By Sen. John Thune
It comes as no surprise to those who know me that I have an abiding interest in competitive athletics. With a dad who was a basketball star in the Big Ten, it was sort of expected that we would like sports. My mom, who was less than enthusiastic about this perpetual sports mindset, used to lament that all the Thune boys were born with a ball in their hands. To her credit, she saw to it that we balanced our interests by requiring that we all take piano lessons, which I did for six years. I also played tuba in the band and sang in the swing choir – opportunities afforded to kids growing up in small towns. But it was all secondary to sports.
Through the years, as I’ve transitioned from competitor to fan, I have found so many metaphors for life in sports, lessons learned from the heat of competition. That was especially true this year. South Dakota schools, at every level, saw great success across a wide range of sports, but because we have just concluded the basketball season, I thought it was worth reflecting on what was accomplished this year on the court.
Never before in my lifetime have we witnessed the unprecedented success that our college teams, men’s and women’s, experienced this past season. No fewer than 12 South Dakota basketball teams qualified for postseason tournament play. Several made deep runs in those tournaments, and two were crowned national champions, the Augustana University men and the USD women.
I had the good fortune to see many of those schools play this year, and I could not be prouder of our athletes, coaches, and fans. Basketball got played the way it was supposed to be played. Our athletes displayed the kind of work ethic that should make every South Dakotan proud. They played unselfishly and put the team’s success ahead of their own. Their behavior on and off the court was the stuff that restores faith to the most jaded among us that there are role models worthy of our children’s admiration.
As I watched the USD women put the final touches on their historic championship run, I thought of what it takes to achieve that level of success. Being able to sustain that standard of excellence through a nearly 40-game season requires something more than the ordinary. I don’t know if the USD women coined it or not, but the hashtag #GRITT became their creed. It’s short for “Greatness Resides In Toughness Together.” For these young women, it was more than just a slogan. They lived it. You could see it in their play. It defined their season. It inspired an entire state, and now they will forever have “national champions” attached to their resumes.
Which brings me to our present circumstances. One can’t help but observe the tone of our public discourse and feel that it is not worthy of a great nation. Maybe what we need is a little #GRITT. It is important to remember that there are no shortcuts to greatness. The challenges we face in the future will require a collective toughness, the kind of toughness that previous generations of South Dakotans knew all too well. The kind that leads to greatness. Politicians can promise greatness and offer free stuff, but true greatness won’t come from government. It’s found in the toughness of the American people, and we have the USD women to thank for reminding us of that.