Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 1, 2012

Learn to be part of something important that has purpose and meaning

Just about everything in life humbles me, but I was absolutely shocked when I opened the “2012 Bluefield College Football Guide” and saw my face among the sports guys on page 14. In my mind, I suspected it was only because BC had a vacant slot for a fourth print media guy. But in my heart, I felt unworthy like the fictional Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar when they met Alice Cooper (played by Vincent Furnier) in the first “Wayne’s World.”

Since I am listed as a “columnist” in the BC football program, I better start columnizing. In that respect, I would advise everyone of the Rams players to keep playing football for as long as they can just like I did. I was OK. As a high school senior, I was invited to visit the Washington & Jefferson College campus in Washington, Pa., along with several other football prospects. W&J offered me scholarship assistance, and after I split my kneecap in half, they were still willing to honor the scholarship if I chose to attend college there.

During the summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at a large farm owned by a Pittsburgh-area steel mill owner who hired college-bound students for summer work to help them earn tuition. That was my third year of working at the farm. One kid there was attending Penn State, another was at Bethany College and two kids were attending West Virginia University. I saw an article in the WVU student newspaper that summer that caught my attention, stuck in my mind and prompted me to go to WVU. I realized then that it was somewhere that, perhaps, I could make a difference.

I was a slow, under-sized lineman in high school, but I wasn’t afraid of playing against bigger, stronger, faster and smarter kids. When I got hurt, my life was at a crossroads. It wasn’t like the crossroads that Rod Thorn talked about last Sunday when he was in Princeton. Prior to that moment, I thought I would be able to keep playing football and baseball until I got tired of either one or both of them. With a knee that was so loose that I would never regain enough strength to push off with my right leg, my athletic competitive life was over. Everyone faces crossroads-style decisions daily. Some carry more weight than others.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” First Corinthians: Chapter 13; verse 11. When I knew that I couldn’t play, I went in search of the path that would lead me to my life’s work. I took an active role in taking the steps that would bring me to where I am today, although I had no idea that this would be where I was headed. The more I learned, the less I knew, until I accepted the fact that I only needed to know one thing.

“For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known.” Verse 12.

As a college freshman, I tried to study football tendencies. Like any fan, I thought I knew the game, but in truth, I knew very little. It wasn’t until I started trying to chart football games to write stories in a newspaper that I really understood football. When a sports reporter is the only person keeping real-time statistics at a game, there are a lot of things to observe. Covering a high school football game can be a real mental workout. Sports writing isn’t something the casual fan can appreciate.

Finally, it all made sense ... the wasps floating around the bare-bulb lights in rickety high school press boxes ... the chill of sweat-soaked practice jerseys ... the roar of every 12th-man crowd when anything good happens ... all came into focus. I realized that a writer could join with fans, band members, coaches, players and everyone else and be part of something that is far more complex than the sum of all of its parts.

For a team sport that depends on many components, football is introspective and personal. Each person involved has to remain vigilant, because, as all true fans know, people can influence a line judge to make a false start of a neutral zone infraction call. A stadium full of fans who know the game always helps the home team. Everybody has a role to play.

So my advice to the Rams is to play on and get as much out of the experience as you can. Through the years, I have been honored to sit in the Mitchell Stadium pressbox and cover a few games, but I can only dream of what it must feel like to perform on that singular stage. Play on. Learn to be part of something that has purpose and meaning in ways that may take decades or longer for you to appreciate. Kick, pass, tackle, cheer, block, run and play on. Play until you find the path that you can take you to a place where you can make a difference. Then smile when you see your picture in a program where it has no earthly reason to appear. Game on.

 

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