble the lives of everyone with whom they come in contact.
TOM THORKELSON is the director of Interfaith Relations for the Orange County Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He lives in Newport Beach.