Two contrasting athletic memories from Anna Prillaman spotlight the power of selflessness and forgiveness
“Thousands of people will visit the Trinity campus over the course of the school year from all over the state to watch an athletic contest and for most of them, it will be the only time they will ever set foot on our campus,” said Brian Griffen, school chaplain. “Likewise, when our teams travel to the far reaches of Virgina, our teams will be the standard by which our school is judged… Therefore it is essential that we live our Episcopal Identity and celebrate our mission through positive spirit and sportsmanship.”
With this in mind, Griffen invited Athletic Director Anna Prilliaman to speak in Chapel on the morning of Monday, November 18 and reflect on how to live out these values, embracing a “we/us” mentality and extending grace, which she defined as an act of kindness, courtesy or clemency.
“We are smart enough to know that we are not the best version of ourselves 100% of the time,” said Prillaman, before sharing a humbling story from her time as a collegiate basketball player at the University of Virginia. Facing Tennessee, the No. 1 team in the county in the NCAA tournament, Prillaman’s U.Va. team lost by more than 25 points.
“To put it mildly, we did not rise to the occasion,” she said. “Our two captains lost total control of everyone, including themselves.” After a pause, Prillaman added, “Just so happens I was one of those captains. Rather than saying or doing things during and after the game to help keep things positive, I did the exact opposite,” she said. “I felt myself get out of control with my behavior and I wasn’t strong enough to do anything about it.”
“I knew right from wrong. I knew I was wrong and I felt guilty about it,” Prillaman said, recalling that at that low moment, two assistant coaches from the Tennessee team that she previously knew reached out to her in a moment of grace. “They asked me if I was okay... that [it] didn’t sound like me, and I must just be having an off day. They were genuine. Both followed up with phone calls that week to make sure I was all right.”
Prillaman asked the Trinity students in the Chapel audience to think about how they could avoid missteps like her own that night in Knoxville, TN. “We must find a healthy balance in our lives and stop worrying about the things that don’t matter,” she said. “Choosing the ‘we/us’ mentality instead of the ‘I/me’ mentality can help with that. If you choose the ‘we/us’ mentality you probably won’t show up to a basketball game with a sign patronizing the other team, because you’ll realize that not only are you representing yourself you are representing this entire school’s community, both past and present.”
To those who feel driven to focus all of their time on one sport or activity, Prillaman offered words of caution. “You still can be focused and driven when it comes to the talent that’s been given to you, but … remember to look outside yourself. I know too many former athletes, and even some former musicians who let their craft take a hold of them in a way they couldn’t return to normal life from… they did not take the time to look outside themselves which in turn made them very lonely people.”
Contrasting her low moment in college, Prillaman then shared what she called her “crowning athletic achievement,” one she thinks may have set her on the path to becoming a coach and an educator. While running in a late-season cross country race in high school, she was about to pass one of her teammates — an older girl whom she had never met at their large school — as they approached the final stretch of the race. Remembering her coach’s advice to “run for the team, not yourself,” she said, “I decided right then to choose ‘we/us’ and told her I felt good, I was ready to attack, but I wasn’t going without her.” The other runner looked down at Prillaman’s jersey, recognized her as a teammate, and replied, “okay kid, let’s roll.” With both of them finishing in the top 15, the Midlothian team achieved their season-long goal of making it into the state meet.
“Never before, or honestly since then have I ever felt such fulfillment in an athletic contest,” said Prillaman. “If you paid close attention to my two stories you’ll realize that my better behavior came when I was 15, the worse behavior when I was 21. Does that mean I was going in the wrong direction? No, it means I’m human, and humans often times do not grow in a direct line. There are peaks and valleys — regressions and monumental growth — all mixed together.”
“I’m grateful for my experience in cross country and what I learned from it and myself,” she said. “but I am equally grateful for the day I messed up in Knoxville where I learned even more about myself and the fruits of receiving grace.”
Prillaman concluded by challenging everyone at Trinity to embrace the “we/us” mentality and extend grace to those both within and beyond the Trinity community.
Each Monday the school gathers together with a guest speaker, faculty member or student speaker to engage with issues around spiritual life, societal participation and character development. Guest speakers from a broad range of spiritual traditions are invited to create opportunities for inter-faith education and dialog. Students, teachers and guests share their life experiences that may range from community service to mission travel to mindfulness.