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To Live a Hall of Fame Life

by on November 13, 2018 8:15 AM

A lot of life events happened over the past week that made me stop and reflect a bit about my own journey. It gave me a chance to step back, and take stock on whether I am living the type of life I had always hoped. A chance to think about what’s next, and how to go from what appears to be a successful life to one of significance.

A milestone birthday for my sister-in-law Mary Lou (39 and holding) brought family and friends together that I don’t get to see enough. The Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame award ceremony gave me time to reflect on a career spent in service of others through sports. Veterans Day gave me a chance to remember those who have served, and in the process, I found out something about my grandfather I never knew.  

On Monday, a dear family friend, Paul “Papa” Fatur, who was my hockey “dad” dating back to my Junior Penguin days and a loyal PSU hockey booster, passed away. While I am saddened at his passing, I am equally happy that I was able to say my goodbye in person, that he gets to be with his wife Rhoma again, and that we will soon have the opportunity to celebrate a life well lived.

I was surprised to just learn on this Veterans Day that my grandfather, Costanzo Carolis, my mother’s father who died before I was born, fought for the U.S. in World War I. He was wounded at the Battle of Verdun in France, but survived. Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the armistice for “The War to End All Wars.” I want to honor him and all who have served including my father, Joe, my father-in-law, Smitty, my Uncle Tulio, my Uncle Joe, and two of my mentors, Captain Vance McCullough and Lt. Colonel Dick Bartolomea. Never forget that freedom isn’t free.

All of these events left me wondering if I am living a “hall of fame life” in service of others. Am I really living life to its fullest?

On Nov. 3, my family and I traveled to the Woodlands Resort in Wilkes-Barre for the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was an emotional night and I was both humbled and honored to be the recipient of such an award and to celebrate the evening with family and friends.

It is a nice recognition of a career in sports and working with young people, and one I am really not sure I deserve, especially after seeing the list of others in the HOF. Arnold Palmer, Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Franco Harris, Matt Bahr, Joe Paterno and Art Rooney, just to name few. But while the list has its share of recognizable professional and college personalities, it is also made up of people who have made their own contributions behind the scenes as sport administrators, officials, coaches, league commissioners, etc. I certainly fall into this latter group and am proud to be associated with others who have helped their respective sports to grow.
The other inductees who were honored the same evening as me were:
Olympic rower Abby Peck; Olympic swimming coach (and fellow Penn Stater!) Kathleen Klein Prindle; Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Bruce Dal Canton; high school AD and Hall of Fame wrestler Manuel “Manny” Pihakis; nationally-recognized field hockey player, coach and prep school AD Karen Klassner; college and high school cross country and track coach Bob Shoudt; legendary high school football coach George Curry; football and basketball official Robert “Tick” Cloherty; basketball player and coach Abe Everhart; high school football coach Jack Henzes; and my friend Tom Harbert, long-time college and high school wrestling, lacrosse and cross country coach and official.

Everyone that was inducted that evening brought an “attitude of gratitude” thanking those who believed in them, helped them and learned from them. It was “Tick” Cloherty who put the night into perspective with a concluding story that went like this: Tick looked at the other inductees, and then back out at the audience, and said, “Before you start believing all of these accolades remember this… the number of people who show up at your funeral...will be determined by the weather!” The room broke out in laughter.

So what exactly does it mean to be a Hall of Fame inductee?

I think it boils down to the lesson that Tick was trying to convey: that the evening wasn’t really about what any of us did on the playing fields or courts. It was about the number of lives that were touched as a result of our involvement in the sports we loved.

Is it all about the wins and losses, the number of championships won or records broken that matters the most? Or is it number of lives impacted on a daily basis? Based on the conversations I had with my fellow inductees the answer was clear from our perspective. It was all about the relationships, the camaraderie and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s about helping others.

For instance, Olympian Abby Peck helped create the “We-Can-Row” program that helps cancer patients and survivors to learn to row to regain physical strength and capability. Others were teachers or athletic directors whose passion was serving the student-athletes in their high schools and colleges. For others, including myself, it was also about helping to build a program that could stand the test of time.

Sports bring us together like few other activities can. Sports done the right way, bring out the best in us. The moments of sheer exhilaration when a team or individual has overcome some adversity or achieved a goal is just one part of why sports matter.  We learn so many of life’s lessons along the way of being a part of something that values work ethic, teamwork, resiliency, leadership and many other character traits. I will continue to be an advocate for the development of life skills through the power of sports.

The HOF ceremony was about celebrating what the power of sports is capable of doing for the greater good. It was a chance to say thank you to old friends, to make new ones and to celebrate great memories. But even more importantly, to remind us to aspire to be champions in our careers and in our lives.

I want to thank my sponsors: former teacher, coach and mentor Bob Ford and his wife, Philomena; my old hockey teammate and friend Tim King and my friends and former teachers Bob and Drew Thomas.

Thanks to all my teachers, coaches, booster club and student volunteers, and especially my teammates from baseball, football, cross country and hockey. A special thanks to all the hockey players and coaches I was blessed to work with on the Junior Penguins, at Kent State, Culver Academy, USA Hockey and especially the Penn State Icers.

Thanks to Paul Steigerwald and Paul Martha from the Pittsburgh Penguins for giving me my start in sports and to my many mentors, especially Vance McCullough, Col. Dick Bartolomea, Dr. Paul Cohen, and Dr. Ray Lombra. A special thanks Terry and Kim Pegula for their passion for Penn State and hockey and their unprecedented generosity that helped a lifelong dream of NCAA hockey come true at Penn State.

Thanks to my family. To the memory of my in-laws, Nellie and Francis “Smitty” Smith. My brother, Coach Jan Battista, who taught me the true meaning of competition. My father, “The Belly Man,” the passionate one, for instilling a lifelong love of sport. My mother, the pragmatic one. She instilled a lifelong passion for learning and is the definition of dedication, poise and loyalty.

To my children, Brianna, Jonathon and Ryan: I am so proud of them for the people they have become and they will all be champions in life. Thanks to my wife, Heidi, who allowed me to pursue my passion for hockey. She did the bulk of the work raising our three children while I was out helping to raise other people’s children.

So after sharing in this amazing evening with family, friends and kindred spirits, it was a time to reflect more on what it means to live a Hall of Fame Life.

The longer I am around the more I know this: it’s not about the size of your checking account, the size of the house you live in, the type of car you drive, or any other material possessions. I hope that your measure of success is deeper than that.

I don’t know what the weather will be like for my funeral and who will make the effort to attend. What I do know is that I have to keep trying my best to live a Hall of Fame life. It is no easy task and I have failed often in my attempts to live up to the highest of standards. For those I have hurt or let down, all I can do is ask for your forgiveness and encouragement to get it right the next time.

I know that I will keep striving to live a Hall of Fame life in service of others, and I hope you will too.


 

 



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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