Go to any high school gym on a Friday night, or to a football stadium in the chilling air in late October, and you’ll see — more likely, hear — from the group of kids who are just a little too loud.
And a little too far away from home.
You know who they are — the kids from the other school, the one playing your home team, who file into the gym in a pack of five, six or maybe even 10, there just root on their own team on the road for a fun-filled night of basketball, or whatever.
Well, OK, maybe not exactly.
More likely they are there to indeed root on their own team, but to wreak a little havoc as well. Give the refs the business, maybe even throw in a chant here and there. Enough to get themselves noticed, for sure.
Enough, on the best nights (at least if you were one of those kids), to get into some sort of a verbal give-and-take with a hometown fan or coach. Nothing that ever needed to come to blows, mind you, but enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Enough to make you know that you, or somebody with you, had better keep coming up with the next best line.
Of course, looking back, and looking on when you see it today, this isn’t exactly the kind of behavior we want our high-school-age lads and ladies to exhibit when they are miles and miles away from home at night. And of course, you can argue that these antics were a lot easier to get away with 15 years ago. Times have changed, certainly.
At the same time, it would’ve been a good idea to have some adult supervision in the event something ever got out of hand. And, you know, 16-to-18-year-old drivers aren’t really the best, no matter what they say or how many times they say it, especially at night and, most times, in the cold.
Thankfully, though, when I was going through this stage of super(idiot)fandom, I had that watchful eye over my buddies and me. And while it’s true we never really got out of line (OK, so some of the zebras might think otherwise, including the one who almost threw us out of the gym. This after he was the one missing call after call. I mean, come on, we were at fault for his inexplicable inability to consistently make the same bad calls? Please. OK, tangent over.), we always had a steady hand behind us.
That steady hand belonged to Harold Laney, my best friend Mike’s father.
Harold was a quiet man, but one who loved sports. He was also one who loved his son even more, so much that when Mike wanted to see a game his school was hitting the road to play in, and when a bunch of us kids wanted to go, too, Harold was more than happy to pile us into his car and drive us to and from the game.
Harold was the one who didn’t mind the constant stops at Bojangles restaurants along the way. And Harold was the one who knew when to settle us down, how to do it, and when to just let the kids have fun.
He knew how to get just about anywhere, and if he couldn’t, how to figure out the way there. He always knew the way home, and always got us there safely.
What Harold got out of these trips is hard to know. That’s because he was always the one giving, and never complained once. Maybe the extra time with his son was more than enough for him, but it was hardly ever one-on-one time with his boy. Still, he did it, and did it gladly.
Harold wasn’t just a father — he was a lifelong friend to Mike and his sister Jennifer. And the feeling was mutual, but by far more than just the two Laney kids.
Harold passed away on Friday after a long battle with diabetes and heart disease. Somehow, though, it seems fitting he would take off then. Maybe there’s a game somewhere.
This time, though, it’ll be a home game he’s traveling to.
And you can bet he knows the way.