Laying the framework for this story requires a bit of background, so bear with me...
About three weeks ago Team TurfNet was headed for Niagara Falls, Ontario, for our 20th appearance at the Golf Course Hockey Challenge. For those unfamiliar, the GCHC is a 2-day event every January that pits 12 teams of superintendents, assistants and suppliers against one another in (usually) good-natured but serious men's-league caliber hockey. With three common threads among players -- playing hockey, working in the golf industry, and drinking beer -- it is the highlight of the winter for most.
But time marches on and players get older, have kids and all that stuff, so as the coach I found myself in mid-December with only 7 or 8 players... only half of the number needed. So I went on the recruiting offensive on Twitter.
I had been threatening for several years to start trading 50s for two 25s each, so it looked like this would be the year.
Understand that this is a low-cost venture for anyone who plays on Team TurfNet, and they are treated well ("Better than we ever were in the AHL," once said Jim Gernander, one of our players on family-hiatus this year).
From Year One back in 1999, I have provided custom uniforms (names and all), fed 'em and beered 'em, paid the team entry fee. Their only responsibility is getting themselves to Niagara Falls and then a shared hotel room for two nights. In Niagara Falls in January, that's cheap.
Within an hour of posting that tweet, I got a response:
"I am a first year Turfgrass management student at the University of Guelph. I have been playing hockey my whole life and and am interested in joining the team. I have heard nothing but good things about this tournament. Look forward to hearing back from you, and appreciate your time!
That's pretty cool. I replied to Scott that he's in, and immediately heard back from him:
"Sounds awesome! My older brother Paul is also a hockey player, is in the Guelph turf program and is interested if there is room. I am a 2XL jersey and will take #53, and my brother will take an XL #71. I really appreciate this and cannot wait!"
Hmmm. Two guys within an hour. Nice. But it grew from there, with the word spreading on the Guelph campus that Team TurfNet was looking for players. By the next day I had seven guys from Guelph, all under 25. In addition to Scott and Paul, the new rookies included Mark Perrin, Matthew Breznikar, Arran Marlow, Dawson Acker and Andrew Radonicich.
By the next day I had seven guys from Guelph, all under 25...
Nicknames are kind of a thing in hockey, so Scott and Paul instantly became "2X" and "1X" due to their jersey sizes. Joining them were Digby, Radar, Brez, Perrin and Marlow.
Since I would be ordering jerseys for everyone, and realizing that these guys were an unknown quantity and young, I was a little cautious about their level of commitment. I sent them all a broadcast email asking them to reply affirming their intent to play, and that they would show up Jan 30/31 in Niagara Falls. Everyone replied. Of course I threatened that if they didn't show I would hunt them down, and they wouldn't want that black mark on their resumes...
They all showed up. The first night we had a team dinner and plenty of beer (on TurfNet, of course), and got to know each other a little bit. I handed everyone a TurfNet hat and their jersey (or "sweater" in Canada). This was their first taste of what it's like to wear the TurfNet red and white.
The Guelph guys had one of the their buddies, Isaac Swanton, with them and he looked a little uncomfortable. Turns out he was on Toronto 2's roster. Wrong team. Before we ordered dinner he stood up and was going to put some money on the table for his beers and take his leave. Seeing that, I ordered him to put his money away, sit his ass back down and have dinner with us. He instantly became known as "Toronto2" for the balance of the tourney. I suspect he may go 'free agent' from the Toronto 2 team before next year.
Before the first game the next morning, the dressing room was a little quiet, or quieter than it would become. With half the team made up of rookies and still an unknown quantity (other than their ability to drink beer and eat), there was a "feeling out" process. But the joking started and balls started to get busted a little as everyone loosened up. We did OK on the ice as well.
Club Car sponsored a "Beer & Pretzels"-type event in the hotel pub that evening, which gave everyone (including "Toronto2") a chance to hang out some more and enjoy the camaraderie.
By the end of our fourth game the next day, all were best buds. The team went 1-1-2 on the scoreboard, which was fine -- better than many years. But that's not what it's all about.
