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Opinion: Back To School Inspiration: Mack Robinson’s Track Shoes

Published on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | 11:10 am

Mack Robinson memorabilia

Until the reception last July at Pasadena City College, I had never seen an Olympic medal. Let alone one so steeped in history and legend. So, peering into the glass case at the silver medal Mack Robinson won at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin was a breathtaking experience. After all, this was the actual medal that our late hometown hero, Mr. Robinson, earned in the 200 meter sprint, finishing less than half a second behind quadruple gold medalist Jesse Owens and helping to shame Adolf Hitler’s boasts of Aryan supremacy in the process.

The silver medal was the centerpiece of a collection of treasures on exhibit at PCC’s Creveling Lounge, during a celebration of Mack Robinson’s 100th birthday. The VIP event drew hundreds of Robinson family members, community leaders, local government officials and friends who paused to admire Mr. Robinson’s Olympic artifacts. Taking my turn at the display, I found my gaze drawn away from the historic medal toward the antique, leather track shoes that Mr. Robinson had worn at the ’36 games. I was awed by the sight, for I had read the story behind those shoes.

While Jesse Owens entered Berlin’s Olympic stadium in brand new, state of the art kicks (a gift from German shoe designer Adi Dassler, who went on to found Adidas), Robinson (who was short on cash and connections) ran in the same, well worn shoes that he had competed in throughout his career at PCC.

Reflecting on his silver medal run, many have wondered how Robinson might have fared with newer, better shoes. Might he have beaten Owens and captured the gold? Perhaps. But such speculation risks minimizing Robinson’s accomplishment, which was extraordinary. He captured an Olympic silver medal, finishing a mere four-tenths of a second behind the world’s fastest man, while wearing an old pair of shoes that he had been running in for years. Mack Robinson achieved greatness despite not having the advanced tools used by his rival.

Inspiring thoughts of Mack Robinson’s track shoes came to mind as I considered the millions of kids who are starting another year at our nation’s cash-strapped public schools. Budget shortfalls have forced schools across the country to contend with crowded classrooms, lack of textbooks and supplies, staff reductions, the scaling back or elimination of counseling, academic intervention and enrichment services, etc. These realities put monumental and unfair burdens on public schools. But the commitment and creativity of educators and the diligence and dedication of students continue to fire my optimism.

As a parent, a former elementary school PTA president and current staffer with a male student mentoring program at John Muir High School I have been inspired by students who achieve despite major obstacles in front of them. Generally speaking, students who are the most successful recognize the value of education and take advantage of opportunities to learn. They are serious about their studies, they focus in class and work hard on assignments. They seek and accept help with difficult subjects.

In contrast, some of the students who perform poorly in school are handicapped by a lack of personal commitment. It’s heartbreaking to listen to some kids offer excuses for not doing their school work, blowing off tutoring and study hall, ditching school, disrupting class, or placing a higher priority on sports than academics. Such students fail to realize that they are falling short of their potential and are setting themselves up for major difficulties in the adult world.

But once they make a commitment to education, students of all skill levels can and do improve, achieve and excel. And they usually find a lot of dedicated adults – teachers, counselors, volunteers, mentors, etc. – who are eager to give them the support and assistance they need.

So, despite the impediments of shrinking school budgets, socio-economic pressures, misguided peer values, difficulties in the home and so on, I remain confident of the potential for all students to succeed. Like Mack Robinson dashing down the track in his old shoes, school kids from coast to coast can and will excel!

Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.


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