Professor Sullivan: Lessons from ball hockey — and a law school dean

Sentinel & Enterprise

UPDATED:   08/20/2014 06:32:39 AM EDT

By Diane M. Sullivan

Guest Columnist

sullivan_pageIt has been a few weeks since my colleagues and the students at the Massachusetts School of Law sat huddled in the library cheering on the United States in their quest for a Soccer World Cup.

I, on the other hand, sat alone in a back room watching the U.S. compete for a less popular trophy: the United States National Ball Hockey U20 World Cup. (You may also know it as dek hockey or street hockey.) The United States was losing to its arch rival, Canada. This was the last game before the medal rounds. The United States started off strong, winning its first five games. After the U.S. victory at the conclusion of the opening game, it was time for the national anthem. Due to technical difficulties, “The Star-Spangled Banner” never played, so the U.S. kids stood at center ice and sang it aloud.

Many of us thought that would be their only win, yet game after game, the U.S. won. Slovakia had handed them their first loss, and on this day it was clear they would lose to Canada. Later, when the medal rounds were announced, I learned that we would face Canada again: the winner getting the bronze medal, the loser going home with nothing to show for all its effort.

The U.S. played hard in the opening period of the bronze medal game, but despite their efforts, they were down 1-0. Yet they always believe they can win the game; they always believe hard work trumps all. Apparently they believe, as did legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, that “the price for success is hard work . . . (and in) applying the best of (themselves) to the task at hand.”

The U.S. goalie, Brandon Jones, displayed amazing skill and tenacity. The U.S. held Canada off during penalties and mounted its best offense when Korey Wilson (my nephew) finally blasted one by the goalie; all tied up with a period to go.

Sitting alone in front of the screen I started to cry; I was more invested in this World Cup than I thought. I’ve known many of the U.S. kids for years, an extraordinary group of athletes who do what they love without the fame, notoriety and following of many sports. You may know some of them; As you drive West on Route 2 through Leominster, one of these kids is likely to be honing his skills on Leominster’s dek hockey rink. As Massachusetts School of Law Dean Mike Coyne says of our very successful national trial teams, “There is always someone smarter, richer, taller, funnier, better-looking or more connected, but only you decide if anyone is better than you are. Working harder is the talent that we alone control, so no one will ever outwork us.

“That is our commitment to each other — to ourselves. It is why you are the best advocates anywhere. It is why you will be the best lawyers.” Not one team or country outworked this United States National Ball Hockey team either. During the last several minutes of the game the U.S. had two men in the penalty box and held off Canada, winning the bronze medal, 4-2.

I had a flashback to a national championship game a few years back, when some of these same kids from the national team played against each other — Massachusetts versus New Jersey. The local kids lost the National Championship in double overtime. Having played their hearts out, they were angry and defeated.

The teams lined up to shake hands. Behind New Jersey’s goalie stood the opponent who scored the winning goal. Korey shook his hand, turned away, then turned back and hugged him. He then proceeded down the line hugging each player, and the rest of his team followed suit. Now these opponents stand together as part of the United States team that won the Bronze Medal at the World Championship Ball Hockey Cup.

That moment reminded me of another Dean Coyne saying, one that he learned from his mother and now imparts to his students:

“You always meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down, so always be good to everyone.” Thankfully these kids have mastered that lesson.

Diane M. Sullivan is the assistant dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

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