I believe in the Mustangs. For four years, I played soccer for the Mustangs of Madeira High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. The soccer team is coached by Jon Unger, an unlikely choice for head coach at a small, public high school. Coach Unger holds both undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, and most men and women with his educational background flock to the offices of prestigious law firms and corporations in New York and Washington, on a seemingly predestined path. And if that had been Coach Unger’s dream, that’s where he would have ended up.
But Coach Unger had a different dream—a dream that remained unfulfilled from his own days as a varsity high school athlete. Coach Unger had a dream to win a soccer state championship. Shortly after his graduation from law school, Coach Unger took a job teaching pre-calculus and coaching varsity soccer at Madeira. A cluttered desk and a tattered playing field replaced the promise of a leather swivel chair and health club membership. Coach Unger immediately dedicated himself to enriching the lives of his students and instilling his dream in his players. In 2000, his fourth year as coach, the Mustangs reached the state final four before falling to the eventual runner-up. I watched that game from the bench, a freshman on the varsity team. It was the closest our school had ever come to a soccer state championship.
That loss turned out to be valuable. Many young players just like me watched the game from the sidelines, and the dream of a state championship became an obsession. As underclassmen, we dedicated ourselves to winning a title, working relentlessly toward the goal. From pick-up games in the park during the off-season to an exhausting conditioning program, from giving up candy and soda during the season to a visualization routine before every game, we did everything possible to prepare to win a state championship.
On a cold, clear November day in 2002, my teammates and I took the field with Coach Unger to play for the state title, and more importantly, to play for a dream. After a grueling 100 minutes of soccer and penalty kick shoot-out, the Mustangs came out on top and were crowned state champions with a perfect 23-0 record. Coach Unger’s dream, which had become the dream of the entire team, was at last a reality. I vividly remember crying with unrestrained joy as I embraced my teammates, and finally my coach, after we clinched the title. For more than a year, I had put all of my heart into winning a championship. It was the first time I experienced the exhilaration of a dream fulfilled.
Coach Unger taught me the importance of pursuing dreams, no matter what stage of my life. He certainly made sacrifices when he came to Madeira High School from Harvard, but he accomplished something that eludes most men and women. I believe that the pursuit of a dream, even a farfetched dream, is what makes life fulfilling. And for that, I believe in the Mustangs.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.