This past Saturday, anyone who happened to be watching ESPN's Sportscenter was treated to one of those all-too-rare moments when someone shows us what high school and collegiate sports are supposed to be about. It isn't about wins and losses, or national rankings, or which school sells the most merchandise. It's about teaching the value of hard work, teamwork, and discipline. Most importantly, however, it's about building character. Saturday, the players and coaches at the University of Nebraska showed us that in this day of "big time" college sports, some people still get it.
I've never been to Nebraska, and I don't know a whole lot about their university. What I do know, from years of reading the sports page and watching Sportscenter, is that college football is king in Cornhusker country. There are no professional sports franchises in Nebraska, and in over 100 years of Cornhusker hoops, they have appeared in the NCAA tournament a total of six times. Thus, weekends from August through December are spent watching Nebraska football, and the remaining weekends are spent talking about Nebraska football.
Jack Hoffman dreams of playing football for his beloved Big Red. At seven years old, it's going to be a few years before we will see whether that dream can become reality. You see, while we all know the hurdles that have to be overcome in order to make it to big time college football, Jack has to get over a bigger hurdle than most. Jack has pediatric brain cancer.
He was diagnosed in April of 2011, and has undergone two surgeries since being diagnosed. At the moment, he is in the midst of a two-week break from a regimen of chemotherapy expected to last sixty weeks. This past Saturday, the Nebraska football team gave Jack a dose of a different kind of medicine: the type that comes straight from the heart.
Nebraska held its annual spring football game last weekend. The stands were packed with 60,000 fans as the White team and the Red team battled. With one point separating the two squads, and the Red team facing a fourth-and-one at its own 31 yard line, seven year-old Jack Hoffman ran onto the field, sporting the #22 jersey of his friend and favorite Husker, running back Rex Burkhead. QB Taylor Martinez called the play, a sweep around the right end. Martinez took the snap and handed off to Jack, who initially headed to the wrong side. Martinez re-directed him, and he was off to the races. He beat the defensive end to the corner, and turned upfield, a wall of blockers in front of him. He burst into the open and hit that second gear that all great running backs possess; at least that's how I saw it. Sixty-nine yards later, Jack hit paydirt. The entire Nebraska team celebrated, hoisting Jack onto their collective shoulders. Sixty thousand fans roared. I cried.
At that moment, I was reminded of a similar incident I had the privilege to witness back in 2007. I had been selected to officiate in the West Virginia Boys' High School Basketball Tournament, and my assignment for the first night was Gilbert v. Buffalo. Gilbert proved itself to be the better team that night, and by late in the fourth quarter, they were ahead by 20. At that point, the Gilbert coach inserted reserve Anthony Gibson into the game. Anthony suffered from cerebral palsy, and he had never scored in a state tournament game. As Anthony ran onto the floor, I prayed he would get "his moment". I will never forget what the Buffalo coach said to me as the game went on: "If he misses, call a foul against us and put him on the line. I want him to score." Anthony took a pass under the basket and missed, but he snagged his own rebound and this time, his shot went in. The final buzzer sounded, the crowd roared, and the lump in my throat was so big I couldn't speak. I hope the Buffalo coach could read my mind as I shook his hand.
At Bordas & Bordas, we are committed to giving back to our community through coaching,refereeing and supporting youth sports. Partners Jamie Bordas and Geoff Brown currently coach local football and baseball teams, partners Jim Bordas and Scott Blass have coached and have been league commissioners in the past for local hockey, baseball and football teams, and many other attorneys and staff members support their children's individual athletic endeavors. We have all seen far too many examples of the many things that are wrong with college and professional sports today. All too often, it seems as if nothing matters except winning. We wonder if coaches and administrators have lost sight of the fact that athletics is about teaching valuable lessons to our young people. And just when we are about to give in to our cynicism, Nebraska and Jack Hoffman come along to show us that in some places, on some teams, people still get it. Playing sports is about teaching CHARACTER, and Nebraska just gave us a valuable lesson. I hope the world was paying attention.