EAST HANOVER, NJ- Hanover Park’s Night of Excellence defined the term with speeches given by Super Bowl Champion, Steve Weatherford, Hanover Park’s own Nadine Siciliano, Whippany Park’s Fox Beyer and local favorite and motivational speaker, Eric LeGrand.
The program, brought together by the Hanover Park Regional School District and the Morris County Coalition for Education and Positive Choices, focused really on one question. What is excellence and how can we achieve it?
According to a story told by Hanover Park’s Dr. Andrea Vecchione, one of her teachers told her that only two percent of people achieve greatness and true excellence.
“He said to us, I know what you were thinking and wondering and saying,” Vecchione said, continuing her story. “You’re thinking to yourself, “Gosh that seems like a small number.” You were wondering, “How is it they are defining greatness?” And some of you were saying, probably two percent of you, “I want to be a part of that two percent.”
Throughout the stories told by the truly excellent individuals that came to Hanover Park that night, there was one common thread that wove them together as part of this two percent. Whether overcoming disease, injury, or external limitations, these individuals carried with them a will of iron and an ingrained and undeniable belief that they would shatter the limitations the world put on them. This night of excellence was a testament to the life changing power of perseverance, commitment, and tenacity.
The first to take the podium was Nadine Siciliano who teaches English at Hanover Park. Siciliano is a survivor of breast cancer. She overcame this illness, in no small part, due to her fierce determination and the sheer force of her will.
When you walk in to Siciliano’s classroom, you will be greeted by a poster that reads the famous quote, “failure in not an option.” Self-described as having a tenacious quality that refuses to back down, Siciliano portrayed this quote as “the spirit of action that resonated within me.”
Siciliano and her family met her illness head on. They met the surgery head on and the ensuing chemo treatments head on. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, but like one of her favorite quotes said, failure was not an option.
“Because of the size of the tumor and the involvement of the lymph nodes she (her doctor) stated I was stage three,” Siciliano said, giving us a snapshot of her strength of will. “I looked at her and said “No.” I could not change the past, but I refused to have that number attached to my name for the rest of my life. I said to her, “you need to change it.” Our brief time together was enough for her to see that I was quite serious and she did change it to stage 2B.”
Following Siciliano’s stirring narrative; Whippany Park’s Fox Beyer took to the stage. There are certain stories that can blindside you with their honesty and leave you in awe of the strength it can require to lead an ordinary life. Beyer’s story could have been one of these, but he did not settle for the ordinary. Instead, he reached out and touched glory.
Beyer has been a high school teacher for the last ten years and is a coach for the Summerset Patriots, an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball team. The Summerset Patriots are the most winning franchise in the Atlantic League with six titles under their belt, their titles in 2008, 2009 and 2015 under the coaching of Beyer. Beyer also coached the University of South Carolina baseball team when they won their national championship.
This is impressive by any means, but Beyer also has lived his extraordinary life with Cerebral Palsy. Beyer went on to tell the audience a story, a story of a day in his life. There is no way an article can do justice to Beyer’s story, who is not only a genius in baseball, but a poet, an author, and an engaging public speaker.
Every step he takes comes with memories of hospital trips, operations and hardships. Every step comes with the need for caution so he would not fall. Every step requires an act of will.
“I get out of my car and begin to walk to the entrance of Whippany High School,” Beyer said during his story. “I open the door for a couple of female colleagues and I am amazed at how many bags they are carrying, one pregnant and with eight bags on her arms. And here is little old me holding nothing. You see for me, walking without anything is a conscious act of will.”
Following Beyer’s touching address, was football icon Steve Weatherford. I was not sure what to expect from the former Giant and Super Bowl champion. The crowd went wild, which I did expect. What I perhaps did not, was to hear a story and a formula for success that was as deep and impactful as any I have heard.
Weatherford is the definition of a self-made man. His story started with him as a 14 year old boy weighing 108lbs and a dream of playing professional sports. Trying to wrap my head around the muscle bound Weatherford in front of me and the term “scrawny” in the same thought was more than a little difficult; so the fact that he was the skinniest kid in his school of 2,000 students blew my mind. I probably would have had the same reaction to his dream of being a pro athlete as his father, which at the time, was laughter.
“I never let the limitations that other people placed on me dictate my limitations,” Weatherford said. “For every single person sitting in this theater tonight, you are the only person that can limit what you are capable of.”
What was most impressive about Weatherford’s presentation was his formula for excellence. The first step was to have a dream and the self-belief to make that dream a reality. The second was to set goals for your life. A dream can seem as far away as two sides of the Grand Canyon. Having goals along the way makes the steps manageable and suddenly that dream is not so far away. The Third step of the formula was to make a detailed plan to achieve those goals and to work at it tirelessly.
“Being the hardest worker in the room won’t make you successful,” Weatherford went on to say. “It’s being the hardest worker in the room consistently, day after day after day.”
This was one of the most impressive pieces of Weatherford’s speech. The sheer amount of effort that he puts into everything he sets his mind to. Where 90% of people fall short of excellence is in the effort. Being interested in business, Weatherford made an excellent correlation to investments.
“When you make an investment, you hope to make a return on that investment,” Weatherford said. “The most precious commodity that every person has is their time. You will never get today back. If that is your most precious commodity, do you want to spend it or invest it?”
To cap off the evening, Eric LeGrand made his third visit to Hanover Park. Since last year, LeGrand and Hanover Park have fostered a special relationship. Through his unforgettable “promposal” last year and his visits to Hanover Park and Whippany Park, LeGrand has formed a close bond with the community.
Since this is the third time he has come to talk at Hanover Park, LeGrand took a different approach than he has in the past. The former Rutgers football player, turned inspiration and motivational speaker, brought us back to his time as a boy and some of the important life lessons his mother instilled in him when he was young. Chief among these was the importance of commitment.
“Growing up, I was always the biggest and fastest one on the field and I had fun doing it. But sometimes I didn’t want to go to practice,” LeGrand said. “I will never forget the day when I was nine years old and I was at the park with my friends. My mom told me it was time to go to practice and I told her I wasn’t going and I’d show up to the game on Saturday. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the car in front of my friends and put me in the back seat. In the car on the way home she talked to me about commitment and to commit myself to doing whatever it is I committed myself to do. That commitment really stuck with me.”
Stick with him it did. It was the early lessons of commitment that LeGrand drew from throughout his life. Whenever the going got hard, whether it was dropping 20lbs in three weeks to make weight for Pop Warner Youth Football or later on at Rutgers when then Coach Greg Schiano changed his position three times during his first year of collegiate football, he was able to push through with this strong spirit of commitment that was instilled by his mother. It was surely part of this spirit that helped this incredible young man continue to push forward with such grace after his injury.
These tales were inspiring and humbling to those gathered at Hanover Park’s Night of Excellence. The event helped to raise $6,000 for charities and showed off the spirit of the community. We look forward to see what the Hanover Park Regional School District and the Morris County Coalition for Education and Positive Choices can bring us in the future.