Recently I was invited to a mini-reunion of the 1970 Longhorn football recruiting class. After the event, I wrote to all participants the following :
Thanks for your gracious hospitality and for including an "outsider" into the fellowship reunion of the 1970 recruiting class. You and your teammates managed to take my little piece of the puzzle from the 1967 recruiting class and for a short time weave it into the 1970 puzzle. As the "Odd piece out" I got great joy in listening to all the stories and watching the interactions and dynamics of men who during 4 short years of their lives formed special friendships that last a lifetime.
the Adventure begins
The Lometa Open Horseshoe National Championship double elimination tournament was the key competitive sports activity for the week-end reunion of the 1970 Longhorn football recruiting class. Other sports played in their youth were offered but no one could play them.
Horseshoes offered a venue that everyone could play and not get hurt. Well- everyone except Dan Adams who popped a blood blister throwing a horseshoe. THE HORROR of the visual! Sympathetic teammates all quoted "Frank Medina" and said "shake it off son".
Dick Baird wrote an article in 2003 that adds clarity to why teammate bonds survive a lifetime. Dick’s full article can be found on Google, but for the purpose of this article I have focused on his comments related to bonding.
The bonds of sport can last a lifetime
Sun | Sports
Dick Baird — Oct 23rd, 2003
Nothing like a win to cure all your problems. Washington coach Keith Gilbertson and the Huskies finally put one together, and it was oh, so sweet. Lots of excitement, energy and emotion rolled into a big victory. That's what it's all about.
Or is it?
Years from now, that win will be forgotten. Years from now, all those people in the UW program will realize the experience was really what it was all about -- sort of like it's not the destination, but the journey. Along the way, a mutual investment in emotion will create bonds that last a lifetime.
Dick Baird says "Just last week, I got a chance to spend the day with a couple of old teammates. Lots of stories retold and lots of heart involved. Friends forever, held together in the bond of football brotherhood. College roommates as well as survivors of a "Junction Boys"-type football experience."
Tongue in cheek Dick says "Obviously, we all are better players now then we were then. That's part of aging; you get to embellish as the years go by."
"Football has an incredible bonding aspect to it. It absolutely demands an emotional investment. This is what makes it such a powerful force in character development as well as sacrifice. You never question anything about each other. It's an understood respect. This is my teammate. We will always be on the same team."
"Sure it was only in our college days, but for us, and a lot of other men, those days will last forever. In our last season together, we only won two games. But those wins came against Idaho and Washington, and they were the last two games of the season. A season from hell ended with a taste of victory and lives on today."
"A bond is created by all team sports. And what's really cool is that nowadays women get to experience the same feelings. When I was in high school, there were hardly any women's sports."
"It's funny that our educational system considers athletics "extra-curricular," when in fact it's one of the greatest learning experiences there is."
"Every time I go to a reunion, it is my teammates that I'm most anxious to see. It's a bond that lasts forever, and it is why I'll always be honored to be called Coach."
End of Dick Barids Article
The Road to Mark’s Halfmann's hunting Ranch by Billy Dale
At some point college ends and careers and families begin. Everyone grows up and starts down a road to fulfill their destiny. It is not an easy journey for most, but team bonds act as a stable cornerstone on this journey.
Symbolically for most of us our career paths mirror the road I took to Mark's Hunting Ranch. The road is full of one lane bottlenecks that slow traffic flow, dirt roads full of bumps, rocks, and crevices that must be crossed using caution, and creeks that flood at the worse moment to stop all progress. Many fail on this road to reach their destination due to either bad decisions or uncontrollable events.
Augie Garrido says that "life doesn't give us what we pray for. It doesn't give us what we wish for. It doesn't give us anything other than opportunity, nothing more, nothing less, and that's enough. In fact, it is a great gift."
Bad decisions suffocate those gifts.
On the other hand uncontrollable events also crush gifts. Dennis Ladd is a member of the 1970 recruiting class , and like everyone else in his class he left UT with great dreams. Unfortunately Dennis had to replace his dreams with a personal war to survive poor health. His physical situation is so severe that two years ago his teammates pooled funds to help him save his home. The money was a blessing but only a temporary cure. There is only so much a teammate bond can do.
Mark's Safe Haven by Billy Dale
For those who overcome these perilous roads there is a safe haven where all can momentarily forget the present and celebrate the past.
Psychologist for decades have tried to quantify why team bonds create safe havens. The answer will never be determined by powerful computers. Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Center studies individual personalities by quantifying five metrics—“Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism”. This formula would never work with all the complicated interactions that form a team bond - trust, honesty, sacrifice, collaboration, cohesion, communication, and synergy.
The guest list for Mark's reunion included doctors, lawyers, businessmen, home builders, Ranch owners, accountants, tour directors, restaurant owners, oil men, and retirees. As professionals, all of these men have made this world a better place by building bridges for others to safely cross.
But on this outing all professional titles were left at home and teammates celebrated bridges to the past built from special memories. It was a time for all invitees to savor the years 1970 thru 1974.
All the guest told great stories during the reunion, but one story captured the key dynamics of how a team bond begins.
Eric Sorensen a Jesuit scholar tells a story about directing a difficult canoeing trip. He said “It would rain for days , everything would be wet, your gear wet, your clothes and” nothing would dry and everyone was miserable. It was not a fun trip. Sorenson said that what he wanted to accomplish on this trip was a sense of deep connection between the paddlers. He accomplished his goal.
Dan Adams and Bob Tresch lived this adventure on a three day canoeing trip down the Guadalupe as young men. For some reason Dan and Bob forgot that canoeing the Guadalupe during rainy season was not a good idea. It was a miserable trip and their story told around the campfire had all of us laughing.
For me their story captures the primary reasons bonds last a lifetime. Dan and Bob shared a struggle, survived the adversity, and in the process learned more about each other.
While Dan and Bob's shared experience is the foundation for a personal bond, a team bond requires the syncing of many more variables to complete the process. Ultimately a lifetime bond begins only when an individual earns the respect of other team members. Respect requires sharing victories, losses, workouts, fellowship, sorrow, pain, and joy. The bond produced from these shared experiences will last years after the glory days in sports are ended.
Running unopposed Dan Adams wins the All Sports Award for best athlete
Mark Akins is a world class doctor whose specialty preempted medical assistance to anyone attending this event.
On March 10, 2018 at Mark’s Hunting Ranch, I witnessed this bonding phenomenon working its magic converting men to boys. It was a special moment that I hope all individuals can experience in their lifetime.
Billy Dale- proud member of the 1967 Longhorn football recruiting class