4 minutes reading time (876 words)

Perkins Field

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On Saturday, April 13, 2019, the softball complex at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls was officially named "Perkins Field." Dr. Faye Perkins coached at River Falls for 22 seasons, starting in 1989. I played for Faye from 1989-1992.

Back then, there was no "softball complex." There was dirt infield, an old backstop, and a couple lengths of 6 foot high fence that helped mark wout-of-bounds area started. The fence was old and curled up at the bottom. Each spring we carried wooden benches out to the field, and when the frost went out, we put up old wooden slat snow fence in the outfield. No, it wasn't the first year the university had a women's softball team. They'd been around nearly a decade.

Faye fought for more services and resources every year. Within 2-3 years, maintenance installed the snow fence, until a real fence was installed. A grounds crew helped between and after games, rather than having to rake the field ourselves. Over time, these things became the norm. Sometime in the 2000s, the softball field got a major upgrade, including dugouts and new backstop, but bleachers were still hauled out each spring.
In the last couple of years, River Falls has expanded and upgraded all their athletic facilities. In this round of updates, the old softball field was removed to make way for the new Falcon Center, and a modern field complex, complete with permanent bleacher seating and press box, was erected. Thanks to a group of alumni who proposed the idea, raised funds, and petitioned for support, the new complex will be forever named Perkins Field.

At the event Saturday, I asked Faye if she set out to have a field named after her. She laughed out loud and shook her head. Nowhere on her bucket list does it say anything about a Perkins Field. Her goals were to live in integrity with her values, to have a solid career teaching and coaching, to raise her sons to be good people, and to grow old with her husband, Joe. Having a field named after you has a cool factor. That said, Perkins Field is merely a symbol of her true legacy: the people she touched and the lives she changed.

It reminds me of the movie, Mr. Holland's Opus. (Spoiler alert: I'm giving away the ending.) Mr. Holland takes a job as a music teacher as a means to an end. He wanted to write music, but needed to make money first. The plan was 2 years teaching. 30 years later, the school district eliminates the music department and his job. In the final scene, community members, teachers and students, from past and present, gather in the auditorium to celebrate him. Returning alumni, including the state governor, Gertrude Lang, join the last of the band students to play a symphony Mr. Holland had managed to write over the years. But it's Gertrude's speech at the event that gets me every time, especially her last line:

"Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life."

Mr. Holland has an Opus. Dr. Perkins has a Field. Neither of those things is their legacy.

In that room Saturday, I was surrounded by people whose lives Faye had touched in some way, both on and off the softball field. I hope that long into the future, those that have an opportunity to play there remember: Perkins field isn't about dirt & grass or dugouts & bleachers. It's not about win-loss records or championship trophies.

I have met too many people in leadership roles who believe their most important job is to get financial results for the company. Of course results are important; I mean, who doesn't want to win a championship? Measurement is a critical part of how goals are defined. That said, no one on Saturday was focused on championships won or lost. Old friends told stories about broken fingers, that live bat we caught on the bus to Superior (true story), and our gratitude for a world before cell phones. When I talk about the at-work teams I've been part of, I can't remember our specific business goals. But I do remember the people. It's been 15 years and I remember three of us having January birthdays right in a row (what are the odds?), how hard we worked, and how much fun we had.

You may never have a field named after you. Or a building. Or a song. But as a leader, you have a unique opportunity to impact the lives of everyone around you. Sure, getting results has impact.  But what else do you want for them? What impact do you hope to have on their lives?  How do you want them to remember you? They, along with many others, will be the melodies and notes of your Opus.

What will be your legacy?

This one is for you, Faye. Good, better, best -- never let it rest -- until your good is better and your better's best!

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Monday, 17 June 2019