by Joe Maury, PCA-Tampa Bay Resident Intern
When Luke Whitmore and Walker Thomas began their race for the Cross Country State Finals, they were rivals. By the time the race ended, they were part of something much bigger than a single competition. In the last 250 meters, Whitmore, a runner from Plant City High School, made one split-second decision that sent waves throughout the Tampa Bay sports world. During the meet in Tallahassee, he decided to help rival runner Thomas of Plant High School finish the race at the expense of his own time and placement.
When Whitmore saw that Thomas was unable to continue, Whitmore's character, combined with what he learned in PCA-Tampa Bay workshops, kicked in and inspired the selfless act covered in this series of videos from Fox13 News.
“When I saw him trying to get up and falling, I thought, ‘I’ve had the same exact thing happen to me,’ and decided that I needed to help,” recalled Whitmore. “There wasn’t much time to think about it in that instant, but it’s definitely a special and cool moment for both of us. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary but people love sportsmanship.”
PCA-Tampa Bay refers to these stories as “Mallory Moments”, referring to the viral story of Mallory Holtman from Central Washington’s Softball team. Holtman voluntarily helped an opposing player with a torn ACL finish her home run in an important conference game in 2008. This display of sportsmanship exemplifies PCA's message in how to “Honor the Game,” which is taught in PCA-Tampa Bay's workshops and Leadership Development Program, where Whitmore is one of 100 student-athletes whom Plant City Athletic Director Tim Leesberg selected to participate.
“I related the situation to what I had heard in the workshops,” Whitmore said. “Things like putting others before and above yourself. I love the workshops!”
Thomas, has had time to reflect on the events that transpired during the race. “I first thought to myself ‘Who would stop to pick me up?’ ” Thomas said. “It was amazing Luke would stop and help even though he wasn’t on my team. I think people noticed our story because they look and see so many bad things on the news, even in sports. This was a completely new experience for me. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Leesberg raves about all of his student-athletes, and when asked specifically of Luke’s actions, he speaks even more effusively: “This is what we need to see more athletes doing. To know where Luke was in the race, the last 250 meters, knowing that your body is drained, it’s remarkable that he made the decision to help another athlete. It truly is amazing.”
PCA-Tampa Bay Trainer Tod Creneti has conducted workshops at five schools, including Plant City High, and remarked: “In the character-development session we last facilitated at Plant City High School and four other Hillsborough County public high schools, we have stressed the need for athletes to recognize that their sport is larger than they are and that opportunities often arise to honor the game by doing something some people might consider unthinkable, like surrendering 100 places at a state cross country meet to assist a season-long rival. Luke was raised to understand this concept and demonstrated, by his actions, that he understands how much more there is to sport than winning.”
In the end, Thomas hopes that this moment can impact other athletes, saying, “I would like to see other runners learn from this. And even in other sports, this should be expected.”
Whitmore concurs. “I hope it helps other athletes to do the same thing. It would be great to see more stories like this. Stories of people putting their teammates and opponents above themselves.”
Much is known about the problems facing youth sports in America today. Moments like this remind us how competition can bring out the best in student-athletes and further our resolve to make youth sports culture look more like this.