Doing the right thing

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 2:00pm

Local resident Steve Wilk has been metal detecting on Block Island for years, exploring the beaches, coves, fields, and marshes. Sometimes he finds valuable things. Sometimes he finds cool things. This summer he found a cool and valuable thing hidden in the sand.

Wilk was out early on the morning after VJ Day, metal detecting with his friend Dave Bannon down on the beach at Ballard’s. Affectionately called White Trash Monday by many locals, VJ Day always draws a crowd when the weather is nice, as it was this year.
And where there’s a crowd, there’s things left behind; besides the usual trash and mess, there are sometimes treasures left behind, buried in the sand.
Wilk told The Times it only took about ten minutes of combing the beach with his metal detector before the beeping alerted him to something in the sand.
“I reached down into the sand, and my finger slipped right into the ring,” Wilk said. He brushed the sand away to reveal a 1998 NCAA Championship ring. Wilk could see the name Whipple on the side of the ring, along with the letters HC. Enlisting the help of attorney Jim O’Neil, he set out to find the owner of the ring.

Mark Whipple is now the offensive coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. He has had a long and storied career in the college and professional ranks, with head coaching jobs at Brown University, University of New Haven and University of Massachusetts. While at U-Mass, Whipple coached the Minutemen to the NCAA I-AA championship in 1998 in his first season on the job.

Whipple has also coached at the professional level, as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. While with the Steelers in 2005, Whipple coached quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a Super Bowl Championship, the youngest quarterback to lead his team to win the Lombardi Trophy.
So, what was a Super Bowl winning coach, and NCAA champion coach, doing at Ballard’s on White Trash Monday? Inquiring minds want to know.

It turns out that Whipple wasn’t there at all; his ring was stolen from his home in 2018. Lucky for him, the ring thieves, or the purchasers of the stolen ring, came to Ballard’s and lost the ring in the sand.
And of course, Whipple is lucky that Wilk is the one who found it.
College championship rings can only be worth $415 per NCAA guidelines, as that is the limit for a “gift” to a student athlete. Jostens, the company that makes the rings, uses cubic zirconium and colored stones to adorn them, but the actual value remains at $415 or below.
Of course, as a piece of memorabilia precious to diehard fans, a championship ring could potentially fetch much more. And most people would have explored those options under the time-honored system of Finders-Keepers.

But Wilk isn’t most people.
“Would it have looked good in the open spot in my display box?” Wilk asks rhetorically, before continuing: “Yeah, it would have. But it means more to him than it does to me.”

Wilk contacted Whipple, who was overjoyed to get the ring back after assuming it was gone for good. As a thank you, he sent Wilk a reward, along with some Pitt apparel and paraphernalia, and an offer for Wilk to come see a game, anytime.

“It’s pretty cool,” Wilk said of the gratitude and thanks from Whipple. And he’s more than happy with his decision to return the ring. “It feels good. It was the right thing to do.”