"What's our team motto going to be for this season?"
This question has been the million dollar question surrounding my cross country team for the past two weeks.
The high school team I coach began their summer voluntary conditioning practices two weeks ago, and almost immediately, the question about what will be this year's team motto dominated conversation amongst the team.
It's commonplace for high school teams to rally around a quote, a theme, that is often chanted in huddles and scripted on T-shirts. Steve Prefontaine's quote, "To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" is a popular one, especially in the world of high school cross country. Terry Hoeppner, Ben Roethlisbeger's college coach, often recited a poem titled "Don't Quit", a poem Roethlisberger keeps in his locker to this day.
Fresh off the best season in over a decade, my team wanted a truly special quote for the upcoming season. As good the team was in 2014, it finished three spots shy of the Ohio state cross country meet, and this season, anything less than reaching that meet will be a disappointment. The returning leaders from last year's team wanted a quote that symbolized the desire that lies within them to reach the summit of their sport this year, no matter the cost and sacrifice.
During practice last Saturday, one of the freshmen asked me what it will take for the team to make that final step this season. "Whatever it takes," was my answer, an answer that I heard heard a million times before, being a lifelong Steelers fan. I quickly expanded on that answer, saying that each individual has to be willing to whatever it takes to ensure our success. Whether that means pushing teammates to run with them in practice, going to bed earlier during the week, doing the extra stretching before and after practice, doing one more hill sprint after practice, etc.
I then gave the team a short history lesson, about how a team 40 years earlier rallied around this quote to become the greatest team in the history of professional sports. I talked to them about how that team embodied that quote, and how the Steelers truly did whatever it took to get the job done, to be champions, to become a team for that time, and for all-time.
Shortly after this impromptu speech, the team embarked on our run, and I quickly forgot about my "whatever it takes" rant. But to my great surprise, my team hadn't, and after the run, the team's captains asked me if "whatever it takes" could be the motto of the 2015 season, which means that it would be the quote on our official team T-shirts this fall. I happily said yes, that was more than OK with me.
At the time, it hadn't occurred to me that that Saturday marked one year since the passing of Chuck Noll. But upon finding that out, I couldn't help but get goosebumps, along with knowing that, as long as the team does whatever it takes, we may have a little more luck on our sides out on the course this fall.