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This Is Family

Whatís the most important thing to you?

Thatís easy Ė family. There is nothing I wouldnít do for my family, and I donít just mean my parents and my brother and sisters. Iím talking about extended family, friends and anyone who plays such a significant role in oneís life that they are family in every way, save genetics. Everyone feels very strongly about their immediate family, and perhaps to a lesser extent, their extended family. I am no exception. I have no closer friend than my twin sister, and my other siblings are close as well. But what Iíve found is that I have a much richer life, having also cultivated relationships with people I care about like family.

The most relevant example of this consists of the community at Embry-Riddle University. While I was there, I was involved in the basketball program, and on many occasions, we were taken in and treated like sons. The Head Coach, who has been and always will be a valued mentor to me, has built an incredible program, and the community in Daytona Beach both recognizes that and contributes to it. One of our early mottoes is prominently displayed in our locker room Ė it is the phrase "This Is Family", and it is the cornerstone upon which the basketball program is built. It doesnít just speak of the coaches and the players, but of the fans.

They donít just come to the games and watch, their cheering rivals the loudest, most enthusiastic fans of any of our nationís basketball powerhouses, and approach this with little regard for their own health. Just ask Dianne Thompson, who, in her zest and vigor during a huge game in the Conference Tournament one year, broke her wrist while banging on a wall I-beam. Or Nancy Trillow, who, after a knee replacement surgery, wouldnít think of staying home and watched an early regular-season game through painkillers and loved every minute of it. This Is Family.

They donít need to prod their sons and daughters to ask the players for autographs, they let their kids spend time with the players and coaches of their own volition. Take Hardy Smith, whose son David not only insists on attending every Embry-Riddle basketball camp available, but helps out with the younger kids because he sees the Embry-Riddle players doing so. Or countless other parents who, while their sons are practicing in the gym as part of the Junior Eagles program, bring their other children to watch the practice, just to spend more time with the coaches and players; time that other fans just donít get. This Is Family.

They donít just buy season tickets and come to most of the games, they attend pre- and post-season barbecues to meet the new players and talk about a great season while looking forward to the next year. Few have the dedication of Chip Hough, who works in the Flight Department at the Prescott, Arizona campus and flies in twice a year to lend his skills at the grill Ė nobody can do ribs like Chip. Or ladies like Sharon Amick, MaryEllen Wynn, and Edie Ashe, who selflessly and tirelessly work at events like our barbecues, with little thought of rewards other than a hug and a thank you. Mrs. Ashe, incidentally, is the only fan in my memory who was invited to cut down a piece of the net after a Conference Tournament Championship Ė after Mr. Ashe, another longtime fan, passed away. This Is Family.

They donít just come to the home games that donít conflict with their schedule, they go out of their way to make every game. Like professor Dr. Helfrick, who rescheduled a final he was giving so that he could direct our pieced-together student pep band at a home game right before the Christmas break. Or Dr. and Mrs. Hazen, who despite rigorous academic responsibilities, still find time to join the team on just about every road trip, whether itís thirty minutes down the road to conference rival Flagler College, or across the continent to Anchorage, Alaska. This Is Family.

They donít just contribute by buying tickets and the odd t-shirt here and there, they go all out in their support of Embry-Riddle basketball, hosting pre-game meals for twenty or more people out of the goodness of their hearts. A year in the life of the basketball team just wouldnít be the same without experiencing Sheila Tammís (soon to be) world-famous stuffed pasta shells, or Mr. and Mrs. Caylorís traditional steak-and-potatoes feast (okay, we donít visit the Caylors on game days anymore, but going to see them is always a treat!). This Is Family.

The executives of the college didnít just sit up in wood-paneled offices and look down upon athletes, they looked at the basketball program as an ambassador of the college to the community and the nation, and got right in the thick of things, cheering, traveling with us and helping out. The President, Dr. Sliwa, Vice Presidents like Dr. Jacobson and Deans like Dr. Cunningham know the players on a first-name basis, and their doors are always open. Itís great to know that even after a player graduates, he can contact any of them to discuss career options, get advice, or just check in and catch up. This Is Family.

