Monday, May 21, 2018

A Legacy Worth Celebrating

I know what you're thinking, "Woah, Stoll! Gettin' all fancy on the blog layout these days!" Easy there folks, I just changed up the layout a tad. A friend and colleague made a great suggestion about readability and who am I to turn off readers because I'm too prideful to make a simple change? After all, aren't we all constantly learning along this crazy journey of life? I hope this format serves you better.

Now back to sports.

This week marks the 61st year of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series - or as we locals refer to it "JUCO" - held in the heart of Grand Junction, CO. Hands down, without question, JUCO is THE legacy sporting event in our community. It is the official start to summer for GJ-ites across the valley.
There are other fixed-venue events driving this sort of annual buzz in their respective communities - Indy 500, Kentucky Derby - but those namesake events (all you have to say is "The 500" or "Derby") have a major difference than those like JUCO, or others in communities across the country. The reason why?

It's simple. JUCO is run entirely by volunteers in our community. About 80 of them to be exact. On the most high-functioning local organizing committee I've ever seen. An LOC that truly cares, doesn't just show up for the free shirt, but rather brings tangible results to the planning and implementation of the event. Many of whom have been involved with the tournament longer than my 29 years on this planet. (I wish. But hey, I almost pulled a fast one on you!)
Social Capital is kind of like taking a network and looking at the outcome it produces.
Here's the thing. In the academic, world we study forms of social capital, or essentially the interactions and strengths of groups of people in a particular society to reach a certain goal.

There is a plethora of scholarly work on social capital, probably one of the most notorious authors on the subject is Robert Putnam from over at that little school called Harvard. His work has surmised that highly structured environments yields better social capital results. However, like much academic pursuit, his work is not accepted unanimously.

Over in the sport setting, Darcy et al. (2014) explored a case study of social capital development in an Australian Surf Club, concluding the organization developed social capital through shared values, community engagement, and learned skills, which then translated to output of other forms of capital (financial, human, material, cultural, etc.).

Hmmmm....Let's hang here for a second.
See what I did there? "Hang here for a second"? Another JUCO plug. 

What I'm saying is that research shows people working together to achieve a certain goal can result in some good stuff (AKA social capital). SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! You have to be kidding? No, really. It's common sense. Side note: I don't say "shut the front door" often, that might event be my first and second time, but for some reason it seemed fitting here. And if you can't tell, it is used sarcastically.

BUT (you knew it was coming), what does that REALLY mean?

In the ethos of social capital there are two core forms: bonding and bridging. Think of them this way: bonding is vertical social capital - or a group bonding WITHIN its members. For example, I attended a JUCO meeting a week or so ago and the group was socializing, laughing, swapping stories, building camaraderie...bonding from within. A word of caution on bonding social capital. Research shows in some facets the bond can be so tight that it is actually exclusionary in nature. Think mean girls. This is known as the "dark side" of social capital.
Mean Girls the movie. Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter
Bridging social capital, on the other hand, is horizontal in nature. So essentially, that LOC's ability to permeate social interactions outside of the core group. Or, with whom are the LOC members interacting to achieve their stated goal (putting on an awesome event)? And how does that interaction take shape? That's a bridge, a link to the broader community. And just as importantly, what's in it for the other parties associated with those interactions?

I think of the old Sunday School song "Deep and Wide" when thinking about bonding and bridging social capital. I know, I'm strange, but it works for me. Deep = bonding, wide = bridging. Like a fountain flowing deep and wide, both can be good for social capital.
So, what's the point, Stoll?

Using our example of JUCO, or the XYZ legacy event in your community, what is important here is how these interactions help us as sport practitioners tell our story and share our value. You see, I would contend that these interactions among JUCO LOC members are actually facilitating such positive results as elevating the status of our community (media/brand/exposure value), creating shared values in our community (community building), fostering interpersonal (community connectedness) and business relationships (boosting economy) that might not otherwise occur. Don't those sound like positive outcomes of sport?

In fact, I've interviewed a number of JUCO LOC members and am writing up this case study slowly, but surely.

We talk a lot about room nights, economic impact and the like, but I would urge us, as sport practitioners, to start looking at a more holistic view of the benefit of sport in our communities. As trends change in the industry, these types of outcomes are going to be valuable components of how we tell our story and thus, maintain our relevance.

As for JUCO, the field is set, the town is abuzz, and the slice of Americana we all experience through America's Pastime every summer is upon us...and that, my friends, is a legacy worth celebrating! I could write another dozen blog posts about how truly special JUCO is to our community, but I'll save those for years 67, 72 and 83 of GJ hosting the tournament.

Until next time, remember, as the Great Bambino once said, "Never allow the fear of striking out to keep you from playing the game." True for baseball, even more true for life. This is Stoll on Sports. Play ball!



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