Life, Death, and Steve

Posted on January 21st, 2017 by

Steve died two years ago today.  Sometimes it feels like two hundred.  Sometimes it feels like two minutes.  I expect to turn a corner and see his Steve-grin, get a high five, hear a word of encouragement.   But that hasn’t happened for exactly two years now.

Death has a way of doing that.

But if I focus on just his passing, I miss what is happening.  Since Steve’s death, hundreds of tributes have come in from around the world of the way people are incorporating the Three Crowns of Positive Attitude, Full Effort, and Good Sportsmanship into their lives, their studies, their businesses, and their tennis games.  People talk openly about accepting the things they cannot change and changing the things they can and are living fuller lives because of it.

Kids who never met Steve feel like they know him.

Our staff is embracing diversity and justice in the world Steve always fought for.  We are looking to lead from the inside out, and be a culture changer in sports in new ways, not a culture follower.  That is who Steve and Barb were when they started Tennis & Life Camps forty years ago.  Culture changers.  They didn’t test the wind first to see if people would come if they started a character-based tennis camp.  They started it because there was a void created by the dominant win-at-all-costs sports environment.

We, at TLC, are not about to start testing the wind now.  When we see injustice, we will call it out, even when it is within ourselves.  When we see people being harmed, we will step in.  When we see a world gone mad for greed or power, we will choose to look for ways all can share equitably.

How are we going to do this?  The way we always have.  By focusing on the only people we can change.  Ourselves.  And then take that commitment to the world of tennis and the world at large.

I was having coffee with a friend a week ago, whose kids have been TLC campers, and who has gone to many tournaments with them.  I told him how I – growing up in a small prairie town – often felt like an outsider going to junior tournaments.  I did not feel welcome.  Very few greeted me.  And many of the top players were – simply put – jerks.  It took the joy out of going to these tournaments and left me lonely.  It also left me determined not to do that to others.  I asked my friend if he still witnessed this at tournaments.  He said, “The higher you go, the more you see it.”

Then he said something which I will never forget.  “Think of those kids who act like jerks.  Think of how many thousands of hours they have spent to get there.  How sad is that?  They have spent literally thousands of hours practicing how to be jerks.  And their parents and coaches have helped them become this way.”

Steve believed this was reversible.  So do we.  How?  By practicing thousands of hours of the Three Crowns.  And if you listen to player after player, camper after camper, you will find out he is right.  It is reversible.  Because the Three Crowns are a choice, not something we are born with.  And being a jerk is a choice, not something we are born with.  I know.  I have been accomplished at both.

Choosing poisonous behavior and language is another form of death.  It kills us and those around us a little at a time.

But what if?  What if?  What if we spent our hours and hours practicing these Three Crown behaviors, just as we do our strokes and strategy?  What kind of people could we become?  What kind of kids could we raise?  What kind of friend could we be?  What kind of country and world could we live in?

Steve is no longer here.  But the Three Crowns are.  And, so is the option to treat others the way we want to be treated.  We get to choose.  Every moment.  If we or our loved ones have ventured off course, choosing disrespect or disdain, here is the good news: it is reversible.

What a gift. Thanks again, Steve.

Here’s to life after death.

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  1. Jonathan Preus says:

    Thanks for sharing Steve’s life and teaching with us. Last night my wife and I watched a film called “The Starfish Throwers.”. It’s the story of three people, one based in Minneapolis, who are filled with Steve’s spirit, without knowing him, and who express it by feeding and tending the poorest of the poor. The Minneapolis man nightly drives a van to places where hungry people gather and dispenses 1000 sandwiches, sox and hugs, with words of love and friendship.
    Katie Stagliano, age 13, planted a cabbage seedling as a class project. Well-tended, the cabbage grew to 40 pounds, too much for her family, so she cooked it and delivered it to poor people. Her gardens expanded and soon many kids were growing and cooking for hungry people.
    Min.A famous Indian chef leaves his job to cook for and feed people begging along the roads of his town. Then he builds a big home for these homeless people.

    The title comes from the story of a man who goes to the ocean shore after a wind storm with high water, and throws the stranded starfish back into the sea, ignoring people who laugh at him and say, ” You’ll never get them all!

  2. Jim Donehower says:

    “Life after death” . . . indeed. Well said and so very true. Thanks, Neal.

  3. Thue Rasmussen says:

    Very meaningful, Neal, and especially relevant in the current post-election condition of bewilderment at what is happening in the neglect of those social/ethical values which are epitomized in the teachings of Steve and you through TLC’s experiences. May you long continue the good efforts.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Thue. Bewilderment is a very good word. We will never stop articulating TLC’s message of inclusion for all. People like you give us courage.

  4. Beth Hagberg says:

    Neal, beautifully written! As Steve taught so many people to be positive you are too. All that you do for TLC is making a difference in the lives of others! Your positive attitude and your words of encouragement to others is a reflection of Steve and TLC!

  5. Steph says:

    Beautiful! Thanks, Neal!!

  6. Glenn Nylander says:

    I am now a USTA roving official and I think of Steve’s lessons often…yes the rules of tennis and code of conduct but also his lessons in life. When there is a player and/or parent full of themselves, I do think of the 3 crowns and how Steve might have handled the situation. Thanks Steve for your ongoing lessons.

  7. Elly Black says:

    Wow, what a beautiful testament to Steve’s life.
    Although I never had the honour to meet Steve, I feel his legacy the entire time while I am at camp. Neal, I suspect that Steve has been and will continue to be extremely proud of you! I know this is a very difficult day .Revel in the beauty of Steve’s existence… then, now and in the many years to come!

    Elly Black