TEST YOUR SKILLS

Athletics and philanthropy combine at The D10 finale in Houston

Athletes compete in 10 events. Photo courtesy of The D10

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

While we're well over a year away from the 2020 Olympic Games, Houstonians have an opportunity to feel that same inspiring buzz that comes from watching a professional live sporting competition.

On Saturday, November 3, the grand finale of The D10 national tour is taking place at Rice University. At the all-day event, amateur athletes compete in events that are common at the NFL Scouting Combine, in Olympic track and field, and on the playground, from a 400-meter run to pull-ups to a 20-yard shuttle.

All for a good cause
The best part? These athletes aren't just competing for pride, although there's certainly plenty of that. They are making a huge philanthropic impact. The D10 aligns with the premier pediatric cancer institutions in North America — in Houston, funds raised benefit The University of Texas MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital — and D10 registrants earn their spot on the playing field by meeting The D10's fundraising requirements.

Since its inception, The D10 has raised nearly $12 million for pediatric cancer research. About half the donations D10 athletes collect come in the form of "performance-based pledges," which can double or decrease depending on how well an athlete performs in a given event.

"Performance-based pledges rewrite the contract between the athlete and their donors," says D10 founder Dave Maloney. "It's a pledge by the competitor that he or she is training purposefully toward a specific goal. When you have an extra $1,000 for MD Anderson riding on each rep of the bench press, you can feel the electricity of that performance throughout the stadium."

"Festival-like atmosphere"
The D10's philanthropic component does more than check a box, according to Maloney. It creates the sense of common purpose that characterizes amateur team athletics. That unique blend of camaraderie and athleticism makes for a pretty special competition, a day that's full of a festival-like atmosphere. The D10's Game Day experience features a fully stocked beer garden by Saint Arnold Brewing Company, a kids play pavilion furnished by event sponsor Cheniere Energy, and complimentary fruit, snacks, and juices for all spectators.

"Our athletes represent many of Houston's leading firms in energy and legal and financial services," Maloney says. "As professionals, they expect the highest level of execution, and we hold ourselves to that standard in our production. As athletes, we want them to regard The D10 as their Super Bowl."

Cheer on the big day
For those who can't make the event on November 3, don't worry — the entire event will be broadcast on The D10's own streaming platform, called NORMA.

"We built NORMA because our athletes have supporters and donors all over the world," says Maloney. "It's a way for those people to be engaged with what's going on on the field."

On the day of the event, the software allows viewers to search and follow the athletes they want to watch, and receive phone notifications when it's each athlete's turn to compete. Viewers can also browse among more than a dozen camera angles to direct their own viewing experience, or make real-time donations to any athlete on the field. 

For details on competing or attending, head to The D10's Houston website.

The D10's livestream picks up the morning of the event on November 3.

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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