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A crazy commitment to excellence

An+interesting+motto+I+was+taught+as+a+kid+actually+involves+a+crazy+chicken+that+I+still+see+throughout+my+life+today.+%28Photo+by+fameimages.com%29
An interesting motto I was taught as a kid actually involves a crazy chicken that I still see throughout my life today. (Photo by fameimages.com)

El Pollo Loco means “The Crazy Chicken” and that sounds like a horrible code to live by, but it has a sentimental value to me and with some explanation might yield some inspiration to live by. As I approach graduation in a few weeks, and with some extra time for reflection, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve had the chance to look back and appreciate the good times and good friends that made my journey worthwhile.

One of my favorite memories and most transformative experiences, which truly sticks with me, is of my elementary and middle school soccer team. My best friends were on that team; it even included seven future Gonzaga Eagles, and my father coached it too. We had one drill in particular that we loved called “El Pollo Loco.” This drill was just plain old fun at the time, but now that I look back, it was all about commitment. How committed are you? How committed are you to what matters in life, to your teammates, to your family, to your faith? El Pollo Loco was all about a commitment to excellence, a crazy chicken level of commitment.

Seven Gonzaga Eagles were on the little league team. Some may be able to recognize/know some or all of them. (Top row, left to right- Alex Macey, Reid Norton, Will Thompson, Charlie Baisley. Botttom: left to right- Jon Macey, Sean Kearney, Christian Rotondo) (Photo by Averil Carroll).

The drill started with a story to whip us into a frenzy, and each time we heard it, we wanted that crazy chicken even more. My father would gather the team into a huddle and tell the story of the crazy chicken. He asked us to imagine we were in a strange far-off land and that our families were living in the wilderness and were starving. Each day, we are sent to look for food, and we repeatedly come home empty-handed. However, one day, when our families are really struggling and hungry, we look and see a chicken in the middle of a field. We immediately think of what heroes we would be to our families if we brought home dinner to save the day. However, once we start moving towards the chicken, we see another boy, our same age and equally as hungry on the other side of the field. It was at this point that he asks us, “How bad do you want it? How hard would you work to bring the last chicken on earth home to your starving family?”

While pondering this deep thought as such young kids, he would line us up facing away from the field, call out two names, blow the whistle and scream “El Pollo Loco,” while throwing the soccer ball far behind us. Once we heard the whistle, we would turn around, locate the flying soccer ball off in the distance, and fight to bring home the crazy chicken. The bouncing ball was the proverbial crazy chicken trying to get away from us. Whoever could go get the ball and bring it back to the line would win and feed his family. 

While this was just a simple drill, we enjoyed it so much and we grew more committed to each other. In fact, we brought home that chicken to our teammates and our family all season. For the next two years, we won 90% of our games and even won a championship while playing up a division against older boys.

Technically, El Pollo Loco is no code to live by, and the true Jesuit educated individual would probably give half of the crazy chicken to the other boy so that his family might eat, too. However, it was the right drill at the right time for our age. It wasn’t just a Lord of the Flies struggle for the ball; it was about learning commitment to something higher than ourselves. 

We carried an actual log with us to practice and games that had all of our names on it, and our team Principles of the Week, or POW. Each POW was a calling to be something better, and each week we had to take turns being the team captain, and explaining what the POW meant to us at practice. Our POWs were: preparation, endurance, commitment, aggressiveness, unselfishness, patience, decisiveness, courage, instinct, swagger, gratitude, and El Pollo Loco. I did not connect El Pollo Loco to the POWs back then, but I do now. We were committing ourselves to each other and to be better each and every week, as players, friends, sons, and humans. It developed, or engrained my unofficial motto: “committed to excellence,” which is a fancy way of saying “how bad do you want excellence, or do you want it El Pollo Loco bad?”

As I near graduation, I truly cherish the Gonzaga motto, “Men for others,” but I have also come to appreciate a new spin-off I’ve heard being used as “Men with others.” The spin on our age-old school motto infers that we are not in any way superior nor giving to others just because we have more. The motto simply means that we stand and fight with any and everyone we may come to stand beside in the course of our lives in the best way we know how. However, I believe it is still important to remember the meanings of both versions throughout our daily lives, bringing to mind and mixing the idea that our mission here on Earth is to be here for all of our brothers and sisters, which also means being with them in any way we can throughout the journey of life.

I am grateful for every fellow Eagle, our faculty and staff, and the experiences I’ve had. This includes the time I’ve been able at the McKenna Center, within the community, on our immersion trips, and daily service to stand for and with our fellow man. It is my hope that I will always be “a man for and with others” because it is what God wants and what I want. Thanks to special mottos like El Pollo Loco, I hope to leave Gonzaga and always live a life of action, even if that means consequence, forever committed to values such as the POWs of excellence. 

With my focus being fully committed to God I will, therefore, learn to live and love my life for and with others. In elementary school, the El Pollo Loco drill taught us to overcome the challenge of a bouncing ball and the other player. After graduation, with no more service hours and the freedoms of college, I expect that the challenge will be against ourselves. I hope we all remain as committed to our faith and Jesuit education, and when we need to find that extra level of commitment, I hope we kick it up to the El Pollo Loco gear.

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    Pam ValeirasMay 19, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Great article, Will! Well written. Love your “El Pollo Loco” commitment to excellence. No wonder you’re such a “good egg.” Keep writing!

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