The downside of being extremely successful is that excellence becomes ordinary, boring, and even overlooked entirely. When great performances are expected, then their being delivered isn’t seen as anything really special. In the fall of 1988 when the Wildcat football team won their first State Championship there was a buzz around the school that has never been matched. Only those who were involved as players, coaches, staff, families, friends, and fans can really understand that once in a lifetime moment.
This past Saturday, for me at least, was a day that approximated that of December 4, 1988. As I walked my dog, eyes glued to my phone - something that I could not even have imagined in 1988 - I was hailed by a neighbor who jokingly yelled: “You’re just like the kids!” I responded by letting him know that I was getting updates from Columbus where the Wildcats were in the process of winning the State Golf Championship.
I felt like a New Yorker in an elevator as I repeatedly hit REFRESH-REFRESH-REFRESH as if it were the CLOSE button. The Golf Genius website updates every three holes (and thus should be rebranded as Golf Smart-Enough), which is great, but not when both the tournament itself and the race for the individual gold medal were so tight.
In the end, the Cats came through in the clutch and both trophies were in good hands. The team had prevailed over the reigning State Champions Archbishop Hoban, and Topher Reed ’22 came home as Co-Gold Medalist.
Now, golf doesn’t have the high profile in Ohio that football does, yet the excitement that I felt when the results were in made me realize that headlines don’t make something worthy of celebrating. Those whose academic focus is on the psychology of sport call what I felt “basking in the reflective glory” (BIRG) of a team. When I told my wife that “We won!” I was in some sense being totally delusional. How could the “we” who won include a man who A) doesn’t golf, and B) is not playing in the tournament?
But in a much more sacramental sense I am definitely part of that “we”, as is everyone who feels some sort of affiliation with Saint Ignatius High School. There is something invisible in the attachment that so many people have to this place, and that attachment transcends the merely material structures that inhabit this campus. Fr. Murphy, S.J, one of our former presidents, was the first to use the phrase “special sauce” in relation to that intangible something that makes us who we are, and I think he got it just right.
In no way does this denigrate other schools or deny them the same feelings brought about by their own “special sauce.” When the Beach Boys sang “Be True to Your School” they did not have the Jesuit high school in Cleveland in mind. They were expressing a universal love that we can have for an institution merely because it is ours.
And that is why the same feelings can be generated by a State Championship no matter the sport. I had that same butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling on Saturday afternoon that I did when the Wildcats needed to stop the Princeton Vikings from crossing the goal line in the last minute of play in 1988.
Both then and now “we won”, but those victories were more than what they appear to be on the surface. What matters is the “we” much more than the “won”. But it’s still pretty awesome that WE have another gold trophy in the case.