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“The Press Box” for February 24

By Randy Rutherford - Staff Writer | Feb 24, 2021

No playing the snooze game. We all have done it a time or two. It’s the one where you hit the snooze button on your old fashioned alarm clock to get just ten more minutes of coveted sleep. Younger generations won’t get this. Heck, they don’t own alarm clocks, but they can play something similar on their cell phones. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying Snoozers are losers. You have to get up early, and you better plan on staying late. You know why? There isn’t going to be anyone that sees your dream more clearly than you. Well, maybe your mom does. It’s how you apply yourself to your sport before, during, and even after practice that will define an athlete’s work ethic. The topic of this Press Box is work.

My dad had one simple rule for me growing up. “You will go to college and you will graduate,” said my dad on more than one occasion. In order to teach me the necessary commitment that was needed to be successful in school, I had many summer jobs that quickly showed me the meaning of hard work. For example, my dad got me a job on the state road crew for the summer my junior year in high school. The days were long and hot. For eight to ten hours my job was walking behind the steaming hot asphalt truck in humid summer weather with a shovel filling pot holes for about a $1.25 an hour. Our boss would drop a small crew of us off early in the morning out on the back roads of Tyler County. He would then drive several miles down the road and place a marker telling us we couldn’t stop until we filled every hole between the start and finish line. I will be honest. Some days one of us would sneak ahead and move that marker back a hundred feet or so. I don’t remember if we were ever caught, but those hundred feet looked and felt like ten miles!

Another favorite job my dad was great at arranging for me was to put up hay for a local farmer. This meant 95 degree days for 10 hours, putting up hay with long sleeve shirts and blue jeans on for $8.00 a day, not an hour, a day! The best thing about this job was the all you could eat burgers at the end of the day; I quickly realized that I needed to go to college and graduate. I also found out just how hard men work to provide for their families.

We already know that athletes are more likely to be successful in school, and this is due to their work ethic, but it also translates to outside of school, too. When young people play sports they learn how to push themselves and try hard on the field, so in turn it makes it easier for them to do the same off the field. Kids with good experiences in sports grow up to be teens and young adults looking for work. These athletes find jobs that are easier for them to do successfully because they have accumulated a lot of practice following the orders of their coach, keeping a schedule and following through with the responsibilities they have been assigned. All these things are trademarks of a good work ethic.

If you don’t have equal talent, out work the competition! It seems like a long time ago, but I can still remember when I was the head football coach at Nicholas County High School back in the 1980s. In those days Route 19 didn’t have all the shopping centers lining both lanes of the highway leading to the high school. And at the time the majority of the folks living in the Summersville area were coal miners or farmers. Because the coal seams were short, the general size of the dads led to offspring that were not very big. Some years at the beginning of practice in August, I would be the biggest guy on the field. We had to learn very early, that to be successful, we had to out work everybody. My kids always questioned the conditioning we went through, but I tried to condition with competition. Guys finishing first would be excused from the rest of the conditioning, and they loved that. It was also instilling the feeling of competition. My first year we had 17 kids out for football, and we were a 3A school. Because of the toughness that my players had, due to the discipline they had learned, we finished 7-3 and won our conference. I will never forget that group of young men, and their willingness to put in the hard work that gave them the success they so deserved. Go Grizzlies!

One local area athlete displayed what it takes when it comes to hard work. Justin Fox, from Magnolia High School, is a great example. Justin was determined to make it to a Division 1 baseball program. According to his baseball coaches, Justin worked incredibly hard from the first day to the last day and from his freshmen season through his senior year. After his baseball season ended each year, Justin played summer baseball continuing his discipline and commitment to his sport. As a result, Justin became the starting 3rd baseman for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Hard work paid off for Justin, and he reached his dream.

There is a point in all young athletes’ careers when they have to decide for themselves if they are all in. Are they willing to put aside distractions from friends, screens and other easy paths offered to youth today? Are they able to take responsibility for their future and their ultimate success? It isn’t easy to dig down deep and find the will and dedication that is necessary. As much as we may want to help, no parent or coach can make that commitment for them. All the coaxing in the world won’t force a kid through an open door if he or she doesn’t see the big picture.

To the kids that do buy in, they are the ones who find an inner strength that often develops into an extraordinary work ethic. Don’t get me wrong. Athletics is not the only route to build good work history. There are many paths, but each path demands the same commitment. It doesn’t matter if you carried the burden of helping to provide for your family at a young age, or you were responsible for a family member’s care when others your age were enjoying their carefree days of youth. Both experiences build character and work ethic. I didn’t have either of the above responsibilities as a young person. Like I said, athletics is the path I know the most about.

In closing, if you want to avoid having regrets and also want to reach your greatest potential, a great work ethic is essential in sports and in life. The positive here is kids that develop a strong work ethic in sports generally recognize the importance of hard work in every endeavor they take on and that habit follows them through the rest of their lives. And after all, isn’t that the reason as parents and coaches we want to see this trait develop and stick in the kids we care so much about? In the words of Babe Ruth, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”