A special bond
The statement of the ideal can take many forms. Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." Others say you can't win if you don't play.
One wouldn't expect Gary Blair to disagree with any of that, but for a man who has pursued scoreboard victories with passion and determination, something he's said about some of his favorite athletes rings loudly and true:
"Competing is winning to them."
Friday, the Texas A&M women's basketball coach and member of multiple halls of fame held his 24th golf tournament to raise money for Coach Blair Charities, which in turn helps Special Olympics and other groups. The first ten tourneys came during his coaching stop in Arkansas. Now, Blair has gotten Aggieland and his friends in the sports world behind the Olympians of Texas.
On this year as in years before, Blair was coaching kids up. On a putting green at the Traditions Club in Bryan, ahead of the tournament itself, young people were learning golf from a passionate player. Blair stuck to basics: a quick jog and stretches to warm up, then a learning of how greens bend, then putts. Each putt brought support. Each putt holed brought euphoria. I've tried to make it out to see this firsthand as often as possible. It's heart-warming and motivational each time, not just seeing the coach's work, but seeing the athletes' participating, succeeding and enjoying life.
I got to know Coach in the lead up to his national title. In that time and since, he's offered sage advice and support in moments of greatness and struggle. When interviews for work turn into life lessons and the "coach" and "reporter" titles disappear, you find out you're dealing with a caring, quality person. His jokes (sometimes on the air) about my basketball abilities hopefully fall firmly into what sportscaster Chris Myers often says: "I kid because I care."
When it comes to rallying people behind causes, you will find no hustle like Blair's. When he took over at A&M, he sprinted into the community, working to grow support for women's basketball. He was leading a program that started in the mid-1970s and had found little success. Blair was faced with a hard screen of history and perception at the top of the Brazos Valley's paint. He blew around the pick to create annual title contenders -- including a 2011 national championship team -- and a loyal fan base. And his past successes don't stop his present and future hustle, no resting on past achievement on the court or among the fans. A&M notices, evidenced in part by a recent contract extension.
Blair's care is a critical one for so many Texans in the world of Special Olympics. According to the state chapter, more than 53,000 Texas athletes and their families are currently being served. About 1,100 are in the Heart of East Texas area that serves the Brazos Valley. Bryan/College Station has hosted numerous competitions that are staffed by local volunteers, many of whom have been motivated by Gary's hustle.
Coach Blair Charities is also putting its weight behind the Fun for All Playground project. When the funds are finalized and the construction is wrapped up, College Station's Beachy Central Park will be home to the area's only playground specifically built to allow all residents the chance to play together, including the more than 35,000 Brazos Valley residents who have disabilities. Some 1,400 attend College Station schools.
You can learn more about Coach Blair Charities, Special Olympics Texas and the Fun for All Playground and donate to them at the links in this blog.
To learn more about Blair, you don't just need to read his bio, or watch his team play, or read his book. To know all the hype about this person is real, speaking to him will seal the deal. He will inevitably strongly encourage you to come see his team play passionately and determined for scoreboard victories. He will all-but-guarantee you'll be hooked. And he will listen and learn from you, and likely offer a word of advice, always coaching, always competing to give and get support.
Competing is winning to him.