By Rick Fromm
By Rick Fromm

    It’s a subject that’s been bouncing around in my head for quite a while, and I can’t keep my thoughts bottled up anymore. I know my cynicism might offend some ultra-loyalists, but that’s OK. It won’t be the first time.

Could someone please explain to me what “the Decorah way” actually means? A rather ambiguous expression to say the least, and one that’s been -- and remains -- a puzzlement to me.

I heard it uttered for the first time a few years ago from a Decorah High School coach who was trying to come to grips with a tough loss his team had just endured. “We didn’t win because we didn’t do it the Decorah way,” he said. “If we’re going to be successful on a consistent basis, then we have to do things the Decorah way.”

Since that initial encounter with the phrase, I’ve heard it used countless times by our local educators as they reflect on the performance of their students. It’s been tossed about by music teachers, speech and drama coaches and so on and so forth, but it’s used most often in reference to Decorah High School athletics. It’s been used so often it’s borderline cliché at this point, and it seems to become more popular with each passing year. 

Is that a good thing? I’m not sure because … again … I don’t know how to accurately interpret “the Decorah way.” Does it mean winning? Do the Viking teams and their coaches actually believe victory only comes when they do things the Decorah way? And what is that way, anyway?

If a kid gets a base hit to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, does that mean he or she did it the Decorah way? Conversely, if the player in question strikes out instead of knocking one out of the park, does that mean he didn’t do it the Decorah way? That’s nonsense.

To me it seems to break down this way: If the team wins, they did it the Decorah way. If they lose, then it’s obvious they didn’t do it the Decorah way. Say what? It’s a silly, and rather arrogant, way to look at things. To declare that winning is the Decorah way and losing is not is a rather pompous attitude, and seems to belittle the opposition.

After all, when Charles City beats Decorah is that because they did it the Charles City way? I’m sure the teams from New Hampton and Cresco like to think they did it their way whenever they chalk up another victory.

Does the sentiment imply that if things are done the Decorah way, victory will undoubtedly ensue … like it’s a given? A sure thing? Translation: Just play the game the Decorah way, and the gold medal will become yours. Poppycock.

There’s a truism in all of sports that goes something like this: Some gotta win and some gotta lose. Put another way: If you’re going to compete, then sometimes you’re going to lose … and it has nothing to do with failing to do things the Decorah way. It has everything to do with playing to your potential and keeping the other team at bay. The Decorah way has nothing to do with it … nothing.

But perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong. While I’m thinking the Decorah way is a synonym for victory, perhaps it’s not that at all. Maybe it’s an expression that means we played with integrity and pride, demonstrated true sportsmanship and conducted ourselves in a respectful manner to the officials and the other team -- or opponent. And that’s a good thing. 

If that’s the case, then doing things “the Decorah way” is admirable and serves as a fine representation of our school district and community. But if it’s a way to insecurely rationalize why we lost and the other team won, then it’s time we drop it. Associating the Decorah way with victory is ludicrous … if not downright dumb … and makes us look rather conceited.

Decorah is a remarkable school district and the entire community should be proud of its many accomplishments and accolades. To assume, however, that Decorah is so much better than all other school districts in everything it does is folly and so egotistical it’s embarrassing. No question, we’re a great school district, but we should not make the mistake of strutting around like we’re better than all the rest, because we’re not.

I can remember a conversation I had with an out-of-towner recently, and we talked about myriad subjects, including the school district and high school sports. One comment from him really stuck with me: “If I hear one more time about ‘the Decorah way,’ I’m going to hurl. Decorah needs to get over itself, for God’s sake. It’s a good school system, but it’s not the only system.”

Well said. It’s time for “the Decorah way” to go away.