“Tradition Never Graduates.” I recently saw this platitude for the first time and thought about two traditions that I watched develop. Underscoring both of these traditions was leadership characterized by men of principle and incredible work ethics.
Tom Dedin began the athletic program at Providence Catholic High School. Tom was as hard a worker as anyone I have ever worked with. One of the principles he believed in was that academics and athletics go hand-in-hand. He did not have to preach it because he lived it.
He was an outstanding baseball coach at four schools: Providence Catholic High School, Lewis University, the University of Illinois, and Regis University in Denver. While coaching and teaching at Providence, I believed he was the best classroom teacher in the building. As the Athletic Director, Tom expected that his coaches follow his example. They had to work at their coaching, but they had better be the best classroom teachers that their abilities would allow.
I spent ten years at Providence with Tom and the tradition that he established of hard work and the integration of athletics and academics still exists at the school. In my years there I can never remember a coach in our program who did not work hard at his coaching and his subject matter.
When the Christian Brothers decided to leave Providence, the Bishop brought in Father, later Bishop, Roger Kaffer to be our principal. He had the same work ethic as Tom, appreciated the values Tom had installed in his athletic program, and really enhanced the spiritual dimension of the school.
It was not unusual for Father Kaffer to be at his desk after the midnight hour working on various projects, but he was always up and saying 7 a.m. mass to begin each school day. The work that he did in building a gymnasium at Providence was incredible. He got the local unions – iron workers, plumbers, electricians — to donate their time… and he worked right alongside them!
Spirituality, hard-working coaches, and coaches who excel in the classroom are traditions that have not graduated at Providence due to the foundations that Tom and Father established.
I came to work for Gordie Gillespie, the Athletic Director, and Dr. Jack Orr, the president, at the University, then the College, of St. Francis in 1976. Jack asked three things of Gordie: use athletics to increase enrollment by adding sports; run the athletic program with integrity; and create the opportunity for an activity for every student through a strong intramural program. He followed those statements by saying winning would be a bonus.
I watched Gordie accomplish each goal. There were only 45 student-athletes in 3 programs when Gord arrived. At its zenith, he built the program to 377 student-athletes in 14 programs. Integrity was never an issue and a comprehensive intramural program was established that first year. Because of the principles of hard working coaches, the integration of athletics and academics, and uncompromising integrity the bonus was accomplished. When our Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference had appeared in 90 NAIA national championships, St. Francis participated in 60 of the 90.
Gordie and Jack set a tradition that exists today at the University of St. Francis because the tradition was built on sound principles.
I believe when leaders strive to build traditions in their organizations, the key ingredient is to build on sound principles like hard work, the integration of hard work and care and concern for the people doing that work, and integrity. If this is done, then like Tom, Bishop, Gordie, and Jack, the tradition built will not graduate.