A spe­cial home­com­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - Tony Leodora Colum­nist

It is of­ten said, “You can never go home again.”

That say­ing evolved from the 1998 philo­soph­i­cal novel by Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It deals with the strug­gles of a young man who has writ­ten a book based on the peo­ple in his home­town. Af­ter writ­ing the book, he re­turns to find that many are out­raged by the ex­posed truths they read. Craig Lit­tlepage re­turned home – to Mont­gomery County – last week. He found noth­ing but warmth, re­spect and recog­ni­tion from a com­mu­nity that houses im­mense pride for the na­tional ac­com­plish­ments of one of its fa­vorite sons. He proved Thomas Wolfe, the au­thor, to be wrong.

Lit­tlepage, the Chel­tenham High prod­uct who went on to be­come a star player at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, has had a long ca­reer as a bas­ket­ball coach and now ath­letic di­rec­tor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia. For his ac­com­plish­ments on the na­tional stage he re­ceived the Life­time Achieve­ment Award be­fore nearly 400 peo­ple at the Mont­gomery County Coaches Hall of Fame ban­quet last week. It was a re­splen­dent night of trib­ute at Nor­mandy Farm in Blue Bell.

But the moment that con­tin­ues to ring in the mind af­ter all of the Hall of Fame in­duc­tions, Honor Roll hon­orees, Courage Award and mo­ments of trib­ute were the words of Lit­tlepage … in an elo­quently de­liv­ered ac­cep­tance speech.

As an ath­letic di­rec­tor at one of the most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties in Amer­ica, he is an in­te­gral part of the col­lege ed­u­ca­tion scene. Yet he un­der­scored the great sepa­ra­tion be­tween what he does and what is done by the mem­bers of academia, who live in an ivory tower world.

There is no hid­ing the fact that to­day’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion scene is one with many trou­bles. An­nual costs of $50,000, $60,000 and more are com­mon­place. Young peo­ple grad­u­ate with huge bur­dens of debt … and lit­tle hope of find­ing a job that will re­coup the fi­nan­cial losses any time in the near fu­ture. A bi­ased fac­ulty pro­vides in­doc­tri­na­tion, rather than ed­u­ca­tion. An un­re­al­is­tic at­mos­phere breeds dis­cord and dis­con­tent, rather than unity and in­spi­ra­tion.

Yet Lit­tlepage found – and un­der­scored – a sil­ver lin­ing in the cloud.

He pointed the spot­light squarely on col­lege ath­let­ics. Yes, prob­lems ex­ist there also … but he pointed to the ba­sic good in the foun­da­tion of ath­letic com­pe­ti­tion.

“I am very for­tu­nate to live in the world of col­lege ath­let­ics,” said Lit­tlepage, in the midst of his well-re­garded speech. “There is no seg­ment of this coun­try where you can find so many peo­ple, from such di­verse back­grounds, who work so well to­ward a com­mon goal.

“It is a re­flec­tion of the very prin­ci­ples on which this coun­try

was cre­ated,” he con­tin­ued.

“It is a les­son that can be learned by all.”

Cer­tainly it is a les­son that can be learned by the rest of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

On the col­lege field, on the court, on the grid … there is no con­cern for po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. There are no tro­phies for par­tic­i­pa­tion. There are no con­cerns about feel­ings or sen­si­tiv­i­ties. No safe places. It is dog-eat­dog. Sur­vival of the fittest. It is a proper re­flec­tion of the REAL world … not the philo­soph­i­cal, touchy-feely world of those who live in iso­lated, pro­tected, un­nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments.

It was the high­light of Lit­tlepage’s “re­turn home again.” It was a les­son in real life ex­pe­ri­ences.

Although Lit­tlepage’s ex­pe­ri­ence last week was the po­lar op­po­site of the main char­ac­ter in Wolfe’s book, there is still a poignant les­son that can be learned from the au­thor.

In the book, Wolfe wrote, “The essence of be­lief is doubt, the essence of re­al­ity is ques­tion­ing. The essence of Time is Flow, not Fix. The essence of faith is the knowl­edge that all flows and that ev­ery­thing must change. The grow­ing man is Man Alive, and his “phi­los­o­phy” must grow, must flow, with him … the man too fixed to­day, un­fixed to­mor­row - and his body of be­liefs is noth­ing but a series of fix­a­tions.”

Lit­tlepage grew – through a life of win­ning and los­ing ex­pe­ri­ences – into the man he is to­day. The man who was hon­ored with a Life­time Achieve­ment Award. And then he im­parted a very mean­ing­ful mes­sage on those who came to honor him.

It was an honor wellde­served.

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