By Andrew Niblock, Director of Schoolwide Initiatives
Jeffrey Marx has a challenge for all of us. Change the world. It is a challenge that started for him on a high school football field in Baltimore, became a book, and has fueled conversations with schools and other institutions for two decades.
Marx delivered his challenge, and his story, to students and families through talks with the Middle and Upper Schools during the day, April 27, and a Parents Association Speaker Series presentation the same evening.
His challenge started with a redefinition, a rediscovery, of some familiar words. He reminded us that the 1806 definition of the word Success, included the words prosperous, fortunate, happy, and kind. Marx then defied anyone listening to find a modern definition that mentioned being happy or kind. He told us that the original use of the word Coach was taken from a horse-drawn carriage that “conveyed important people where they need to go.” Marx urged us to think of youth athletics coaches as having a like charge and to have higher expectations.
He asked us to keep the two words, and the changes time had wrought on them, in mind as he shared the story of his book, Season of Life. That story began on the first day of football practice at the Gilman School, where the team began each season with an extraordinary call and response. The coaches stood in front of the assembled players and asked the group, “What is our job?” To which the players responded, “To love us!” The coaches then asked, “What is your job?” And the team answered, “To love each other!”
Marx was stunned. He had never seen anything like it, and he was curious. Clearly this program, which had won multiple state championships in recent years, was working from a unique play book.
Marx shared that the driving force behind the Gilman football culture was assistant coach Joe Ehrman, a former NFL star with the Baltimore Colts turned urban minister. Ehrman’s program, Building Men for Others, stood at the foundation of what they strived to instill in the team. Marx told the groups of Ehrman’s insistence that each member of the team find a cause that called to them. Ehrman was steadfast in his mission to redefine masculinity, and make it not about athleticism, money, and conquest, but about service to others and strong relationships. Marx talked of Ehrman’s goal to keep the head and the heart connected, despite the prevailing expectations of society to do the opposite.
Marx admitted that he was inspired, by Ehrman and by the team, and he stayed with them for the season, accidentally stumbling into a book-worthy story. The lessons resonated with the players and with Marx, who was particularly drawn in by the way the team closed their season. Prior to the final game, the seniors on the team led their customary meeting or “chapel.” Each senior shared an essay out loud with their teammates and coaches entitled, “How I want to be remembered when I die.” It was the heartfelt culmination of four years in a program that espoused kindness and integrity above any traditional athletic measure.
Marx wondered then, and has shared with countless groups since, how would our world be different today if every school had that tradition?
The soul searching of those seniors is the core of the challenge Joe Ehrman laid at the feet of his teams and Marx passed on to the GCDS students and families, take your definition of success, and change the world. Think about how you would like to be remembered, and make choices that will bring action to those hopes.
About Jeffrey Marx
Jeffrey Marx became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1986 at the age of 23. Since then, Marx has written six books, including the New York Times bestsellers Season of Life (2004, Simon & Schuster) and The Long Snapper (2009, HarperCollins). He has also contributed to countless newspapers and magazines throughout the world.
More than anything else, though, he enjoys taking the most powerful messages of his work and sharing them with live audiences. “In the beginning, I was a writer because that’s what I enjoyed and that’s how I earned a living,” Marx says. “Now I write because I want to speak into people’s lives and try to make a difference in this world.”
His most requested presentation—“This Thing We Call Success”—focuses on the major themes in Season of Life: building healthy relationships, building community, building leaders.Marx is a native of Rye Brook, New York, and a graduate of Northwestern University. His Pulitzer, awarded for a series of articles on cheating in college basketball, came while working for the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader. His first two books—Inside Track (1990, Simon & Schuster) and One More Victory Lap (1996, Athletics International)—were written with Olympic champion Carl Lewis. Now a freelance journalist based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Marx has written for numerous publications including Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Time, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun.
The GCDS Parents Association Speaker Series facilitates conversations with exceptional people from around the world. This year the Series Co-Chairs are Jamie Renwick and Julia Halberstam.