Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.
The White House was not enough. Seeking perspective for his national champions, Boston College hockey coach Jerry York -- stealing a page from the 2007 Boston Red Sox -- arranged for a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center prior to his team's audience with President Bush last June. A veteran of the Rose Garden treatment (his 2001 club earned a trip there), York added a two-hour hospital tour to the trip's itinerary this time. "I told the guys you can't just visit Walter Reed," says York -- whose team defeated Notre Dame 4-1 in Denver's Pepsi Center for the title in April. "You gotta earn your trip in there."
For the past 14 years at his alma mater, York, a Watertown, Mass. native in his 37th season as a head coach, has been the New England area's quietest -- if not most consistent -- winner. Riding on long bus trips and playing to parochial crowds passionate about their pucks, he has embodied the best that college athletics has to offer: purity in winning and teaching. Professorial in his manner, reaching the Frozen Four has become as attached to his name as the sharpened pencil and open notepad he wields at each game. Now holding his third national title -- the first having come in 1984 while coach at Bowling Green -- the sunny York of Kelley Rink has reached eight of the last 11 Frozen Fours, five of which have ended in championship game appearances. What's more, he currently has 810 career victories to his name, a total that trails only former Michigan State coach Ron Mason (by 114).
Though the 2006 final ended with a shot off the post that would have sent the Eagles into overtime against Wisconsin, York's closest call came in June of 2005. During a routine visit, his physician, Dr. Stephen Ranere, noted an abnormal blood count and detected an early form of prostate cancer. Choosing surgery over radiation, York, a daily communicant who once considered a career as a guidance counselor, had his prostate removed the next month at Massachusetts General Hospital. Cancer has since left his system as well as his vocabulary.
It has been a parade of public appearances -- be it throwing out a pitch at Fenway before a Yankees-Sox game or taking a bow on the ice at a Bruins playoff match -- since his private struggle began. Not to be lost, though, are the teaching moments in the shadows of the glory. "The thing about the Walter Reed soldiers is that they all wanted to return to battle," York says. "They're no longer soldiers. They're warriors."
In that same vein, for his continued success and telling character, York is my Sportsman of the Year.