This post might seem to be about basketball, but read on and you’ll find that it’s about something much deeper…
It’s March Madness time! If you aren’t a college basketball fan, March Madness is the tournament that plots the best college basketball teams against each other to determine a National Champion. Besides dramatic finishes, the part of March Madness I love the most is cheering on and celebrating the ‘Cinderella’ teams – generally the 9-16 seeded teams – that defeat powerhouse squads and then go on to unexpected runs in the tournament. You know, like the 2006 12 seed George Mason team that defeated basketball giants Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut to make it to the Final Four.
But do I pull for the ‘underdog’ more than others? Maybe…
My affinity for the ‘underdog’ – either in sport or in life – might stem from my upbringing. Growing up, my sisters and I didn’t have much. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t change that for the world. We were healthy, well-dressed, well-fed, well cared for and most importantly, VERY loved. We just didn’t have a lot of ‘stuff’. Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t because now as an adult, I appreciate the simple things in life and value what I have. But more than this, I think my dad’s story best explains why I love the ‘underdog’. You see, my dad was an ‘underdog’…a real ‘underdog’ in life. He would tell me stories about immigrating to Canada from Italy in 1960, by himself on a boat…with nothing and without a word of English. He landed in Halifax at Pier 21 and rode the train all the way to Vancouver. Two years later, in a construction accident in Saskatchewan, he lost the tips of three fingers on his left hand and returned to Vancouver unable to work. He eventually went back to Italy, found a wife (my mom) and returned to Canada. My dad worked hard physically – really hard – but it was next to impossible with a growing family to save enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house. With no assets, a bank loan wasn’t in the cards. Then one day, destiny intervened. Driving out to Langley to have a look at a 5-acre parcel of land he had heard about, my dad met Charlie Rae, the elderly man who owned the property. Knowing that my dad didn’t have the money (but also quickly realizing my dad’s character and integrity) Charlie offered my dad the property…on a handshake…$8,000 for 5 acres. “Pay me when you have the money,” Charlie said.
Charlie would become like a father to my parents, and like a grandfather to us children. Not only did he pull for the ‘underdog’, he did something that would forever change the life of that ‘underdog’ – he gave him a chance!
If you work in schools, you work with ‘underdogs’ everyday. It might be the student who has physical, emotional, or intellectual challenges, someone who has suffered abuse or witnessed violence, children from refugee camps, families or single parents struggling financially, or those dealing with separation, divorce, or other trauma. Responding to the needs of these ‘underdogs’ is made even more difficult when you consider that often these are the more challenging students and parents in your school.
I have a great vice-principal, Sundeep Chohan (@skc99) who I am fortunate to work, learn, and laugh with everyday. During a discussion following a very challenging ongoing situation with a parent, it became clear to us that as an administration team, and collectively as a school, we will be judged not only by the depth and quality of staff and student learning that takes place, but by how we persevere and deal with our most challenging parents, students, and situations… and how we support the ‘underdogs’ in moving forward. It’s challenging work – but work that connects with who I am. It’s also work that I love and am proud of.
So, do I pull for the ‘underdog’ more than others? Maybe… but I like to think that there’s a little bit of Charlie Rae in all of us.
I would love to hear your thoughts!