LUKSHAITIS: The greatest lesson


By Matthew Lukshaitis

Pine River Area Schools Superintendent

Sometime in August, my wife, Terri, and I found a small antique store and pulled in.

While Terri browsed, I went book hunting. I found a book entitled "When Pride Still Mattered" by David Maraniss, the Pulitzer-prize winning biographer. The subject of the book: Vince Lombardi.

Of course, the book was about Vince Lombardi and how he grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, attended Fordham University, coached high school, became as assistant football coach at West Point, and later as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers became the living embodiment of the pursuit of excellence in sports and to many people, in life. A teacher, Vince Lombardi had a lot to offer to a nation entering the 60s and 70s. His lessons about football and living were driven in like nails.

Be strong. Improve yourself daily. Dare to challenge yourself. I read the book and found myself gaining insight into my father’s life and my own. My father coached high school and college football, baseball, softball and hockey for about 35 years. He didn’t share his emotions much, but on the field, the ice and on the diamond, he was Coach Luke and he guided his players and his kids through life and he taught us how to face our nemesis, Adversity.

My dad never was Vince Lombardi, but the lessons he taught to his many players and me were similar: life is tough, so be tougher. Never underestimate your opponent. Prepare. Play harder than you have ever played every single down, every single at-bat. My father often quoted Lombardi, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

I realized while I was reading that I’d heard my father repeat Lombardi’s lessons all of my life. The quotes on the wall in his office like, “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while ... you do things right all the time,” and my favorite, “A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”

The greatest lessons in life are learned when you are down in the mud and that something happens inside of you and you get back up. Your willpower takes over. Nothing can stop your ascent. It’s an amazing feeling when you stand up then, even if your legs wobble and your head spins, even if your stomach is queasy and the world looks out of focus. There is a clarity in standing that just matters.

Forever after that first climb up from the mud and rain you see, you know that you can. That was Lombardi’s legacy for my father, my father’s legacy for me, and the legacy of a teacher-coach.

My father was and is the most powerful figure in my memory — he shaped me and helped me dig down deep and get back up when I didn’t really want to many times — and I guess I owe some of that to Vince Lombardi’s dogged determination and to David Maraniss for writing that book so long ago. When you keep your eyes open and your mind sharp, you just might find a life lesson in your teacher, your coach or a book in an antique store. Our education doesn’t just happen while we are in school, but a lot of impressionable moments sure seem to mark themselves upon us while we go through school. Honor that teacher who mattered to you while you were getting up the first time; be a legacy for your kids.