10/04/2010 – On September 24, AQ alumnus Steve Pupel '88 was given the 2010 Jack Kelly Fair Play Award at the U.S. Olympic Assembly in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The prestigious award is in recognition of his sportsmanship in the 76th Annual Michigan Closed Table Tennis Championships held in April 2010.
Pupel, defending his state title, had just won his semifinal match when officials were told that Dennis Cobb, Jr., a 16-year-old junior player, had
incorrectly recorded his results. Due to this error, the wrong player had reached the quarterfinals. Officials determined that the previous results would stand since players had already advanced to the finals.
Pupel knew the young player had made an honest mistake and wanted to give Cobb another chance. He offered Cobb the opportunity to replay the quarterfinal, which the teen won. Cobb went on to defeat Pupel in the semifinal, ultimately winning the championship. Pupel was satisfied with the outcome, but Tournament Director Mike Veillette felt he deserved special recognition. This led to Veillette’s nomination of Pupel for the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award.
The Jack Kelly Fair Play Award was established after its namesake’s passing in 1985. Jack Kelly, an Olympic bronze medalist for single scull rowing in 1956, was a past president of the United States Olympic Committee. According to the organization, the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award is given to an athlete or coach to commemorate exemplary sportsmanship. Past winners of the honor include Lance Armstrong, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michele Akers, Erin Mirabella, and Laura Kraut.
While playing one of the top players at the Grand Rapids Table Tennis Club, Mark Gillard, Pupel learned a great deal about sportsmanship. Gillard conceded a contentious point which led up to Pupel winning the match. “Mark was a gracious as ever, never showed any frustration, and taught me a lot about sportsmanship, says Pupel.
Having majored in mathematics, computers, and economics, the 1988 AQ graduate is also familiar with hard work. Sister Ann Mason in particular helped Pupel to see his potential. “She was a great instructor. She was very tough, but she was patient and fair if you worked hard.”
This work ethic continued well beyond Pupel’s time at Aquinas. Pupel decided to play table tennis at club level eight years ago, having enjoyed playing the game with his two older brothers in his youth. He spends hours in his basement, playing table tennis against a robot capable of shooting balls at 70 miles per hour.
Pupel recalls another instance in which he learned to overcome adversity. During his freshman year at Aquinas, fellow students told Pupel he wouldn’t be able to succeed in his second semester of calculus. These statements didn’t discourage Pupel, but instead motivated him to prove his peers wrong. He ended up earning an A, as well as the knowledge that “if you set your mind to something and work hard, you can achieve anything."
As Steve Pupel accepted the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award from Kelly’s wife, Sandra, he not only demonstrated his belief that hard work leads to success, but that sportsmanship and moral integrity do not go unrewarded. The Aquinas community can benefit from these lessons both in and out of the athletic sphere.
By Allison Ferguson '11