The Undefeated Eleven

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I’ve long been a believer of the “ripple effect” in dealing with people, especially the young people I meet.

The intellectual term is “elevation” which was coined by Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University. Haidt believes that witnessing courage, compassion, or generosity can not only make us better people but increase the likelihood we’ll do good works of our own.

I thought of creating good ripples when I came across the yellowed newspaper clipping that was stuck in the back of a book I found in the private library of the grandest estate in town. The clipping had a picture of two coaches and 21 boys wearing football sweaters and leather helmets which must have been miserable in the heat and humidity. It was taken in 1927 just a few blocks from our Old House which was newly built. The headline read “The Undefeated Eleven.”

This team was not playing for the local high school but for the Bartow Boy Scout Troop 1 and they travelled the state of Florida playing against military and junior high school teams. The never lost a game. The coaches were their troop leader: George Watters “Floppy” Mann and E.A. Bosarge who, according to the news report, “guided the boys in their troop in other activities besides football.”

“They taught them ballroom dancing, how to play bridge, and gave them exercises in table manners using silver borrowed from Gen. and Mrs. A.H. Blanding for place settings,” the story reported. “Mann and Bosarge did all the instructing, except for the girls who joined the group for ballroom dancing classes.”

“They took the boys on trips during two summers to Canada, Mexico and Colorado, using their own money plus a charge of $6 to each scout and contributions from interested citizens. The boys travelled in a bus, furnished by Bosarge, and a truck which Mann owned, and camped out at night along the way.

Mann was a success in business and lived in our town until his death in 1974. Bosarge went on to a long and prominent legal career which included arguing cases before the Florida Supreme Court. General A.H. Blanding was appointed Chief of the National Guard Bureau by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and before that as a member of the Florida Board of Regents he helped to build the University of Florida into an academic powerhouse.

One of the boys, G. W. “Buck” Mann, helped guide the citrus and cattle industry for years in Florida. Another, Kelsie Reaves, went on the graduate from West Point, work as a staff officer for Joint Task Force 7 conducting atomic tests at Eniwetok Atoll, command the 14th Infantry 25th Division during the Korean War, serve on the staff of NATO, command the 3rd Armored Division in Germany as well as serve as the Deputy Director, Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam War. He retired as a Major General.

“Elevation seems to have a ripple effect, triggering cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes,” professor Haidt says. “It makes people more open, more loving, grateful, compassionate, and forgiving.”

I like to think that it was their proficiency with etiquette, their world view influenced by travel in addition to toughness learned on the playing field that helped these boys establish a town, serve their country and lead productive lives. But whatever the reason, the story of these boys and their volunteer leaders from a tiny rural town is a great lesson to all of us that good actions can lead to good ripples.

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