Sometimes it's the subtle things that jump out at me when I read the paper. This morning, I was reading the story about Dr. LeRoy Walker's funeral. He was the legendary track coach at who went on to head the U.S. Olympic Committee and became chancellor at N.C. Central.
It was this section of the story in which Jane Stancill was quoting Harvey Glance, a gold medalist in the 4X100 relay in the 1976 Montreal Olympics who went on to coach at Auburn and Alabama. It was in the 1980s, and Walker - "Doc" to his athletes - mentioned to Glance that he was disappointed that Glance never finished his college degree. Here is what Glance said Tuesday:
“Of course, that coming from Doc was like a knife being stabbed 3,700 times, because you didn’t want to disappoint Doc. So immediately, two weeks later I enrolled back at school. I was only one semester away from finishing, and got my degree.”
Reading that, I stopped and put down my coffee mug, because I could instantly relate to this anecdote.
Like Glance, I dropped out of college as a young man. And like Glance, I went back and finished my degree. (I was more than one semester short, thanks to the marvelous time I had in the early 1970s in Charlottesville, Va., so it required going through seven years of night courses while I held down a full-time job. Believe me, you don't want to do college this way if you can possibly avoid it.)
Lots of kids drop out of high school or college, and no one says boo. But dropping out of college disappointed my parents, just as Glance disappointed Walker, because education was prized in my family. They didn't cast me into the wilderness, but I was sure aware of their disappointment. And it was powerful motivation.
Because everyone needs someone whose disappointment matters. As important as love is for youngsters, expectations are equally important.
Everyone should have someone who, when they mess up, lets them know they have messed up, that they have no one to blame but themselves, and that they need to make it right. And by the way, we still love you. (People will respond to your expression of disappointment if - and only if - they know you still love them. That love part is often a missing step.)
Glance was around 30 when he had that encounter with Walker. He was still one of the fastest athletes in the world. Going back to Auburn must not have been easy, personally or professionally.
Walker cared deeply about the athletes he coached, at N.C. Central and on Olympic teams, and it says something about the man that he filed away Glance's missing degree, and looked for an opportunity to bring it up. Because Walker knew the importance of a diploma, espcially for someone, like Glance, who wanted a career in coaching himself.
Glance's anecdote tells us a lot of what we need to know about LeRoy Walker, and his impact. Walker's achievements were many and grand, but his greatest accomplishment was as a man you didn't want to disappoint. Would that everyone had a LeRoy Walker in their life.