Tuesday, June 17, 2008

James Sullivan

by David G. Woolley

This is not a story about life in the balance or of great loss. It's a story of daily sacrifice that happens to millions of kids. Most of them give up because its not worth it. James Sullivan didn't.

I received a letter from James. He's serving as a missionary for his church. He's studying Spanish in an intensive language course before he leaves for a 22 month service stint in Uruguay. Among other things he wrote: "I am currently up to 15 goals and 21 megs. It is nice to go out and humble missionaries for the Lord during gym time." He was kidding about humbling the missionaries. He wasn't likely kidding about doing what he’s doing right now for God. He's a sincere young man.

I first met James when he attended a soccer tryout. He was twelve years old. Some of his closest friends were on the team. He didn't make it, but he was named to a select team—a second team playing in a lower division. He was okay with that for a year and he made a personal vow to improve enough over the coming 12 months the coaching staff couldn't deny him a place on the first team.

There is something humbling about not making an athletic team in plan view of your friends. That didn't bother James. It focused him. A year later, despite good recommendations from his buddies on the first team, the coaching staff denied James his dream again. There was never a word of complaint from his mother. No chest pounding from James. No telling the coaches they were clueless. James was thirteen now. Most boys would have given up, maybe gone to another team or found another sport where the embarrassment of junior high friends wasn't so raw. Not James.

Another twelve months passed and James failed again. It was a crushing blow for a fourteen year old who was a wonderful soccer player. He'd worked harder than just about any in the club. He was shaken. Was it really worth so much effort? He was denied at twelve years old, at thirteen years old, at fourteen years old and when he was rejected at fifteen years old it appeared he'd reached the end of his run. But James had resolve. No complaints. No whining. No negotiating with the coaching staff for a place on the first team. If we didn't want him, he wasn't going to beg. He returned to the second team for his fourth season.

Following the sixteen year old tryouts, I ran into James and his family at a local restaurant. The final team had yet to be announced. I took the chance to congratulate him and let him know that things looked very good for him this time. And could he begin making preparations to join the first team on their trip to Minnesota?

James ended up one of the finest soccer players our club has ever produced. Some things are worth waiting for. James was worth that and more. Before he left for Uruguay he reminded me of all those years we rejected his bid for the first team. I apologized. He thanked me. He’d learned to never give up. He’d learned to deal with embarrassment. He’d learned to rise above challenges with a positive attitude. He’d learned to excel despite the setbacks. Most of all, he’d learned to open his heart to others. He knew something of frustration, set back and disappointment. He felt their pain.

James Sullivan's cumulative score at the Missionary Training Center: 15 goals, 21 megs, and the might, mind, strength, patience, humility, brotherly kindness and hopeful heart of an angel.

Well done James!

Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog and he writes commentary and opinion at the Utah Ranger's Far Post blog


Kerry Blair said...

What an inspiration! Thank you!

Sandra said...

I work with jr. high students. I am often amazed by those students that keep trying no matter their circumstance or situation and those that just quit or give up. What is it that makes the difference?

Oh, and could you explain goals and megs for me?

David G. Woolley said...

Hi Sandra:

A goal would be, well, a goal. You know, when you have a goal which could be to tennis shoes set side-by-side with maybe five baby steps of space between them, two socks, two paper cups, two empty nacho cheese containers, two oranges or my personal favorite two cultural hall metal chairs. They make the best goals. Or you could even do a conventional thing with metal posts and a net. You get the idea. At least, I think you should. Have you ever seen a soccer game before?

The meg thing is sort of like the goal thing except you use your opponents feet/legs as the goal. If you play it through their legs while you're dribbling you have essentially megged your opponent. Megs are so much fun they get more cheering sometimes than a goal. Players keep track of the times they meg their friends in training or even in matches. There are even some 3 on 3 tournaments where you score points for megging your opponent.

Megging is an art form. You have to time the play of the ball just as your opponent's feet are together, but about to come open in their stride. In essence, you play the ball at closed legs, knowing that you've done your faking and dribbling well enough that the defender is going to have to open his legs to defend you and then you're through. Meg.

Goal = Meg = Cheering = Fun = Soccer mania.

Can I be any clearer?

David G. Woolley

PS: James Sullivan was an expert megger so his tally is even that more delightful. He once did a video presentation for a psychology class where he megged shoppers at a local grocery store and captured their responses. It was very, very, very clever and lots of fun.

Sandra said...

Got it. I wasn't sure whether the terms referred to soccer or the MTC and I have not had a missionary yet, so didn't know.

I also have never seen a soccer game, but do have a daughter that wants to play. She could have explained the goal to me (but now that you explain it I realize that I already knew that one), but I am not sure she would know meg.