Jim Larranaga Is My Hero

In the interest of full disclosure, my husband is a George Mason University alumnus and for the first ten years of our marriage, was employed by the Mason Athletic Department. Our older children never missed a basketball game and they all knew how to nurse quite happily to sleep in the midst of college hoops chaos. But that’s not why Coach Larranaga is my hero.

I have seven children and I’m seventeen years into this parenting thing; there’s not much new to learn in a discipline book. Two weeks ago, however, Coach Larranaga taught me an unforgettable lesson. One of his star players, Tony Skinn, punched an opponent below the belt in the final moments of the conference semi-final game. The coach benched him. Mason lost the game. Upon further review, Coach Larranaga also announced that Skinn would miss the next game as well, whether that game was an NIT game or the first game of the NCAA road to the Final Four.

This was not just a “get tough” disciplinary action; it had to have been a gut-wrenching personal decision. All coaches dream of the NCAA tournament. If they get to the big dance, they want to put their best dancers out there. They want to win. They want to advance. Larranaga sacrificed the advantage Skinn’s skill would have brought to that game. He sacrificed it for virtue.

When asked about his decision, Larranaga said, “When we recruit a player, we tell him that there are three things that are absolutes if they are going to be a part of our program. The first is that they always have a positive attitude. The second is an unconditional commitment to what they’re doing on the court and in the classroom, and the third is that they act in a first-class manner at all times…. If any of our kids fails to meet one of those principles, I’m going to respond.”

So, why is he the hero of a middle-aged mother in the suburbs? I have a house full of athletes. These children have been raised on basketball courts and soccer pitches. They eat, sleep and breathe sports. And one of my greatest weaknesses is letting them play, despite infractions of the above code of conduct. I worry about the importance of the game. I consider their importance to the team. And quite, honestly, I squirm when I’m an unpopular soccer mom.

No more. Larranaga’s quote, above, has been printed and posted in several locations in my house. There’s a whole lot of character summed up nicely in those words. When schoolwork isn’t finished, “I’m going to respond.” When attitudes are poor, “I’m going to respond.” If Jim Larranaga can bench a kid going into the NCAA tournament, Foss children can miss an occasional practice or even a big game if necessary. Because of his example, I will have the fortitude to see that it happens.

So, what happened to Tony Skinn? He watched his team play the first game. And then he went on to help them win the next three. He’s on his way to the Final Four. And so is my hero, Jim Larranaga. Couldn’t happen to a better guy.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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