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Friday, February 24, 2012

Introducing "The Shinola Awards"

If you couldn't tell good from bad... had no common sense at all... or were as dumb as a box of rocks, people used to say, "You don't know s**t from Shinola (a popular, high quality shoe polish back when people actually polished their shoes)." Dolly Parton even wrote a song, "You don't know love from Shinola," for her 2008 Backwoods Barbie album.

Shinola was the colloquial standard for 'good' when contrasted with 'bad.'

It is in this humble context then, that I have chosen to honor those often unsung individuals who deserve a "Shinola" because, by their actions or attitude, they stand above the crowd and make us all feel good.

The honor of sharing the first ever "Shinola" award (which is appropriate because it is all about sharing) goes to Californian Rick Ruzzamenti and an unnamed desk attendant at the yoga studio he used.  The attendant told Ruzzamenti that she had just donated her kidney to an ailing friend she had bumped into at a store.  That sounded so noble that he, in an impulsive moment, decided to donate one of his kidneys to a stranger.

And because of his donation (according to the New York Times excellence in telling the story) an extensive chain of swaps for the best donor-recipient matches within the National Kidney Registry of those awaiting a life-saving kidney transplants, was begun. In the end, over four months of lockstep cooperation and innovations in computer matching, surgical technique and organ shipping, 30 healthy kidneys were matched with 30 desperately needy recipients among 17 hospitals in 11 states. This was the largest "play it forward" kidney swap ever accomplished, and demonstrated the potential for kidney exchanges to transform the field.

I have had one friend die for lack of a kidney and another, blessedly receive that gift of life just recently. What makes these donations more impressive is that one doesn't have to die to pull it off.

I am a registered organ donor. And you?

This "Shinola" carries the name Rob Nuggent, but is also shared.  Here's the story as capsuled in a letter from the Gettysburg Athletic Director to the Washington College President and Athletic Director:

On behalf of the Gettysburg College community, I want to write and thank you for creating an atmosphere of outstanding sportsmanship at Washington College. On Saturday, your men’s basketball coach, Rob Nugent, along with his coaching staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.

Cory Weissman, a senior player at Gettysburg, suffered a life-threatening stroke while weight training during the off-season of his freshman year. Cory worked daily to rejoin the basketball team after the stroke left him paralyzed on one side of his body. He hadn’t played a minute since the stroke, as he still struggles to run. 

Because we were celebrating Senior Day on Saturday, our coaches arranged to have Cory start, and after the tip he would resume his spot on the bench. Rob gladly agreed to this request and the game proceeded as planned. The most exceptional point in this story came in the closing minute of play.

The outcome of the game was determined, so our coach reinserted Cory into the game.  Upon noticing this, Rob called a timeout. He must have instructed his players to let Cory get the ball and then intentionally foul him so he might have a chance to score a point.

According to our coach, this was not scripted, but instead Rob’s idea.

The gymnasium was packed with Gettysburg fans as we were also celebrating the 2011 women’s lacrosse team winning the national title with a ring and banner ceremony at the conclusion of the basketball game. Cory went to the line and proceeded to miss the first free throw. Amazingly, he made the second and will graduate in May having scored a single point in his collegiate basketball career – thanks to Coach Nugent and the WC basketball program. 

I cannot tell you the number of people that have told me how impressed they were with how Coach Nugent and the WC team handled themselves. I might also mention that during the senior recognition at the beginning of the game, the entire WC contingent gave Cory a standing ovation and during player introductions, Coach Nugent gave him a hug.

I have never been more proud to be associated with the Centennial Conference and Division III of the NCAA. I am still in awe of what I witnessed on Saturday and wanted you to know the details.”

Sometimes it is hard to single out just one hero where you know there are many... but it all starts somewhere... sometimes in the most subtle of scenarios, and often is unknown or unobserved except in the hearts of a few.


  1. What an amazing story about the kidney donations. I hadn't heard about that.

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