Posted on October 30th, 2018 by

Those who know me best know how competitive I am.  How I, more than anyone I know, need the Three Crowns℠ to focus on what is important.  There was a moment when it all made sense again at the Minnesota State High School League Girls State Tennis Tournament last week.

109 TLC campers participated in either the team or individual tournament, many in both.  That number is almost hard for me to get my head around.  My goal was to see every one of those campers play at least a few points over the four days.  Kevin Lungay – TLC’s Outreach and Recruitment Specialist – and I raced back and forth between Class A and Class AA sites throughout each day to accomplish this.  We did it!  And, more importantly, we didn’t get a speeding ticket.

During one team match, 19 out of 20 of the girls playing against each other were TLC campers.

In individuals, sometimes all four of the doubles players on a court would be campers (or both singles players).  Which was like watching four of your children compete and cheering for all of them and cheering for none of them at the same time.  Someone had to win, of course, and someone had to lose.  One of the alluring beauties of sports is that there is heartbreak enough for all of us, as at the end of the day – or tournament – there emerges only one victor.  And yet we keep striving.  But I wonder, if deep down, what we are striving for is a deeper connection.

Each time I visit the state tournament, I am forced to rethink my idea of victory and loss.  Because so many campers we care for are playing against so many other campers we care for. As I cheer them all on, I am aware what watching them does for me.  It recalibrates my own stated values to align better in practice.  Because if I do not know my child’s opponent, I can actually feel comfortable not just cheering for my child, but cheering against my child’s opponent.  As soon as I get to know the other opponent – as soon as they are both “my children” – cheering against another person becomes so much harder.

I witnessed over and over how our campers have taken to heart TLC’s philosophy of the Three Crowns • Positive Attitude • Full Effort • Good Sportsmanship℠.

At one point in the team tournament, one of the teams, for which ten out of ten of the players had come to camp last summer, was finished with its match.  They lost.  They could have gone to lunch.  Or taken a nap.  Or just hung out with each other commiserating.

Instead, they stayed for the next team match up and cheered on a player from another team who did not have the raucous support her opponent did.  They cheered as if she were their own teammate.  Their own sister.  Because a few of them met her at camp two summers ago, were placed in the same group on court, became fast friends and, though they come from opposite ends of the state, planned this past summer’s camp to coincide with each other’s schedules again and room together.

This was reported to me by another TLC camper – one of the coaches from an entirely different area of the state of these other two, who has brought her own kids to family camp for years – as her favorite moment of the tournament.

She approached me and said, “You should know what some of the TLC campers did.”

They cheered her on until she fell in defeat.  Then they all hung out together and enjoyed the relationship they had forged that transcends wins and losses.

What would happen if we would approach the world in this way? That the person across the net is my kin or potential best friend.  Or across the aisle.  That the

person of a different religion or race or gender is my kin?  If I know them, I will not turn away from them, I will not fear them, I will not speak words of hatred or commit acts of violence, but turn toward them to understand them.

And when I lose, I will not wallow in my own disappointment, but cheer on the next person down the line.  Because, in the end, we are all related.  We just don’t remember it.

Is this camp going to change the world?  Maybe.  Maybe not.


But it’s a start.  And, if I can learn from these kids and this coach, it just might change me.

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  1. Glenn Nylander says:

    Thanks Neal for this blog. It was wonderful to see you are the girl’s HS tourney and to see all the lives TLC has touched including players, coaches, and even a tennis official TLCer who tries to live the 3 crowns as well.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Great to see another TLCer there (you :)) who has intersected my life positively in so many ways.

  2. Jennifer Kirby says:

    This entry gave me goosebumps. It’s so true – we forget that we are all related. Love it! Thank you!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      A former professor of mine who was Native American always finished each class with “Mitakuye Oyasin” and would say “All my relatives”. It changed how I viewed the world. If we are aware we are all related, we are less inclined to hurt each other. Unfortunately, it’s not something we want to see, because it prevents us from holding onto our self righteousness…

  3. Mike Jerabek says:

    Oh how sweet! One of those girls who stayed on to cheer was our granddaughter, and we couldn’t be prouder! — Mike and Sharon, former Gusties

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Isn’t it amazing? Congratulations on raising a wonderful granddaughter!

      • Catherine Jerabek says:

        I’m happy to report that my daughter, her tennis partner and the player they cheered on are planning year three of TLC together next summer! They will be a trio at tournament camp!

        Thank you, Neal for all you do for these kids. The lessons they learn at TLC will follow them through life!

        Signed: A former multi-year camper from the 80s 🙂

      • Neal Hagberg says:

        I love the multi-generational camper legacy. It makes me feel old and young at the same time!

  4. Amy Pendino says:

    Excellent article! This is why our young adults need cocurricular activities, to put into practice lessons they’ll use the rest of their lives. Thanks for focusing on sick a positive angle!

  5. Ken says:

    Awesome message Neal, particularly on point in the current political environment 🙂