Since several of the Guelph guys would be traveling to San Antonio the following week for the collegiate Turf Bowl at GIS, I invited them to our Beer & Pretzels Gala.
Side note: Unbeknownst to me, the team collected $500 from among themselves to contribute to the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life! fund, and gave it to me after the last game.
OK, that's the background. Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the story.
After everyone got home from Niagara Falls (some of us had 7- or 8-hour drives), I started to receive some emails of thanks for yet another fun mid-winter event. More came in over the next couple of days, and I waited to respond until I saw how many of the Guelph guys sent along an email of thanks.
About half did, some did not. So I sent out this broadcast email (annotated somewhat) to the team:
"Thank you all (again) for the donation to the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life!
fund. I understand (assistant player-coach) Trevor Clark twisted your arms on this. As he said I don't normally accept monies from anybody, but in this instance I did and appreciate it very much. Jerry was one of my best friends and led his life in a manner all of us would do well to emulate.
"Here's a homework assignment for you. Listen to this podcast
of Dave Wilber and me talking about Jerry. There are many life lessons in there.
"While you're at it, listen to this one too
: It's Dave Wilber interviewing me a couple of years ago about the origins of TurfNet almost 25 years ago. I was chatting with Brez at the Club Car party Tuesday night and he had no idea what TurfNet is all about and that I started it. I'm sure others of you don't either. There are many life (and career) lessons in this podcast too. Getting knocked on your ass, dusting yourself off and getting back in the game. Overcoming fear. Listening to your subconscious.
"Lastly, another tidbit of career education. I mentioned above that I've heard from most of you. The ones who haven't bothered to chime in with a short note of thanks know who you are. Now, understand that I don't sponsor the team and treat you guys right for kudos or acclamation of any sort. I do it because I like to do it and enjoy it.
"My point here, for you young guys, is that you have to get in the habit of ALWAYS thanking anybody who does you a solid, in any way. Do it that day or the following day, not a week or two later. If a superintendent comps you a round on his course, thank him. If you play in an outing, send the supt a note of thanks. And the BEST way to do it is with a handwritten thank you note. Email is OK, but handwritten has a much larger impact. Why? Because so few people do it these days.
My point here, for you young guys, is that you have to get in the habit of ALWAYS thanking anybody who does you a solid, in any way. Do it that day...
"Go to a card store and pick up a box of ten simple thank you cards with envelopes. Buy ten stamps and put them in the box, with a pen. Put the box of cards, stamps and pen in the glove compartment of your car or truck. THEN, whenever you need them, they are right there. Write a brief note, put a stamp on it and mail it THEN.
"I still have thank you notes from 20+ years ago in my archives. Why? Because they meant much more to me than an email, or nothing. AND, when someone who receives your card saves it and comes across it again in the future, they will think well of you, again. Who knows where that might lead? It's quick, simple, and inexpensive to do. So do yourselves a favor and get in the habit of doing it. Every time."
Fast forward to San Antonio. I'm standing inside the door at the Quarry Golf Club, where Beer & Pretzels had just gotten underway. A LOT of interns from around the world (part of Mike O'Keeffe's Ohio Program) were there already. Then I saw a bunch of young guys outside heading for the door, and recognized a few of the Guelph boys.
In marched 1X, 2X and Marlow, grinning, with Toronto2 again in tow. The former three proceeded to hand me handwritten thank you cards that they had gone out and purchased somewhere in San Antonio.
The former three proceeded to hand me handwritten thank you cards that they had gone out and purchased somewhere in San Antonio....
I busted out laughing and told them, "At least you guys can READ!". Seriously, each one included a heartfelt note of thanks, and that meant the world to me. I was (and am) very proud of them.
THAT -- along with the new friendships made every year -- is why I have spent the money, made the organizational efforts and the long drive to Niagara for twenty years.
The moral of this long-winded story is that we have many opportunities to get noticed in life for less-than-stellar reasons. When you have a chance to get yourself noticed in a positive manner for very little cost and effort, do it.