We are all so proud of our men’s basketball team for its performance in the NCAA tournament. But it was a triumph for the University as well as for the team.
A friend said to me, “Duke won the game, but Butler won the hearts of the nation.”
A president of an educational foundation wrote, “This team, its coaches and staff reflect the character and perseverance that define the Butler University experience. It was a privilege being there to witness a very special team, and to appreciate how the educational values of an institution can be so perfectly reflected in the accomplishments of its athletes.”
A fellow university president emailed, “When the announcers were pointing out that there were two Academic All-Americans on the floor tonight and both of them were from Butler, and that eight of your players were in class this morning, I swelled with pride. This is what intercollegiate athletics is all about. I am a member of the NCAA Board now and we are struggling with what is appropriate for college sports. All we need do is look to Butler and we have our answer.”
In preparing for the Celebration Rally the day after the Championship Game, I wanted to say something to the players, who were still hurting over their loss. I wanted to put into perspective what they had done for themselves and the University. This is what I said:
We’re gathered together to express our appreciation to you, the players and coaches responsible for this year’s remarkable season. You’ve raised the ceiling of Butler basketball to unprecedented heights. Last night, you left everything on the floor in an epic championship game.
As competitors, you play to win. There’s nothing we can say to assuage the pain of the loss;only time will do that. But as Coach Stevens did in the locker room last night, I do want to remind you of what you have gained this season.
You have forged a bond with one another that will never be broken. You’ve worked together to be a winning team, and you achieved that to a degree beyond any team in Butler basketball history. It’s not simply about records;it’s about being there for one another, knowing that each teammate could be trusted to play his role. As Shakespeare’s Henry V said, you few, you happy few, you are a band of brothers. That bond you will have for all your days.
Beyond that special bond, you have cemented the community of your fellow students. While waiting for your return from Salt Lake City, I conversed with a student who told me this. An acquaintance of hers at Syracuse talked about “when Syracuse wins.” She would talk about “when we won.” And she realized that at Syracuse, sighting a basketball player was a rare event. At Butler, three of you were in her classes. She concluded, “I’m not just rooting for my team;I’m rooting for my friends.” You are an integral part of the campus community. In reunions to come, you will return to friends beyond reckoning.
Beyond your fellow students, you have the gratitude of Butler friends and alumnI around the world. Your feats on the court have provided respite to an alumnus in Iraq. Your supporters in New Zealand, in Europe, even on a ship at sea, found ways to follow your journey in this Tournament. Matt White, in the last stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, asked to be with you in Indianapolis to root for you. As he gave you inspiration, so did you give him joy.
That in the midst of this week’s pandemonium you still attended classes has become a byword of how excellence in athletics and academics is compatible. College presidents have written about how your example stands for all the schools that seek to do right by their students. Commentator Pat Forde wrote this morning, “But Butler wins, too. And the maligned sport of college basketball, a greasy enterprise in recent times, wins a renewed level of nobility. And every small school wins the license to dream Butler dreams.”
And finally, you have permanently altered the profile of your University. Vice President for Enrollment Tom Weede said, “One hundred percent of students will never apply to a university of whom they’ve never heard.” Going forward, far fewer people will ask, “In what state is Butler located?” Because of what you have done, Butler has become an example of academic and athletic excellence. Because of what you have done, in the years to come, many more students will aspire to come to Butler, some to be athletes, others to be artists, and scientists, and educators. Because of what you have done, more people will better appreciate achieving difficult things by doing the right thing, by doing them the Butler Way.
These are what you have achieved this season. These are the gifts you have given to us. To echo Winston Churchill, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” For all these reasons, let all of us here today stand and applaud what you have done.
Dr. Bobby Fong
President, Butler University