“Great One”

Prior to boarding my flight to Toronto for the K880 Cities Emerging Champions Conference I stumbled upon a documentary on Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretskey; the player affectionately known as the “Great One”. While playing on the Edmonton Oilers, one of the most talented hockey teams ever assembled, Gretsky won five championships in seven years as he played with an unprecedented collection of Hall of Fame players. One of the coolest things about sports are the amazing nicknames that follow the most talented and decorated players. When you’re known as the Doctor, MJ, Mr. Clutch, or Mr. October, you become synonymous with your sport; to the extent that grandparents and mothers make children of all ages happy by purchasing popular players’ jerseys as holiday or birthday presents. Plus, it’s easier to sneak in a game on television when your significant other knows the star player by his name.

Like all community development professionals, I spend my days trying mightily to do great things for my community as I implement innovative projects that help Philadelphia emerge from the middle of the pack. We all envision spurring the local economy in this new global economy along the way. Piece of cake? Right!

With the help of the Knight Foundation, 8 80 Cities was able to bring together a collection of egoless 19-35 year olds who just so happen to have championship level skill sets in place making, business, art, medicine, and community engagement.

Great teams consistently possess two things: (1) a group of players that complete one another and are willing to take criticism from each other and (2) a front office that is patient, engaged, and gives its players the latitude to illustrate the talent that initially made them attractive. Four days of lectures, workshops, group discussions, activities, and meals displayed that a high level of talent had been gathered for sure. It was even more encouraging that 8 80 Cities and the Knight Foundation showed a commitment to answering tough questions, asking even tougher questions, and offering their time even after we checked out of our swanky downtown Toronto hotels.

Gretsky was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Kings. He played in another championship, in a larger media market, popularized hockey in the western portion of the US, and was compensated extremely well. However, as the documentary came to a close Gretsky explained that he never realized just how much practicing daily against other great players who just so happened to be his teammates made him better. Made him great.

Sports are one of the few things in life that combines community organizing (fans), various styles (races and cultures), and equitable development (salary cap). Being a sports fan has made life in the community development field a smidge easier.

One of the greatest sports nickname ever is the “Great One”. It even has the “greatest” in its name if you wanted to debate its status.  “Emerging Champion” has a similar ring to it. Now the pressure rests on the inaugural group of K880 Fellows, Knight Foundation Program Managers, and 880 Cities staff to produce. Luckily, for them and the community development field, they happen to form a great team. Game on!

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