Beyond the Build

Team Building

The Best Year is Comin’ Up…

I’d like to share a story I read from Vice-Chancellor John McCardell‘s address to the students and faculty of  Sewanee: The University of the South, given at the beginning of this school year. I think the legend of Willie Six has a lot of application for us, as we will shortly begin a new year.

Willie Six is a Sewanee legend. For 40 years he served as an athletic trainer. According to the University history, “he worked tirelessly to keep Sewanee men on the field, whether as stars or as scrubs.” Upon his retirement in 1947 this beloved figure was made an honorary member of the “S” society and received a varsity athletic letter. Willie Six Road memorializes his service to the University.

A reporter asked Willie, at the time of his retirement, what was the best year in Sewanee athletic history. This man, who had seen many great teams and many great moments answered without hesitation: “The best year? The best year is the one comin’ up.”

I like that a lot. Willie Six refused to look back, refused to live in the past. His comment neither denied nor demeaned that past. But that was the past. The best was yet to come. Willie Six, even in retirement, looked forward to the year “comin’ up.”

Maybe we should all do a little more thinking like this. The optimism certainly proved successful for Willie.

On another note, in 1899, the Sewanee football team went 12-0, beating the likes of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and my beloved Auburn University. Auburn, then coached by John Heisman, was the only team to score on Sewanee that season, and they still lost 10-11. Sewanee outscored their opponents 322-10 in this series, accomplishing 5 of these wins in only 6 days, traveling 2,500 miles by train.

To me, life is not supposed to be too easy. It should be a continual learning process, looking upon the past (with respect) and next year…the best year yet.



Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.