The trainers donít just tape players up before games and ice them down afterward, they truly go the extra mile for all of us. It would be way too easy to just do barely what is needed, but Reid and Shari were the ones who were always there for you, any time of the day or night, to patch you up or get you to the hospital and put in their own time to nurse you back to health, no matter how much teasing they took. What they were doing wasnít a job, it was a commitment to an ideal and a common goal. This Is Family.

Then there are the players. We didnít just get through four years of school and basketball, tolerating each other until we could go our separate ways, never to see each other again. We helped each other with class work, laughed at each other, lifted each other up, and cried at Graduation when it was time to leave and clung to each other like brothers. We are lifelong friends, flying from all over the country to attend Commencements, be Best Men and Groomsmen in weddings, and share in the births of children. This Is Family.

Letís not forget the coaches Ė they were more than instructors and disciplinarians, they were father figures, role models, and mentors. If a player had lost his father, Coach Ridder stood ready to fill that void, and did so admirably, as was evidenced by one of our best players and post-basketball success stories calling him "Dad" in his senior speech. Coach Cambron is a great example of doing the little things, of paying attention to the details and reaping the rewards of all of his hard work Ė he has recently left to take the Head Coachís position at another school and is sure to be successful. One of our graduated players is now a graduate assistant under him and working on his MBA. Some might say that Coach Gawriluk filled more of a big brother role, as he was a little closer to the playersí level than the Head Coach, and he would sometimes play crazy games like horse or lightning with the players after practice. I never had the opportunity to play under Coach Graham, but the closeness we have at Embry-Riddle allowed him to come right in and be like another Coach to me. It even extended beyond the basketball program, as the Head Baseball Coach, Coach Guilliams, is a role model and mentor to me in too many ways to list here. This Is Family.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention my involvement with the Junior Eagle program and the parents and siblings of the players. As a player who didnít get much playing time, I was honored to be asked to help implement a program designed to teach basketball fundamentals to junior high school-age kids on a level they hadnít experienced before. Through this great program, I got to meet people like J.B. Caldwell, an NCAA Div. I basketball official, and his wife Michelle. It was like a stamp of approval when he commented that I was teaching some good things to his son Chad and the other players. Another couple who stand out is Mr. and Mrs. Vasquez. At least one (but more often both) would be at every practice to watch their son Mike and contribute any way they could. I could always count on Mr. Vasquez for a pair of hands to run the scoreboard when we hosted a game. Being involved with the Junior Eagle program introduced me to fans and family I would have never met as just a player, and I wouldnít give up that experience for anything.

At the end of my college career, the parents of the Junior Eagle players got together and hosted a going-away celebration for me, and it was tough to say goodbye. I was filled with so much pride for the boys when they each got up in front of friends, parents, and coaches and said a few things about their experience on the team and with me as their coach. Their comments went way beyond basketball, into such realms as study habits, future goals, and dealing with siblings. Then the parents started commenting on the changes they saw their boys go through, positive changes that they could only associate with their sonsí involvement with Embry-Riddle basketball. That was a great event, surrounded by adopted aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. I miss that experience and look forward to the next chance I might have to be a part of something like that. This Is Family.

As Iím re-reading what Iíve written, I realize that it seems like Iíve gotten away from the question somewhat. But I really havenít. Family is most important to me, and itís obvious why. These are the people with whom I make my dearest memories. These are the people to whom I can go with anything, barring nothing, and know exactly where I stand and that they will do their best to help me, console me, exhort me, celebrate with me, and understand me like no one else can. These are the people who have shaped my life into what it has become. While it seems as though I have digressed from the question at hand to haphazard reminiscing, Iím trying to show that what matters most to me are the ties I formed that will never be broken Ė the ties that made my favorite memories, and will continue to make them in the future. I will never lose contact with them, as it would be comparable to losing a brother, sister, father, or mother.

Written as an essay answer in my application for admission to the MBA program at Stanford University Graduate School of Business

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