Excellence is a Contagious Thing

Special report to gopetrels.com:

The cause of that little spike in activity that may have slowed down your internet connection briefly on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, can be attributed to birds.  Rather, bird watching.  No, not the sort from the far reaches of the mountains or jungles.  These subjects were something a bit more feisty and rare: Stormy Petrels wearing giant rings.

On this night, very different kinds of ornithologists were snapping photos by the dozen and uploading them to their various social media accounts, proudly tying up bandwidth.  On this night, their subjects were the 2012 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf National Champion Oglethorpe University Stormy Petrels.  The location was the vaunted East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga.  The occasion was the ring ceremony and celebration at which players and coaches were presented with a forever symbol of their astounding accomplishment at Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fl., May 12-15, 2012.

Perspective

Oh, it’s not just the postman who always “rings twice.”  This was the school’s second such ceremony at East Lake in just four years.  To be exact, it was 938 days prior, according to Head Coach Jim Owen.  So in case anyone thought the 2009 National Championship was a one-time proposition, the 2012 squad soared to an emphatic 20-stroke win (1,171-1,191), the 9th-largest margin of victory in Division III Men’s Golf’s 38-year history … and the 5th-largest since Oglethorpe’s program formed in 1993.  Any doubters of legitimacy have dispersed.

“It’s an exciting night for us,” said President Larry Schall before the event.  “I’m proud of the coaches.  I’m proud of this team for what they’ve accomplished on the course.  I’ve gotten to know some of the players well and it’s just an extraordinary group of young men.  They make us proud of Oglethorpe.”

Excitement Builds as the Win Sinks In

Before the ceremony and dinner banquet, guests were treated to a reception while the players were treated to something else special.  Earlier in the afternoon the champs, along with new and former team members, teed it up at East Lake for an 18-hole victory lap of sorts.  Since everyone needs to wash up for dinner, those same players were granted access to the champions’ locker room at the historic clubhouse before joining the pre-event mingle in the club’s lobby where memorabilia of champions past drip from the walls and ooze from the trophy cases, looming as constant reminders that greatness lives there.  Now these players walk among that greatness.

Sometimes it takes years for proper perspective to sink in.  Sometimes – at a venue like East Lake - it unmistakably envelops you.

“Everything about this place is perfect,” beamed Anthony Amodeo (’14).  “I couldn’t ask for more.”

Mind you, just a few weeks ago this very same venue played host to The PGA’s TOUR Championship, the final event in the FedEx Cup Championship series that comes complete with a $10 million payout to the winner.  So Coach Owen was quick to draw some parallels between the world of Division III golf and players and teams at other levels of competition.

“We work just as hard, practice just as much as anyone,” stated Coach Owen at one point in the evening.  But – sans the play-for-pay perks of pro golf – he clearly feels strongly about the “what it takes” mentality and work ethic he sees in the players who have contributed to the growth of the program since its birth on his watch.  In fact, most of the night’s presenters were players from the program’s 20-year history, all of whom played for the only men’s golf coach the school has known.

Maybe continuity like that is the reason why the only points of disagreement on the night were the range of the individual time frames in which each accepted the “National Champion” moniker.

“It’s kind of surreal,” said Senior Eric Quinn (’13).  “It still hasn’t really hit me yet.”

But for Hayden Jones (’14) and Anthony Maccaglia (’15), it sank in early.  Jones said, “I think about it every day at some point and it’s really nice.”

“There’s not a day that goes by that I haven’t thought, ‘We’re national champions,’” said Maccaglia.  “It took a couple of weeks to settle in, but once it did, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

So when it came to the buzz of the night leading up to the ceremony, the topic was as prevalent as the jewelry was large: the ring’s the thing.

“I can’t wait to wear the ring,” said Amodeo, whose smile was so wide it practically met behind his head, anticipating the evening’s events like a child on Christmas Eve.  “I’ve been waiting for this ever since we hoisted that trophy, so the ring’s a big deal.”

Jordan Hall (’12) and Matt Rebitch (’12) claimed two championships before graduating.  Hall drew parallels between the two title-winning teams and said he was happy to “see all the guys again and reunite the team to celebrate what we accomplished.”

Rebitch (’12) said, “One thing I like is times like right now.  After the championship [and graduation], I’ve kept in touch with all the guys.  We’ve become much closer friends.  Being all together and seeing everybody out here is pretty special.”

Sure, but what was really at the top of your mind?  “Getting the rings!” he smiled.

Excellence

“Excellence is a contagious thing,” said President Schall to open the ceremony.  Then, in turning the program over to Coach Owen, he aptly segued with, “Excellence starts at the top.”

Taking to the podium, Coach Owen said, “938 days ago, we sat in this room for a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ night.  Boy am I glad it wasn’t.”

The list of superlatives from the team’s 2011-12 season is nothing short of remarkable.  Presenters handed out both team and individual awards that ranged from player, to team, to coaching honors, including Phil Mickelson National Freshman of the Year, National Player of the Year, and All-Nicklaus Team member Maccaglia and Golf Coaches Association of America’s Dave Williams Award for National Coach of the Year for Owen.

The coach presided over the program for most of the night, introducing former players as presenters … and there were a lot of awards, including Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference recognitions, NCAA South Region honors, and of course National awards and honors.

National Champions Amodeo, Patrick Cansfield (’14), Lewis Gregory (’14), Hall, Stephen Harris (’14), Jones, Maccaglia, Will Morrow (’15), Quinn, Rebitch, and Kentaro Toyota (’15) were then presented with their championship rings.  Coach Owen and Assistant Coach David Potts, and athletic trainer Brian Baer also earned rings, which were presented by President Schall and Chair of the Oglethorpe Board of Trustees Norman Findley.

The ceremony ended with co-captains Hall and Rebitch, accompanied by coaches and teammates, presenting the 2012 National Championship trophy to Schall and Findley.

New Petrels Braden Baer, Lawrence de Sola, Thomas Jeffries-Harrison, and David Kleckner (all ’16) were also in attendance with about 110 other honored guests, including friends, trustees, families, faculty, and staff, and took note of the growing tradition.

Humble, but Confident

Amodeo recalled a team meeting one of his first nights after arriving at Oglethorpe for the Fall 2010 semester.  The question posed to each of them was why they came to school here.  “We all answered, ‘To win a national championship,’ and it happened.”

But championships do not just “happen,” right?  What about mentality, work ethic, and some putts breaking the right way?

Although the 2012 champs are a humble group, they seemed to walk a little taller this night, chests a little broader, smiles a little wider.  Why not?  With the bulk of the team back for the 2012-13 season, the pieces are in place for a run at another title.

Stated Quinn, “I’m looking forward to getting another National Championship this year.”

“Now that we’ve got one, we want to get another one,” seconded Maccaglia very matter-of-factly.

Perhaps Maccaglia summarized it best, while simultaneously foreshadowing.  Recalling picking his ball up out of the 18th hole, Maccaglia said, “It was amazing. It was probably almost disappointing that we couldn’t keep going because the pursuit of it was a lot more fun than once you finish it.”

With those words, the focus shifted beyond this special night to Spring 2013 and ring number three.

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