Book Focuses On Ways Sports Shape Lives

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Among the Christmas gifts I received this year was the New York Times best seller, "The Games Do Count" by Brian Kilmeade.

Daughter-in-law Cheryl Foster, a Gilbert schoolteacher, chose the gift after a student asked her permission to do a book report about it.

Cheryl thumbed through the book and was immediately fascinated by its messages.

After receiving it, my interest was captivated by several glowing reviews.

Among them was one penned by Houston, Texas head coach Dom Capers who wrote, "Brian shows that there's always someone bigger, faster and smarter, but what makes the difference is focusing on making the most of our own abilities.

"That's why this book is a super learning tool for parents and coaches at every level in any sport."

CBS play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg wrote, "This book is a testament to those, like myself, who dreamed desperately of being a successful athlete. In my case, giving it everything I had wasn't enough, but the beauty of playing sports is that our dreams take us to great places."

Many of the sports books published today center on all-time great athletes -- Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Hank Aaron and other legends.

But, it's often difficult for readers to identify with them. Most of us are not fortunate enough to have been born with their athletic talent. We are not superstars, will never play a pro game and cannot understand the life of the rich and famous.

The message that "The Games Do Count" delivers, however, is that the success we have enjoyed in our lives might have been shaped by the athletic exploits we enjoyed in our childhood.

The author painstakingly details the accomplishments of 70 of this country's most admired people by writing of the athletic pasts that paved the way to amazing careers.

Among those he writes about are Tony Danza, Oliver North, Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, Gerald Ford, Burt Reynolds and James Brown.

None were famous athletes, but all enjoyed successful careers.

For me, the most compelling biography in the book was about 38-year-old Tom Burnett, who was one of the passengers on ill-fated Flight 93.

Burnett's wife, Deena, tells of the four times she spoke with her husband on the cell phone the morning Fight 93 was hijacked.

"I took notes during those phone calls, so later on I had a very accurate record of our conversations," she said.

Deena remembers from the conversations, it was her husband who probably first figured out that he and the other passengers were in the midst of a suicide mission.

"I also know that he was the one who put the plan together to storm the cockpit," she said.

Burnett, a former high school quarterback, called upon the leadership expertise he learned on the gridiron to rally the passengers to fight back against the terrorists.

"He told me what he was doing, and yet I didn't know what those last few minutes led to. I was able to hear it for myself, and know that, yes, he took those people down the aisle, and, yes, he played the quarterback," she said.

Rulon Gardner, an Olympic wrestler who attended special education classes in school and is now a teacher, said, "Sports have not only taught me discipline on the wrestling mat, but discipline in life as well. My learning disability caused a lot of struggle in school, and the mental toughness I gained from wrestling helped me become a teacher and Olympic gold medalist."

"The Games Do Count" is great reading, because it is not another in a long list of tributes to famous athletes, but rather a gentle reminder that all those hours we spent playing sports as children shaped lives.

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