Al Pacino won his only Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as retired Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in the 1992 film, Scent of a Woman.
One of the main reasons Pacino claimed the coveted prize was his iconic speech at the end of the movie. A blind Slade enters the packed auditorium of a prestigious prep school to defend his aid-for-the-weekend Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) who as at risk for wrongly being expelled.
Much like Philadelphia Eagles folk hero Jason Kelce, Pacino’s character Slade goes on a rant as he calls out various people.
“And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again,” he says to the school’s administration.
High schools, even the non-prestigious types, are supposed to prepare their students for adulthood. There is not much time in between algebra, Shakespeare and chemistry class for such lessons to be crammed in. It is why extracurriculars are so important. The added hours give adults more time to teach lessons that don’t require a whiteboard or a Power Point presentation. After the final bell, teenagers are choosing to forego a gaming system or hours on Snapchat to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
High school kids are still minnows – their brains and bodies not yet fully developed.
Still, people put too much stock on the wins and losses of high school sports often forgetting that these are children playing a game. Certain sports get the “losing program” label based on their record. However, if you looked beyond wins and losses, you may find a team full of honor students or community service volunteers.
Would you still use the word “losers” to describe them?
Norristown Area Aquatics Head Coach Beth O’Neil is candid when she speaks about the high school boys and girls swim teams. Many of its members have never swam competitively before joining. There are also a number of special needs students on the squad, many of whom swim in events and earn a varsity letter.
At most meets, the Eagles are outnumbered and outswam. O’Neil’s encourages her swimmers to not focus on where they place but improving their times from meet-to-meet.
A graduate of Norristown High School and coach for over twenty years, O’Neil is aware of the school’s reputation.
“We know when we walk out of wherever we swam we are holding our heads high. We are representing Norristown. We are going to say we are doing the best job we can and we are going to be adults. That’s what I try to groom,” commented O’Neil.
Integrity is often defined as what you do when no one is watching, even when it may work to your disadvantage.
At the February 1st swim meet between Plymouth Whitemarsh and Norristown not many people were watching. “Friday night lights” aside, few people outside of parents are spectators of high school sports. Media coverage usually only goes to the top teams and the blue-chip athletes.
It was the Colonials final home swim meet, and Head Coach Kevin Golebiewski wanted to get “Mike,” a senior who was diagnosed with autism as a child, his first win. He had been a dedicated swimmer for three years and only swims in the C-Relay.
Golebiewski loaded the relay with his fastest swimmers and anchored with “Mike.” When “Mike” dove into the water he was three-quarters ahead of everyone else.
“I thought for sure he was going to get first win ever,” said Golebiewski.
But with about six yards left, the Norristown swimmer, Alex Waskiewicz, caught “Mike.”
The driving force in every swimmer is to touch the wall first. Heck, it is the fuel behind every athlete in any competition. Be first. Be the best.
When Waskiewicz caught “Mike,” he was just doing what he had been doing since he was started swimming at six-years-old with O’Neil at Markley Farms.
Waskiewicz has the instinct of a swimmer, but at that moment, he also had an intuition something bigger was happening. He slowed down, matching “Mike” stroke for stroke, and let him touch the wall first.
“I don’t think many people saw it unless you were really paying attention to what was going on. I thanked him right afterward,” said Golebiewski. “For someone to do that at such a young age, it makes you proud of what athletics is teaching these kids. It’s not always about winning and losing. It’s not always about who touches the wall first.”
Waskiewicz knew that “Mike” had special needs and said he “sort of figured” they were trying to get him the win during the last meet of his senior season.
What made him slow down?
“If I was in that situation I would want that for myself. I felt it was the right thing to do,” Waskiewicz.
He credits his parents for instilling values such as respect for others. He even admitted that what he did, “felt better than winning.”
While talking about his selfless act, the sophomore spoke in humbled, measured tones but when asked about his passion for swimming, his eyes widen and he becomes quite animated.
“I love how swimming meshes the team and individual aspects. There is something about being a family with everybody,” said Waskiewicz.
He would eventually like to break one of the individual records for Norristown High School’s pool. This season marks his first as a team captain, and he wants to pass on values to other swimmers.
“We aren’t the biggest team and we aren’t going to win most of the meets but if we have fun doing it and are respectful it’s all worth it,” commented Waskiewicz.
After the February 1st meet, Golebiewski emailed Norristown’s athletic director to praise Waskiewicz and the Norristown’s coaching staff.
The most important message O’Neil promotes is leaving a legacy. Instead of what was your fastest time or how long have your been training she asks a much different question.
“What legacy will you leave when you walk out of this building? Can you walk out of here and say I did my very best and prepared myself for the next level,” said O’Neil.
Already, Waskiewicz left a legacy with his unselfish moment of sportsmanship.
“It made me very proud of him. He’s going places,” said O’Neil.
The places Waskiewicz is going are beyond the wall of a swimming pool. But it is the lessons he learned while still a minnow that will serve him well in manhood.