Ken Pollitz: When going gets tough, winners never quit

By Ken Pollitz - Guest Column

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach, the late Vince Lombardi, is credited with first uttering this memorable adage. Another proverb exists that has been attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy. Over time, both sayings have been emblazoned upon locker rooms across the country. Nowadays they are posted endlessly around the internet, from Pinterest walls to Facebook pages.

It’s hard to imagine anyone taking issue with either of these inspiring platitudes. Certainly there are other worthy offerings, but these two seem to have stood the test of time and are quickly quoted by many.

Among the only moderately competitive, these thoughts can generate marvelously measurable results. Suffer any sort of paralyzing setback, and as a consequence embrace these determined expressions, and positive possibilities await.

Earlier this week, I and millions of others were captivated by the NCAA March Madness as it again bled into April. In the men’s version of this annual craziness, it was the Virginia Cavaliers who took home the coveted trophy, requiring an extra session of overtime to hold off the determined and impassioned Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Beyond all the hype such a championship matchup naturally brings, the most penetrating intrigue had to do with the unprecedented. Last year, as many recall, those same Cavaliers made tragic history as victims of a vastly premature and demoralizing exit from the tournament, losing to the 16th seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the opening round.

Cut to a scene from “The Lion King” and the aromatic Pumba, the warthog, repines, “Oh, the shame.” He wailed on, “Thought of changin’ my name.” Then he painfully confessed, “and I got downhearted.”

No simpleton song of a problem-free philosophy could resurrect the Virginia squad from such depths. The inevitability of a downward spiral for this formidable basketball program was foreboding, even oppressive. Immensely humiliated in such defeat, how could they possibly be resuscitated and reinvigorated to overcome?

In my own picayune world, I had reached my own peculiar pinnacle of performance. With eight years of piano lessons to my credit, I too was finally seeded first, or in this case, set to be the last to perform at the annual spring recital held in the high school choral room, replete with a pedestaled bust of Beethoven himself. Upwards of 15 minutes of memorized classical music was to be performed arising from tongue-twisting composers the likes of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Chopin. The attending audience of the extended family members of each student surely could hardly wait my magnum opus.

Donning my non-absorbing polyester sport coat, pants and tie to match, I awaited taking the spotlight seated before the imposing Steinway grand piano. There would be no place to dry my increasingly clammy hands while poised to take my turn at “tickling the ivories.” My anxiety was raging inside. My trepidation was heightened and exacerbated due to my strong aversion to diligent practice. When crunch time arrived, I was forced to feverishly both learn and memorize most of the music in just about one week.

Then it happened. Somewhere in my second piece of music, about 10 minutes into my performance, I lost my place and came to a dead “sit-still.” The silence was suffocating, even nauseating. Sweat dripped from my petrified fingers as I held them aloft of the now silent keyboard. Frantically, in my mind, I paged back to a place I could still remember and awkwardly started again. Oh, the shame! I wished I could change my name! Embarrassment had reached a new low.

An agreement has been previously made that I could put the dust cover on the 88 keys after this “virtuoso” performance and retire, but my mother saw fit to postpone those plans. Another year would be in the making with a “grand” opportunity for piano recital redemption. No quit was allowed, and as far as my mom was concerned, she didn’t care it that ended up being tough for me to do!

She could easily have quoted a gridiron coach and a father of a former president. The intent would have been the same as it would have been for the reigning 2019 NCAA men’s basketball champions.

The utterance of the NFL football coach insisting, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” could have fit the bill for either occasion. The U.S. president’s father mandating, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” would certainly have resonated, too.

Courageously and eventually, redemptively, the Cavaliers did not quit on themselves, and though such games we play can cruelly dish out torturously tough times, they were resolved to get going on scripting a very different future compared with their past, namely a national championship.

For what it’s worthy, a year later, I too found absolution. The only pause or rest in my lengthy musical performance was when the composition actually called for it. How sweet it is!

By Ken Pollitz

Guest Column

Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at

Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at

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