Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

A Lament by Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet
06/01/09

"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles" - Christopher Reeve

A combined group of 125 young women stood side by side at the University of Maryland Campus Recreation Center Natatorium earlier this month. Some anxious, many nervous, a few scared, but all proud, standing tall and representing their 8 schools in the 2009 NCAA Women’s Championships.

As these girls end or continue their educations, I would like to take a brief moment to look into their future..

These 125 elite players are sociologically part of Generation Y,  sometimes called the "Trophy Generation", a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life where no one loses, everyone gets a "Thanks for Participating" trophy and symbolizes a perceived sense of entitlement.  This characterization is becoming an issue in corporate environments where employers are concerned that Gen Y have too great expectations from the workplace.  They are seeing indices that this group desires to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace as has historically been the case.

Recent sociological studies suggest that there are three core elements that drive the needs and ambitions of Generation Y in the workplace; salary, benefits and an intangible…Impact — the need of this group to individually make a difference.

Pondering this phenomenon recently, I became troubled by the ways in which Gen Y will define “impact”…what will they use as standards, as role models?   As a child, my life was full of role models and heroes -- I looked to the Lone Ranger, Batman, The Shadow, Robin Hood and later Willie Mays, Bob Cousy, Ted Williams and Bobby Orr (I’m clearly from Boston). Ike and John F Kennedy were war heroes in a time when kids actually wanted to grow up and be president. The 50’s and early 60’s were dominated by the societal Good vs. Bad archetype arising from the Cold War which required us to actively seek and/or emulate heroic behavior.

So WHO does Gen Y emulate in their quest to make an IMPACT?  Consider this brilliant essay by Gen Y Santa Clara University student Scott LaBarge;

“Today, it is much harder to detach the concept of heroism from morality; we only call heroes those whom we admire and wish to emulate. But still the concept retains that original link to possibility. We need heroes first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals -- things like courage, honor, and justice -- largely define us. Our heroes are symbols for us of all the qualities we would like to possess and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. A person who chooses Martin Luther King or Susan B. Anthony as a hero is going to have a very different sense of what human excellence involves than someone who chooses, say, Paris Hilton, or the rapper 50 Cent. And because the ideals to which we aspire do so much to determine the ways in which we behave, we all have a vested interest in each person having heroes, and in the choice of heroes each of us makes.

That is why it is so important for us as a society, globally and locally, to try to shape these choices. Of course, this is a perennial moral issue, but there are warning signs that we need to refocus our attention on the issue now. Consider just a few of these signs:

A couple years ago the administrators of the Barron Prize for Young Heroes polled American teenagers and found only half could name a personal hero. Superman and Spiderman were named twice as often as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Lincoln. It is clear that our media make it all too easy for us to confuse celebrity with excellence; of the students who gave an answer, more than half named an athlete, a movie star, or a musician. One in ten named winners on American Idol as heroes.”

Scott LaBarge, Santa Clara University

As 125 of our best and brightest (Gen Y) water polo players stood side by side at the University of Maryland Campus Recreation Center Natatorium, we did them a disservice.  Not only did we fail to remember our own history, we denied our children exposure to a positive role model who had SIGNIFICANT IMPACT on their ability to proudly stand in College Park and represent their schools that day.

Today, I am making the introduction that SHOULD have been made by the NCAA at the University of Maryland.  It SHOULD have been made by the CWPA at Collegiate Club Nationals in Michigan; it SHOULD have been made by the NCAA rules committee.  It SHOULD have been proclaimed as an inspiration to these 125 young women…and exposed them to a TRUE American Idol.

 Ladies, I would like to introduce someone who has driven here several hours from his home to watch you.  This man is looking at you and feeling enormous pride at having given you the opportunity to be here today. He is the personification of General Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous quote “It does not take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

It is entirely due to the 30 year long battle this man waged, his perseverance and selfless vision that the Women’s Collegiate Water Polo National Championships were begun. It is his 40 year long fight that brought you here today.

As you stand here on the pool deck of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship, please take away the lesson from Christopher Reeves - the man who played Superman that "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." Ladies, please join me in honoring the hero whose 40 year war against indifference and ignorance made it all possible - Dr Richard Hunkler.

[After reading the artice I sent Joan the following note: It wasn't until the last sentence that I knew who you were talking about. I am kind of glad that I was not there because the women water polo players would have wanted me to walk across the swimming pool. Thank you very much for that outstanding tribute. There were many people along the way that did as much as I did. If you had not started the Water Polo Planet website I wouldn't be getting any of this type of attention. Thank you for what you have done for me and more importantly thank you for what you have done for water polo. - Doc]