Roy Exum: Bear Bryant’s Summertime Letter

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The luckiest batch of high school seniors ever will begin to graduate this week and I envy each of them. No matter what their final grades were, their social standing, their background or their size, every one of them will begin a new adventure at a time when there are more possibilities in life than ever before. Can you imagine being 18 and starting out fresh!

While the naysayers will point to a poor economy, millions out of jobs and inner-city strife, I am a keen believer in the promise, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Yes, you have to do all it takes to get there and, yes, nothing good ever comes easy but the ones who make the right choices and stick with it are in for a whole lot of fun now that high school is over.

The other day a wonderful friend shared quite a letter with me that was written to a certain high school graduate about 40 years ago, as best we can tell. This particular boy had been a football star growing up and, as things turned out, had signed a scholarship with the University of Alabama. At the time he received this first letter from his new football coach – Bear Bryant – the prom was over, the cap-and-gown had been returned, and the summer vacation was in full swing. We can all remember that life was large that first summer out of high school. We also remember how short it lasted.

But I am also willing to bet the boy was a little apprehensive over what was next in store. It is natural to be leery and uncertain and – let’s face it -- all high school graduates, both girls and boys, worry a little. Here is what Bear Bryant wrote to an incoming freshman class:

* * *

Dear Chris:

You will be expected to report for football practice August 17. We will expect you to arrive in the afternoon and our first meal will be served that evening at the dorm.

On the 18th, you will take your physical, including the mile run, get your room and locker assignments and participate in Photographer’s Day in the afternoon. Our first practice will be on the morning of the 19th.

I am expecting you to report in top physical condition, clean-cut, smiling, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and raring to go. Also, I am expecting you to be prepared to run, hit, pitch, kick, catch, sweat, smell and enjoy it. There are no easy ways but there are ways to enjoy the journey and we must find them.

I am also expecting you to work hard, eat well, sleep well, play well, display a winning attitude at all times, be a leader and help me sell the squad on what it takes to win and enjoy the journey.

I hope you will share your problems with me whether it be at home, at the dorm, in your school work, with teammates, with coaches, with training regulations, self-discipline or even flying a kite. If you do that, I will try to help you and, if I can’t, I’ll recommend you get a job, join the Army, or join the Foreign Legion, but, in any event, to reside in another state.

Nothing’s too good for winners. I want to love you, pat you, pet you, brag on you and see you hoot, run and shout and laugh, pray, hug, kiss, and win with humility.

If we lose, I want all of us to be unhappy, no one to have any fun, and expect only what is reserved for losers but take it with dignity while planning to come back.

Please remember us to your family and make your personal plans on how you are going to reach your goal – the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.

Sincerely,Paul Bryant

* * *

Now, just for grins and giggles, how about looking around and trying to spot a high school senior you might know. Suppose you took a few minutes to write that new graduate a letter, telling them first how proud you are of all they’ve done to meet the requirements to graduate.You might tell them that they’ll soon find there “are no easy ways but there are ways to enjoy the journey and we must find them.” You might add you hope they will always “display a winning attitude at all times, be a leader” and if they ever need a friend to talk to that you’ll always be there for them. You know, “pet and hug” them a little bit.

Encourage them to recognize there will be some dark days and tough times but to keep their eye on the goals they hope to attain. Above every storm cloud the sun is always shining and you’ve noticed the sun comes up on a new day every 24 hours.

Aw, it’s just a thought but it sure worked for Coach Bryant. He was a genius at getting a group of boys, most who didn’t know another soul when they first arrived, to believe in each other, buy in to a common goal, and all pull in the same direction. He coached at Alabama for 25 years and won 323 times while collecting six national championships and 13 conference titles.

It all started with a letter to his high school graduates in the summer. A postage stamp will cost you 44 cents.

royexum@aol.com


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