By Scott Robertson
Midway through the second quarter of the East Tennessee State – Maryville College football game at Kermit Tipton Stadium last Thursday, the Scots blocked a Buccaneer field goal attempt, at the time maintaining their 21-14 lead over ETSU. When the Maryville special teams players returned to the sideline, several of them immediately ran toward the visitors’ stands and began to gesture toward the fans. Players thumped their own chests, pointed to their own jersey numbers, and played to the top row like professional wrestlers proclaiming, “Ain’t I great?” Eventually, after more than a minute of posing, smiling, styling and profiling, the players had to be corralled by assistant coaches and made to sit on the bench.
Now I don’t want to sound like the old man grousing about “kids these days.” I realize times change. Social mores change. What was once improper becomes popular. Even in a team sport, players are more likely to call attention to themselves than to turn their own attention to the field to support their teammates’ efforts on the next play. I get that.
But I also understand the difference between accomplishing milestone achievements on the way to a goal and achieving the goal itself. And if one gets caught up celebrating minor achievements, one can harm one’s chance to attain the final goal. The Maryville coaches apparently haven’t gotten that message of focus and discipline quite through to their charges yet.
In fact, while the Maryville special teams players were celebrating, the Bucs defense was getting the ball quickly back into the hands of the ETSU offense, which promptly scored, tying the game at 21. For all the celebrating, the Scots were still right where they were at the opening kick-off. Tied. They had made precisely zero progress toward beating the Bucs. So what, in the big picture, had there been to celebrate?
I paid so much attention to this, I guess, because earlier in the day I had been at the Carnegie Hotel, completing several pre-event interviews for The Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty gala. For the last 23 years, News & Neighbor’s sister publication has honored rising stars in the business community. The character and poise I had witnessed being exhibited all day long by those young professionals stood in stark contrast to the ill-advised self-aggrandizement of the Scots.
It’s a joy each year to be part of the 40 Under Forty program because I get to meet the people who will be among the most influential individuals of the next few decades in the Tri-Cities, and to see that we will be in good hands. It’s a reassuring feeling to know that the traits and values most of us cherish will continue to be the guiding characteristics of our leaders for years to come.
These 40 individuals are among the best their generation has to offer. From the young bankers who show they have a conservative approach to business, yet understand that investing in the local business community makes the entire regional economy rise – to the manufacturing executives working to make their companies more profitable – to the entrepreneurs creating jobs from nothing more than their ingenuity, their willingness to risk, and their own faith, confidence and drive, all are worthy of honor.
Having said all that, though, I found myself asking whether I was being guilty of doing the same thing the Maryville fans were doing. By encouraging these young businesspeople to take time out early in their careers to celebrate what they have accomplished, am I not encouraging them to make the same mistakes the Scots’ special teamers were making?
Here’s the difference. This group of young professionals is not instigating a celebration of themselves. They are appreciative of the recognition, but it’s those of us in the established business community who are leading the celebratory effort here. Most of the 40 are genuinely humble. None of these young executives and entrepreneurs believes they’ve won the game yet. And we’re not trying to convince them they have.
In fact, 40 Under Forty is precisely the opposite of what happened Thursday night. We in the established Tri-Cities business community are applauding those young individuals who play our game the right way. We are encouraging them to keep doing so, and to keep wearing the uniform of the Tri-Cities as they do.
These 40 young individuals work hard, push themselves to succeed, take part in community service, and excel professionally and in the community for the same reason that the Maryville football players behaved badly. That’s just who they are.
Previous 40 Under Forty honorees have gone on to become CEOs; city, county, state and federal government elected office-holders, and successful entrepreneurs. We look forward to seeing this class succeed to that level and beyond.
The 23rd Annual 40 Under Forty Gala will be held Oct. 2 at the Millennium Centre in Johnson City. For ticket information, visit 40under.com. 40 Under Forty is sponsored by the Milligan MBA, Blackburn Childers & Steagall, the Blackthorn Club, NN Inc., Saratoga Technologies and Wellmont Health System.