Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Knee Pads: An Eye to See, A Heart to Care, and a Will to Act


I heard a story this week at our SunBridge team meeting that I think must be shared. While Sharon Greenway will no doubt be embarrassed for others to know about it, her story must be told.
Sharon, our incredibly capable Chief Operations Officer, is an avid volleyball player, and she has passed on her passion for the game to her daughter, a high school freshman. Sarina is so passionate about the game that even though she is in a brand-new school this year, she is a full-time starter on the junior varsity volleyball team at Olympia High.
Last week, Olympia’s varsity and junior varsity teams played the teams at Evans High. Evans High is a struggling, traditionally black school in a low-income, high-crime section of Orlando. Athletics is one of the few positive outlets for a student body that doesn’t have many bright spots in their challenging lives. The matches were epic struggles between determined competitors, but ultimately the Olympia girls—most of whom play club volleyball on national traveling teams—were victorious.
But that’s not the story here.
As Sharon watched the two teams play, she noticed that, of the 24 girls on the Evans teams, only five had knee pads. To a serious volleyball player, knee pads are like shoulder pads to a football player or shin guards to a soccer player: you just don’t play without them. And yet, here were 19 girls who didn’t have them, scuffing and scraping their knees whenever they went to the floor.
Those bruised and bloody knees really bothered Sharon. Yes, those girls were competitors, but they were people first—people who couldn’t afford the proper equipment to compete fairly. That just wasn’t right.
But rather than shrug her shoulders, high-five her daughter and her teammates for their victories, and return home to her comfortable neighborhood, Sharon decided something had to be done.
She launched a campaign to round up knee pads for the entire Evans roster. She first contacted the parents of the Olympia players. Many had “extra” sets of knee pads they could give. Some wrote checks. Then Sharon reached out to her daughter’s club volleyball team and their parents. They too were inspired by Sharon’s leadership and an obvious need.
In short order, there were enough and to spare, for every girl on the Evans High volleyball teams to have her own pair of kneepads. The Olympia coach has invited the Evans teams to a joint clinic where each Olympia player will present kneepads to their opposite number from Evans. No more bruised and bloody knees for the Evans High volleyball team.
I’m sure there are some surly people who might point out that knee pads are not on the same plane as food, shelter, and medical care, but they would miss the larger point. I believe that any time there is a need we are able to address, we have a moral obligation to do so. The SIZE of the need is not nearly as significant as the EXISTENCE of the need.
I admire three things in this episode: First, Sharon perceived the need. How many other teams and how many other parents have played against Evans High this season and through the years, yet did not notice that only five players out of 24 had knee pads? How many were so caught up in winning the game that they failed to see the impact on the lives of those young girls?
Second, she cared. Having seen the need, she yearned to avoid a hurt, to right a wrong, to equalize an inequity. In her heart, she knew she could not turn a blind eye to what she had observed.
Then she acted. How many of our good intentions are ignored, or allowed to wither on the vine? How many acts of service are “procrastinated” into oblivion? How many of us “mean well,” but fail to DO well?
Here is the lesson I am taking away from the story of the kneepads: I will strive to have eyes to see, a heart to care, and a will to act, when I am in the presence of needs great or small. I cannot do everything, but I can—and I must—do something.
Thank you, Sharon, for teaching this lesson so eloquently.

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