By Johnny J. Burnham, The Bristol Press.
Bristol – Eleventh-grade scholar-athletes from he city’s three high schools skipped out on the first two hours of school Tuesday morning. They weren’t playing hooky, but receiving a lesson in leadership thanks to the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame.
Continuing a tradition the BSHOF began in 2004, the Leadership Breakfast, according to BSHOF President Dave Mills, allows select students the opportunity to gather information by listening to advice and stories of success from “current leaders.”
BSHOF board member Mark Ziogas added, “speakers can get up here and speak for 15 minutes, but if [the students] can remember one thing that they said and it sticks with them, then we have done our job.”
Steve Mills — son of the Hall of Fame president — became the seventh name on the growing list of speakers during the program;s short existence.
Mills excelled in both basketball and football at Bristol Eastern High School, quarterbacking the Lancers to a state football championship in 1988. He was awarded the National Football Foundations Scholar Athlete award and was named Gatorade Player of the year for Connecticut and New England.
He went onto graduate from Yale University, where he was the football team’s No. 3 all-time leading passer.
Mills told the students to make the most of their time.
“Time means opportunity. It’s time that we can never get back,” he said. “With that time and opportunity, we really have all the materials to build our dream house.
“This house doesn’t need to be a huge house. It can be any type of house you want. The question is, how are you going to build it?”
It was at Bristol Eastern, at Yale and in the work force, Mills said, that he learned the lessons that it takes to erect a “home.”
Among those lessons was integrity.
“Integrity is what you do when people aren’t looking. It’s about not cheating on your tests, not cheating on your taxes. If you say that you lifted it, then lift it because that is what being a leader is all about,” he told students. “I’ve learned many things. One of them is that if you don’t have integrity, your house is going to fall down.”
He added that the house, which Mills used a metaphor for the students’ goals, at no point would not be constructed or reconstructed for them. To build this “dream house,”the students must embrace all challenges, goals and people of different cultures and backgrounds with respect.
In addition, having already set integrity as a main focus, Mills listed five additional elements that will help guide the student athletes on their quest to become successful leaders at their high school and in all future endeavors.
He said that students must seek out, hang around with and ask questions of successful people; intertwine their lives with things they care about and tackle them with passion; embrace technology; think bigger than Bristol; and always be a creative entrepreneur.
After listening to Mills and talking with fellow students and BSHOF board members, BEHS student Nick Tenan added what his table of peers believed to be an important component to the list: being a team player.
“You can’t go out there and be selfish,” said Tenan. “Leaders need to be able to create opportunities for others, not just themselves.”
In the eyes of Mills, putting his suggested elements into play will help these youngsters bloom into leaders, but everything ultimately falls on their willingness to work hard.
He portrayed this through an African proverb.
“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It know that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death,” said Mills, adding that the proverb distills the work ethic of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in his mind.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better start running,” Mills said.