It's easy to get cynical about professional athletes. It's even easy to dismiss the myriad pitches we get from teams about players doing good in the community as nothing more than an attempt to raise their PR profile (we honestly believe this is not the case with tons of athletes and teams; we're just saying it unfortunately happens). Sometimes, though, a neat little story comes along and warms even the iciest of hearts. This one, which we first caught wind of last week courtesy of Jon Marthaler -- commenter, weekend linker and friend of RandBall -- has stuck with us. For many of the details, we turn to Tim Marthaler -- counselor at Ortonville High School and, yes, Jon's dad. Tim's words came courtesy of the Lynx (and with permission from him for us to use), after Tim contacted them to share his story. The Lynx PR folks were not aware of it until folks from Ortonville filled them in. Before confirming it, though, one Lynx staffer said it sounds like something Taj McWilliams-Franklin -- whose 41st birthday is today -- would do. Here is the story of what happened last week from Tim Marthaler:
Students and teachers in our school had the rare privilege of meeting and hearing from a lady who needs no introduction to you - Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Needless to say, it was the highlight of the day in our K-12 building.
In case you did not know the back-story, Taj and a sophomore in Ortonville High School, Camille Scholberg, began e-mailing each other after Camille had gone to a Lynx game. They shared a number of the same interests and Taj was a willing listener as Camille told her favorite player about her life in Ortonville. Unbeknownst to everyone but the principal, Taj decided to surprise Camille by paying her a visit this morning at school. Squeals of excitement and tears of joy filled the hall when Camille, her parents and her sister saw who was here…… and then the crowd kept growing. During morning break, 75 students and staff filled the hall listening to Taj.
Eventually, the principal moved the impromptu assembly to the auditorium and invited any teachers and their classes to listen to her speak. The audience grew to several hundred as Taj spoke on a bare stage with just a microphone. I have rarely seen any speaker (and in 36 years, I’ve seen quite a few) connect as well with her audience. She was warm, friendly, personable and articulate. She answered questions from kindergartners (“When I grow up, I want to be a baseball player”) as well as from seniors (“Tell us about your high school”). In her answers she shared stories about herself that encouraged students to achieve in school, treat others fairly -- don’t bully, dream big dreams, and give 100% of yourself to achieve your goals. Our district has paid thousands of dollars and not heard as good a message – and they heard it from a player who just won a world championship last weekend! After the assembly, she stayed around to sign autographs and just talk to whoever wanted to talk. We loved having her here.
I know Taj did not do this for the publicity – she said she wanted to avoid TV cameras; she just wanted to repay a young fan’s loyalty. What a testament to a quality individual and to your Lynx organization. If you ever do organize a group of players to speak publicly – Taj would be at the top of the list.
Thank you to the Lynx administration for bringing Taj and the WNBA championship to Minnesota.
Again, athletes visit schools all the time. But for a player to make a surprise visit to Ortonville -- more than 150 miles west of Minneapolis -- is awfully cool. We grew up in Grand Forks, which often felt even smaller than the population of 50,000 or so at the time would suggest. If someone of any stature pays attention to you in a small town, it makes you feel a little bigger and a little special. Sounds like Taj delivered that, and an Ortonville crowd will never forget it.