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Lawmakers Say Sports Shaped Their Political Careers

Five state lawmakers — all former college athletes — gathered at the University of Texas at Austin to talk about the parallels between athletics and governing and the lessons they learned from high school and college sports.

Students at North Forney High School work through football practice on the first day of school in Forney, Texas, in August...

Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican state senator and former collegiate golfer at Texas Christian University, said that when she was a kid she used to practice hitting golf balls until her hands bled. Then she would ask her parents to put bandages on her hands so she could keep hitting golf balls. 

Kolkhorst joined four other state lawmakers — all former college athletes — Monday evening to talk about the parallels between athletics and governing and the lessons they learned from playing high school and college sports.

“I would not be a state senator today had I not been an athlete all my life,” said Kolkhorst, who lives in Brenham.

She was joined by state Sen. Royce West, a former football player at the University of Texas at Arlington; state Rep. Rick Miller, who played baseball for the Naval Academy and the 1968 U.S. Olympic Exhibition Team in Mexico; state Rep. Travis Clardy, a former basketball player at Abilene Christian University; and state Rep. John Kuempel, who walked on the University of Texas at Austin football team.

West, a Dallas Democrat, said the lessons he learned playing football in junior high school “propelled me to do the things I do today.”

He recalled trying to fire up his teammates one game when they were losing by 25 points.

“I never say quit,” West said. “I try to continue moving forward until I get the job done.” 

Clardy, a Republican from Nacogdoches, said the most important thing in sports and government is hanging onto the “love of the game.”

“Somewhere along the way, you kind of lose the love of the game,” Clardy said. “I think that’s something we probably all struggle with at some point in the Legislature. We wanted to be here, we love to be here, we’re passionate about being here, but at some point, it becomes a job.” 

The event was hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation. The center was founded in December to teach young athletes how to succeed off the field, with a focus on character development and financial responsibility.

UT President Bill Powers also spoke at the event. 

“Sports and leadership have a connection at a very deep level,” Powers said.

The panel also discussed the role of ethics in sports — like the virtue of the recent signing by the Dallas Cowboys of Greg Hardy, who was charged last year with domestic abuse — and whether or not college athletes should be paid.

Kuempel, whose high school football team went 3-37 during his four years on varsity, said the teamwork, discipline and ability to take a hit that he learned playing football came in handy in the Legislature.

“You learn how to stand side by side with somebody,” said Kuempel, a Seguin Republican. “You learn how to play your tails off.”

“I think what sports taught me was to never give up, but more importantly, to prepare," Kolkhorst said. "The harder you work, the better you become. In a special election, I got outspent by over a million dollars. It was my work ethic — I worked harder than all four other opponents. I worked harder than the guy that wrote checks. That’s what sports brought to me.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Arlington are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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