Ann-Perry Blank has been diving since she was seven years old. She dove for the storied Moss Farms Diving Tigers in Moultrie, Georgia, a program that has produced 39 Georgia High School State Champions, 26 Junior Olympic National Champions, 9 Senior National Champions, 8 International Champions, and 11 Cam-Am-Mex Champions. In addition, the program has sent dozens to major colleges on diving scholarships, producing SEC champions and NCAA champions.
Before last month’s Southeastern Conference Championships at the University of Georgia, Ann-Perry had not been on an award stand since she was ten or eleven years old. Unlike her teammate Laura Ryan, Ann-Perry has rarely been in the spotlight at UGA, until now.
Last month Ann-Perry won the SEC’s one-meter championship and she placed second on the three-meter board. She did it in fine fashion, as her score of 325.50 was the highest women’s 1-meter diving score at UGA in a championship event.
After winning the championship, Ann-Perry went into the stands to find her mother, father, and her brother Owen, who also dove for UGA. After hugging her father, Ann-Perry said, “Today is the first day all year I haven’t wanted to quit diving.”
Her comment reminded me of a conversation I’d had with 99-year-old Dorsey Brooks just a few days earlier. Dorsey is a sports legend himself. He is a member of the Hall of Fame at Abraham Baldwin College in Tifton, Georgia, where he played on the 1936-37 championship basketball team. As a coach, he led Tucker High School to their first ever state baseball championship. The new baseball field at Tucker will be named for Dorsey on April 12.
Dorsey was a good athlete in high school, playing baseball and basketball. Ironically, it was the football program that attracted him to ABAC. The program had assembled an impressive group of athletes, good enough to have once beaten the University of Miami. Dorsey, though, had never played football, but he wanted to give it a try. He got his chance, but it was a brief one. While he was there, on a Thanksgiving weekend, the building that housed all the football equipment burned to the ground and ABAC never played any more football.
However, he was there long enough to pick up some important life lessons from the sport. He wasn’t getting any playing time except in some of the junior varsity games and he didn’t like his chances of getting any playing time on the varsity team as the year dragged near basketball season. With sounds of balls bouncing in the gym, “Whiskers,” as his coach called him, began to feel the urge to quit one sport in order to play the other and he approached his coach with that idea.
Calling him by his nickname, the coach said, “If you do that, how can I know about the time baseball season comes around that I’ll be able to count on you to finish out the basketball season? I’m not going to tell you what to do, but about tournament time in basketball, I don’t know whether I can count on you or not.” Those were convincing words coming from a coach that coached all three sports.
That day his coach taught him lessons about commitment, about dedication, and about self-respect, the same lessons Dorsey taught many other players that he coached through the years, coaching all three major sports himself in his career.
Not every person who perseveres to the end will end up in the Hall of Fame or stand on a podium and be awarded a gold medal. Ann-Perry got the storybook ending. However, even had she not been rewarded for her years of hard work in such a thrilling way, she would have left UGA with the kinds of lessons that Dorsey Brooks’ coach taught him.
While the medal will be a talking point, and while the championship will get Ann-Perry recognition throughout life, it’s the lessons of the sport that will serve her the greatest rewards. If life for her is like it is for most of us, there will be many days she will want to give up on a relationship, a job, a problem, or in trying to live her life as God has commanded through scripture.
This isn’t to say that there is never a time to quit something we’ve started, but we shouldn’t be so quick to quit just because things get a little difficult. Living a life of integrity, ethical standards, and faith will be met by many with skepticism and ridicule.
For this reason, Matthew encouraged his readers by telling them to (stay) with it ”that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved” (Matthew 24:13 The Message Bible).
Adversity is a part of every area of life and we shouldn’t be turned away from our goals just because we feel discouraged, disappointed, or defeated.
Ann-Perry Blank is an SEC Champion, but even if she had not made the podium last month, she still would have been a champion, not just because she’s been a part of four consecutive SEC Women’s Championship Teams and a National Championship team, but because she has persevered to the end. She refused to quit and she built character along the way ”and did I mention she got really good at diving in the process?”