Not even a month since his return from Rwanda, the site of the 30th FIBA Afrobasket tournament, Blair’s very own Associate Dean of College Counseling and boys’ varsity basketball coach Joe Mantegna had a lot to share about his recent trip. To watch his full presentation, click below:
Once a recruit of Mr. Mantegna’s, Luol Deng ’03 appointed his former teacher to serve as assistant head coach for the South Sudan Basketball Federation Men’s National Team while also asking fellow teammate and Mantegna recruit, Royal Ivey ’00, to serve as head coach.
“Luol and Royal recently hired me to help them, and they were my first two recruits to Blair! Life has now come full circle and I am serving them, so that is pretty cool,” said Mr. Mantegna in preparation for his Society of Skeptics speech.
For the evening discussion, Mr. Mantegna, who posts an impressive 396-145 career record as head varsity coach, spotlighted the history of South Sudan and how they came to independence. He then focused on the ability of sports to unify and bind culture, even in a young and divided country like South Sudan. He also shared with the Blair community the highlights of his recent Rwandan trip with Luol’s and Royal’s involvement.
“I think South Sudan’s performance in Afrobasket really showed the power of sport. When we beat Uganda and Kenya, which are both nations bordering South Sudan, there was literal dancing in the streets of Juba. For hours after those wins, there was a lot of pride in South Sudan, and they didn’t care which tribe the guy came from, they just knew that South Sudan had beaten Uganda and Kenya,” said Mr. Mantegna. “I think there’s real power in that. People underestimate the power in that, especially in such a divided, polarized country.”
A revered coach and mentor to so many students around the world, Mr. Mantegna did not fail to bring the community together once more, this time, back at home in Blairstown, New Jersey.
“For South Sudan and many teams, playing the game of basketball means being part of something bigger than yourself. As part of the Blair team, it means getting to be a part of the brotherhood. With this tournament, you kind of feel like you have the hopes, dreams and aspirations of your entire country hanging in the balance. To be a part of uplifting a country—it goes beyond wins and losses,” said Mr. Mantegna.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for students, Mr. Mantegna believed, is a lesson in humility. “There’s always somebody, even in the face of a world pandemic, that has it worse than you. There’s an African proverb that says ‘The man with no shoes is sad until he meets the man with no feet.’ There’s always great perspective in seeing what the struggles of other people are and being reminded of that.”
History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.