The Westborough High School golf team made history last fall after winning the Massachusetts state championship, but not because they played a better golf game. It’s what happened after they had the first-place trophy in hand that really got people’s attention.
Coach Greg Rota and his team were in the midst of celebrating their win, posing for photographs, hoisting the trophy triumphantly, when he discovered something on a score card that didn’t quite add up.
After further investigation, Rota determined that a score at the 18th hole had been recorded incorrectly. The error meant that the Woburn High School team, not Westborough’s, had won the state title. Problem was, the dejected Woburn team was already on the bus headed home, missing the celebration that was really theirs.
Rota could have ignored the error and said nothing, but he didn’t. “No one would have known,” said Woburn’s coach, Bob Doran.
Winning a state title was not as important to Rota as being honorable and honest. Woburn’s team “worked just as hard as we did,” he said. “It belonged to them. It wasn’t ours to take.”
“That would be Greg Rota,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. “Hockey coach. Golf coach. Gym coach. True sportsman.”
“The team was disappointed like anyone would be,” Rota told a Westborough High newspaper reporter, “but everyone knew it was the right thing to do. We finished where we should have, and we gave it to the team that deserved it.”
Despite personally receiving extensive local and even national media coverage, Rota said: “This is more a reflection of the town, and the sportsmanship we promote here at the high school, than on me. It’s our team’s sportsmanship that is really being promoted here.”
In a further act of sportsmanship, Rota and others representing Westborough’s golf team went to Woburn High School to present the first place trophy to the team in front of the entire student body. “We felt bad,” Rota said, “but that gave them a chance to celebrate like we did.”
Woburn’s senior captain Rob Pruyne admitted to reporters that seeing the Westborough team initially celebrate their win “kind of got to me.” When Pruyne learned it was the other team’s coach who had reported the costly mistake, he “couldn’t believe it. … It takes a lot of courage to do something like that.”
Courage and wisdom go hand in hand. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do, but quite another to do it. Just ask Coach Rota.
Better yet, ask members of Westborough and Woburn golf teams, who earned a trophy of a lesson they’ll never forget.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.