Inside the Hash Marks: Handling Loss
Dartmouth long snapper Josh Greene ’23 reflects on Dartmouth’s loss to Yale and the death of longtime equipment manager Steve Ward.
Dartmouth long snapper Josh Greene ’23 will be sharing his experience playing for the Big Green, covering topics such as the team’s preparation following COVID-19, the academic-sports-life balance required of an athlete at an Ivy League school and other musings on his experience in Hanover. This installment reflects on the team’s loss to Yale University, dropping its record to 1-3, as well as the recent death of the team’s longtime equipment manager Steve Ward.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. If you recall any of my writing from last season, you may remember how I like to use sports clichés and apply them to our team. Last year I was able to spin most of the clichés in a positive light. This season has been a little tougher. Although our record sits at 1-3, anyone who has watched our games knows how close we are to being undefeated. That’s what makes defeat so agonizing — how oh-so-close it is to victory.
I’m writing this on our bus ride home from Yale following our loss on Saturday. It was tough to sit on the bumpy ride home from New Haven and come to grips with losing an extremely hard-fought game by just three points after back-to-back overtime losses. To sulk would be misplaced, and it would be erroneous to look back and ask “what if?” simply because I firmly believe that we are a good team that is narrowly coming out on the wrong side of things. Every game has to have a winner and a loser. We are very close to playing winning football, and I know we will put it together soon.
That silent bus ride is a difficult one to get through: You sense the disappointment that comes with losing. But life is full of losses. The losses where you feel so close to victory that you can practically touch it feel even more real than, say, a blowout defeat — but when it actually comes down to it, the losses on the field feel a lot less tangible when you deal with life’s real losses.
This past week, the Dartmouth football family lost much more than just a game. Our longtime equipment manager, Steve Ward, passed away after a valiant battle with a harsh illness. Steve was a constant in all of our lives. For over two decades, the program quite literally could not have run without Steve making sure our cleats were fitted, our helmets donned four stripes and our gray game pants were as clean and beautiful as the granite of New Hampshire. The average spectator might not notice Steve at Memorial Field on gameday, but the players and coaches felt his presence daily.
On an Instagram post honoring Steve following his passing, my former teammate and former all-Ivy center, Evan Hecimovich ’21, wrote that Steve might not have always given us what we wanted, but he always gave us what we needed. I cannot think of a more accurate description of Steve’s impact on all of us than that. We’ve all had our “Steve moment” — in which Steve may have ripped into us more than we thought was warranted at the time. Looking back on it, we needed that lesson.
I remember my moment as vividly as I remember snapping a ball in the Yale Bowl just hours ago: Steve had given me, along with the rest of the freshman specialists, capes to wear during our final home game versus Cornell in 2019. It was a bitter, cold day, and I know that we were very thankful to have the extra layer generously provided by Steve. The one caveat in the whole deal was that Steve strictly instructed us to return the capes to him and no one else. I’m sure that we all thought the instructions were simple enough, and we wrapped ourselves up.
Everything was going well until one of Steve’s assistants walked by us on the sidelines and offered to take the capes in for us following the game. We all must have assumed that Steve sent his assistant to collect the capes, so we naively handed them over. Bad move. The next day, Steve gave us the business about not following his instructions. In that moment, we all thought Steve was overreacting. The capes made it back to the equipment room safe and sound, so what was the issue? Unfortunately, it has taken me all this time to realize that Steve, a former Marine, probably orchestrated this entire ordeal to teach us a lesson. To follow instructions? Probably. To pay attention to details? Definitely. Regardless, this berating was not what freshmen Josh Greene, Cameron Baller, Ryan Bloch and Zach Drescher wanted in their lives, but it was something we needed.
As Steve taught us, the little things are important. Right now, there are a few detailskeeping us from achieving our goals every Saturday — but these losses on the field seem tiny when weighed against the loss of a mentor. I now look back on all the times Steve yelled at me for misplacing an unimportant, miscellaneous item with fondness. I wish that I had the opportunity to tell him how important those moments were to me — how much the back-and-forth ribbing about the ups and downs of the Boston Red Sox (Steve’s favorite team) meant to me.
After a tough loss on the field, we can look back and seek to make adjustments to change the outcome the next time around. With a loss of a life, though, we have to savor even the mistakes of the past. I know that Steve wouldn’t want us to mope over a loss to Yale, so we can’t feel defeated after losing Steve, either. We need to remember the good times and use them to move forward and improve. I know we are close to turning things around as a team on the field, and, perhaps, using the lessons that Steve taught us will help us do so. I’m dedicating the rest of my season to Steve Ward: there weren’t any like him, and there never will be. Go Big Green.