This past Saturday morning while the rest of the country was preparing for another weekend of March Madness, I was at a celebration honoring Ohio State’s wrestling team. I must admit to a certain amount of pride as my alma matre celebrated its first NCAA Championship in wrestling, led by Logan Stieber who became just the 4th four-time NCAA wrestling champion. You see, I spent 8 years of my youth on the mats gaining an appreciation for the value of hard work, determination, perseverance and sticking to a plan.
Many people don’t understand that wrestling is a true team sport, requiring individuals to sacrifice for a larger, commonly shared goal. It involves losing weight to meet the requirements of a certain weight class in order to help your team field it’s best possible line-up, and hours upon hours upon hours of conditioning that never happens if group-think and peer pressure are not prevalent. For many, it means never-ending days of 6am conditioning and grueling hours of practice, only to rarely gain match time because someone else in your weight class can beat you. For these wrestlers, their job is to make others better!
Unlike football and basketball teams where most everyone gains field experience at some point, for many wrestlers, their “one shining moment” comes from the visceral pleasure of watching someone else who they have trained through blood, sweat and tears achieve success on the mat. That is why wrestling is a metaphor for economic development. It requires the same discipline and selflessness of that neighboring city that must put aside its own self-interest to allow the region to achieve a greater level of success.
Regionalism is the “drink of the day” in economic development. We all know it’s important, most of us espouse its virtues, many of us try to practice it every day, but candidly few, if any, have achieved total success in this realm. For regionalism to truly work, it requires the same type of perseverance, hard work, determination and discipline displayed in wrestling. In wrestling, you MUST be able to “walk the walk” because eventually you will find yourself, whether in a match or practice wrestle-off, mano-o-mano with an opponent — with nowhere to turn, no one to “pass the ball to”, and nobody to point at if something goes wrong. It’s just you and that other guy, with an entire team counting on you to make the right move and do the right thing.
That’s the gist of regionalism — for regions to put their best foot forward, every jurisdiction must be willing to always do the right thing – and sometimes that means setting aside self-interest and placing your trust and future in the hands of someone or something else. Of course it’s enlightened self-interest; like wrestling, you must believe that eventually you will have your moment to shine. But also like wrestling, sometimes you have to be the guy who drops the extra pounds or stays in the shadows while someone else gets the glory — and be completely OK with it, because we trust that in the long run, we will all win!
So congrats to Logan Stieber and OSU on an incredible team success. Let’s all take a page from their book and make a commitment to working together, through grit and determination, to achieve our highest levels of possible success!