Stallion coach David Marlowe prepares to give Harrelson a high-five as she leaves the court.
By Franklin Davis
The quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” has long been attributed to legendary Green Bay Packer head coach Vince Lombardi. Actually, the first person known to use the saying was UCLA football coach “Red” Sanders, who in 1950 told a group, “Men, winning isn’t everything……. men, it’s the only thing.” The first record of Lombardi using the quote was in 1959 during his first training camp with Green Bay. No matter which coach said it first, he was wrong.
On Monday evening, October 16, I saw first hand a testament to how much more there is to sports than winning. The story of Victoria Harrelson’s remarkable recovery from what can best be described as a heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest is well documented. Monday she took to the volleyball court and took another step in the healing process.
Never mind it wasn’t a “real” match. Never mind the rules weren’t strictly followed. The point is she had an opportunity to PLAY! Encouraged by players, coaches, officials and fans, she PLAYED. Her effort on the court was great. Her effort, along with the Stallion Volleyball family’s effort, to get her back on the court PLAYING was even more impressive.
I can never recall observing South Columbus volleyball coach David Marlowe more nervous than he was prior to Victoria’s 2017 debut. Marlowe told me earlier in the season, he and assistant coaches Megan Whitesell and Jenny Johnson were looking into what steps needed to be made in order for Victoria to return to the court. Victoria has dressed out with the team and even volunteered to play when Marlowe asked during a timeout, “Doesn’t anyone want to play today?” Once it was determined Victoria could take part in an on the court event during Senior Night, a plan was put into place to make that happen.
West Bladen coach Gaye Davis was approached with the idea of Victoria taking the court on South’s Senior Night match with the Knights. Davis said, “When Coach Marlowe asked me about it I had no reservations. People get caught up in the wins or losses of sports. Players, coaches and parents forget that we are all very fortunate that our kids get the chance to even play. I have followed Victoria’s story from the beginning. What Victoria, her family, her friends and team have gone through has been traumatic and devastating, but in the end, God had other plans for her.
“Monday evening is what sports should be about. There were no political agendas or anything to gain. We were all there to celebrate an accomplishment that no one thought would have happened in February 2017. I told both Coach Marlowe and Coach Johnson, whatever you need us to do, we are all in. The real winner last night was Victoria. She is an inspiration to all of us. Imagine if all athletes (and people) had her drive and determination to overcome obstacles, what the world would be like. The girls and I and all of the Knight family are very honored to be a part of that very emotional experience.”
Davis’ words summarize the life lesson we all can take from this. So often we take for granted the basic things in sports. Parents and players get upset when the amount of playing time or statistical recognition is less than expected. Fans focus on wins.
Unfortunately, it takes a near tragedy to return our attention to just being able to PLAY. Even if most of the PLAY comes in practice, the opportunity is still there. How many high school athletes would trade places with Victoria or how many parents would have their child take her place? Sitting on the end of the bench is a pretty good deal when you look at the alternative.
Victoria’s story shows us how wonderful it is to simply have the opportunity to PLAY. Not star, not start, just PLAY. Marlowe says, “Victoria is a blessing to everyone she is around. If people do not believe in miracles then they need to get a load of her. Monday was a great experience for us as a team moving forward. I will never forget that feeling. “
I’ve got to give Coach Lombardi a break. He claims he was misquoted (despite using the same line several times afterwards). Lombardi said what he meant was, “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is.”
Nowhere was that will more present than a memorable Monday evening at South Columbus.