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DII honorees share how sports impacted their lives

By Brian Hendrickson

Brian Kilmeade learned more from what he thought was his failure as a student-athlete than from any of his successes. But he realized it only as he started pursuing a career that led him to become a host of the Fox News Channel’s morning broadcast.

Kilmeade admits to being an average soccer athlete for Long Island University/LIU Post, though a hard-working competitor who was hungry for success and often pushed his teammates to further dedicate themselves. Competition meant everything to him, and it was painful when his opportunities to get on the soccer field dwindled as his career came to a close. It wasn’t the picture of athletic stardom he had imagined.

But as his athletics career closed, the lessons he’d picked up started paying forward. The discipline he’d developed and hunger for success drove Kilmeade to improve his game as a broadcasting student. He took classes to develop his speech delivery and presence on camera, and shored up his weaker skills. Today, he is a published author and co-host of the Fox & Friends morning show.

“I took the same lessons I learned in soccer, where I ‘failed,’ and said it’s not going to happen again (as a broadcaster),” Kilmeade said. “When people said, ‘Brian, you’re going to be a member of the all-40 team,’ you don’t understand.

You brought it full circle, for me to be able to tap into my soccer roots, talk about myself as a player, and talk about success in my professional life.”

Kilmeade relayed the story on Friday during Division II’s General Session at the NCAA Convention, where he and two other members of the division’s 40th Anniversary Team — Houston Astros principal owner Jim Crane and NBA referee Violet Palmer — shared similar stories about how athletics made a difference in their success in life before a crowd of Division II delegates and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members.

Crane, who played baseball at the University of Central Missouri and still holds the Division II baseball championships record with 18 strikeouts in a game, went on to become the majority shareholder of Champion Energy, Crane Worldwide Logistics and Crane Freight. He is now the principal owner and chairman of the Houston Astros.

But Crane learned lessons as a student-athlete that he only realized later that he was using repeatedly as a successful businessman. He appreciated through athletics the value of learning from his mistakes and reacting to them quickly. He learned to listen effectively, to never ask an employee to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and the power of thanking someone for their work – something Crane said is routine in sports, but not in other areas of life.

“Leaders are created when they’re young,” Crane said. “Early success breeds confidence, and confidence breeds great leaders. So I’m sure we have many great leaders in the room here.”

Palmer became one of those leaders when she broke the gender barrier for referees in 1997. A two-time women’s basketball national champion at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Palmer was inspired by her Hall of Fame coach, Darlene May, who pushed her to succeed.

So when the NBA opened the door for her to train in its officiating program, Palmer barged through it. In 1997, she became the first woman to officiate a
regular-season game in any major professional sport, and is still an NBA referee today.

It was an opportunity Palmer said she once thought was impossible. But athletics gave her the confidence to defy those perceived barriers.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” she told the SAAC members. “All you have to do is believe it and have the confidence in yourself, the dedication, the hard work. Because that’s what I can honestly say Cal Poly gave me.”