Published: November 23, 2007
Nothing is off limits when it comes to getting prepared for big games.
Some rock out to sports anthems. Some bounce to the latest beats. Others find their own personal zone and concentrate.
But football players at Bishop McGuinness and Heritage Hall have found a new way: poetry. And there's one poem in particular they can recite line-for-line any time, any place: "If” by Rudyard Kipling.
Challenged by Oklahoma City attorney and former Oklahoma attorney general Mike Turpen to be more than just football stars, members of both squads have stepped up to the plate.
Irish players Ryan Randolph, Niki Bray and Patrick Turpen as well as cross country runner John Vater have joined forces with Heritage Hall's Ford Price, David Price and Turner Petersen to form a poetry group. Anchoring the group is McGuinness graduate and Oklahoma junior Jack Randolph.
While there is no tangible effect to each team's 12-0 start, Heritage Hall has adopted the final line of Robert Frost's poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” as the team motto: And miles to go before we sleep.
"Whether it's the (poetry) group or a game, there's no stopping or slowing down,” Petersen said. "We have a ways to go before we're where we want to be. But we're working our way there.”
Mike Turpen said Kipling's poem has inspired him throughout his entire life, especially during his political days.
He was looking for a way to inspire the next generation of kids and found the values instilled in "If” are applicable no matter where you are in life.
"This is just great stuff, from beginning to end,” Turpen said. "You would be surprised at just how much wisdom is found in those four verses.”
Turpen sent out the poem to various members of both schools and seven of the eight answered the call. It wasn't until later that Petersen joined the group.
"I thought it was a bold move to do something like this,” said Patrick Turpen, Mike's son. "We weren't sure what we were getting into.”
But the boys don't regret accepting Mike Turpen's challenge and look forward to the twice-a-semester meetings.
They gather at the Turpen house and recite the poem to the group. They discuss how the poem speaks to them, and that's where the real gems are found.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!”
— excerpt from "If”
The poem speaks to the Price cousins maybe more than anybody else. David Price was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. He had a tumor in his back that hemorrhaged into his spinal fluid.
"It was real tough,” Price said. "There were times when I really wanted to give up. But you read the poem, and the words are so strong.”
Mike Turpen's reward to the boys is $100 if they can recite the poem to him. It was that reward which led Ford Price to accepting the challenge, but it became much more than that.
Ford broke his ankle and gathered strength from Kipling's words.
"All the sudden, the money didn't mean that much to me,” Ford said. "But the power of the words stayed with me.”
Now in its second year, the boys are on their third poem. After conquering Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in The Arena,” next up is Frost's poem.
"I want to show that they can be anything they want to be,” Mike Turpen said. "You can blend athletics and academics — you don't need to limit yourself. They can be modern Renaissance men.”
Seeing how balanced and well-rounded the boys are, Petersen asked to join the group earlier this year.
"This is an honor,” Petersen, a junior wide receiver, said.
The results are reflected on the gridiron, the classroom and everywhere else.
"I was really nervous before the first couple of games,” Bray said. "But the poem helped me relax and kept me focused.”
Vater appreciated Roosevelt's speech so much he had it put on the back of the McGuinness cross country T-shirt this year.
"When it's game time, it's easy to focus on the task at hand,” Ryan Randolph said. "But the power of the words is at practice. Those days when you just don't feel like going out there, but you do. And you still give it your best.”
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
— excerpt from "If”
Mike Turpen said it's these two lines that have driven him when things are tough. It's the same lines that Bray said speaks to him the most.
"It's such a strong message but a tough one to follow,” Bray said. "Don't get too high after a win and don't get too low after a loss — know that everything happens for a reason.”
Mike Turpen said while he mentors the group, Jack Randolph has become the unquestioned leader. He's the one the boys look up to, Turpen said.
"There's something special and pure about having something down to memory like this,” Jack Randolph said. "Not too long ago, I used the poem to help me study for a quiz. It can be used in ways that you just don't expect.”
And the boys have been tested at this. While at a Hornets game at the Ford Center, a stranger asked Bray if he was one of the boys in the poetry club. When Bray responded yes, the stranger asked for lines from the poem. With no hesitation, Bray recited the lines flawlessly.
Ford Price has used the poem for strength during a job interview.
But no one has a more unusual story than Ryan Randolph. While in traffic court for a seat belt infraction, the judge said he would waive the fine if Randolph could recite Kipling's poem.
Randolph started to when the judge told Ryan to turn around and say the poem to the audience.
"After something like that, practicing against Midwest City is nothing in comparison,” Randolph said.
Said Mike Turpen: "It's not just words — it's a life philosophy. These are not just boys – this is a brotherhood.”