We all love the story of the triumphant underdog. When David meets Goliath in a seemingly hopeless battle where all signs point to the little guy getting trampled, we love to see the underdog rise up, defy the odds, and emerge victorious.
Faced with a $91 million shortfall brought on by state budget cuts, Duval county schools in Florida decided to cut ten sports from their programs including boys and girls cross country. The total savings these cuts would contribute? Just over $445,000 or less than 1% of the total shortfall.
The decision had been made and there seemed little any team or any individual could do about it. But several disappointed coaches and their heartbroken teams decided to look Goliath straight in the eye and put up an honorable fight. Baldwin coach Tim Young led the charge and began waging an all out publicity and fundraising campaign to “Save Cross Country.” The mountain was steep. The odds were not in their favor. But this underdog was committed and would not go away quietly.
On May 30 Coach Young started a facebook page with the plea:
Bitter or Better
Life is full of disappointments, frustrations, setbacks, hardships, obstacles. If we understand this and stay conscious of the fact that problems are going to arise, we can make the choice to overcome, to not let setbacks stop us from reaching our goals. But unconsciously overtime, it’s very easy to become bitter, cynical, resentful, angry, or pessimistic when things don’t go the way we expect them to. We usually don’t come right out and say I QUIT, or I GIVE up, but in essence that is exactly what we do when allow disappointments to weaken our drive. We allow them to altar our course and try to rationalize why we are going a different direction now. So knowing that this is in our nature, I want to encourage all of us who are affected by the resent cuts to Duval County school sports to persevere, keep giving our all; this is only going to make us better. Stay true to the course and fight back. We can’t let this situation get us bitter and not do anything about it, but we must choose to become better. We WILL raise the money and our sports WILL continue.
It didn’t take much to rally the Jacksonville running community as they got behind the effort. A local running store, 1st Place Sports set up a nonprofit organization to hold funds, then donated $5.00 for every shoe sold in the month of June, organized a 5K run, and personally donated $10,000 to the cause! The Baldwin cross country team members began selling t-shirts for donations at every local running event they could find. The newspapers picked up the story and found yet another underdog on the Baldwin team named Matthew Taylor who was fighting valiantly to save cross country. Matthew’s Goliath is Cerebral Palsy but he does not let that stop him from running. His life affirming passion for running sparked a feature story in the local newspapers and built awareness of just how important sports like cross country are to the young athletes who participate.
After hearing Matthew’s story, Medtronic (the company that built Matthew’s Baclofen pump) donated another $15,000 to the cause. The momentum had shifted. Goliath was stumbling backwards with almost no choice but to surrender.
The knockout blow might have come when two local TV stations picked up the story. Channel 4 news and Action News with Erica Bennett covered a demonstration run where runners met to “run the bridges” downtown urging the schoolboard to reinstate the sports. Even runners from rival teams not effected by the cuts showed up to support the cause.
The biggest victory of the season was not earned over 5000 meters but through the unified efforts of a running community brought together in a common cause. Cross country has indeed been “saved” for all Duval County schools. We asked coach Young if the season would be in jeopardy again next year and if so would he and his team be ready to stand up and fight Goliath again? Young has been assured that there would continue to be cross country in the years to come but if not they will certainly stand up and fight again.
This year, every life or death sprint to the finish, every new personal record, every medal hung around every neck, will be a testament to what can happen when the underdog chooses to be better rather than bitter. Congratulations Duval country schools! Enjoy the season!
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