Take a chance. Respect yourself and have respect for others. Take the time to listen to people. Lean on those who know more than you and help those who know less.
Joe Drape, author of this year’s iRead selection "Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen", shared anecdotes of his journey from “knucklehead” kid and seven-year college student to best-selling author. And he spoke of the sense of community and core values that made the year he spent with his wife and son in Smith Center, Kan. so memorable.
“These weren’t 24 guys on the same page,” Drape said Tuesday night, about the 2008 Smith Center football team, the focus of his book. “They had to work on learning to respect each other.”
But they listened to their coach’s philosophy: “Respect each other, then learn to love each other, and together we are champions,” Drape said. The book tells the story of how over the course of the season the upperclassmen on that team grew up, took responsibility and became a family. It's also the story of the community that loves its children, encouraging its boys by showing up, celebrating, even displaying the current number of wins in lights.
After years of sports writing, for the New York Times and other newspapers, Drape said Roger Barta was the first coach he actually believed when he said: “We don’t talk about winning and losing here.” Instead, Drape said, “He says ‘I’ll take care of my guys and the scoreboard will take care of itself.’”
"Our Boys" was required reading for hundreds of students in a variety of Washburn classes. Many in the Topeka community also read the book to participate in the sixth-annual iRead community reading event. About 600 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered to hear Drape speak at White Concert Hall Tuesday night.
Drape has since written another book, but said the lessons he learned in Smith Center, about the importance of community, about getting a little better every day and about living in a community with a “culture of character” have stayed with him and his family. He encouraged his audience to take those lessons to heart.
“Congratulations to the freshmen,” Drape said. “This is a great school and a great time of life. … But it really is only the beginning. If you listen to Coach Barta and try to be better each day you’re going to be a better person and we’re going to be a better world.”