On June 1, 1964, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even though I only spent the last three of my college semesters at UNC, that makes me a “Tar Heel.”
Not a sports fan, I’m not college basketball. Even so, I knew the Tar Heels had a big game coming up on April 2. How the hell did I know that? Well, every night I watch the “PBS News Hour,” and one of the first stories on the program early in the evening was about the Tar Heels game against the Duke Blue Devils.
I was amazed. A sports story at the top of national and international news? How did it happen?
And then I remembered that anchor Hari Sreenivasan had announced that the television program “PBS News Hour Weekend” would move from its nine-year-old home on WNET in New York to WETA in Washington, DC on April 2. Even though the game would be played in New Orleans, with a home base now in Virginia, the best news for an intense rivals game between favorite Duke and “underdog” UNC made more sense to me.
Then, on Sunday morning, I learned from a New York Times article that UNC won Saturday’s game 81-77 in an “upset”. This piece definitely interested me because it was about the coach of the Blue Devils, Mike Krzyzewski, whose retirement had been known for a year. The man lost his very last match of a long and distinguished career.
A human story, I wanted to know more. How did he respond? Remarkably – “with a calm that expresses a peace with how it all ended,” observed journalist Alanis Thames.
She quotes the coach’s words after the game. “I think when you have three daughters, 10 grandchildren and you’ve been through quite a lot. You are used to taking care of the emotions of the people you love and are responsible for. And that’s where I am.
Coach Krzyzewski elaborated. “I was lucky to be in the arena. And when you’re in the arena, you’re either going to feel good or you’re going to feel agony. But you’ll still feel good about being in the arena. And I’m sure that’s the thing I’ll look back on and miss: I won’t be in the arena anymore.
Why am I motivated to write an appearance column on this sports story? Because as a long-retired person in his 80th year, I relate to Coach Krzyzewski’s experience. It seems to be almost a parable for life, and especially meaningful for the elders. After being in (any) arena, we look back knowing, “I won’t be in the arena anymore.” Nonetheless, with gratitude, we can “always feel good about being in the arena.”
Reverend Allison Stokes holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She is the founding director of the Women’s Interfaith Institute of the Finger Lakes, located right next to Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls. She is also a founding member of SF’s Environmental Action Committee.