I wasn’t a good athlete.
I can say that with more clarity and less shame than at any other time in my life. Fact is, while I played sports growing up, I was just another kid playing games. Looking back on it, it’s difficult to see whether I was ever the best player on any of the parks and rec teams I played on.
Then again, maybe there were a few. Parks and rec hoops around 11 years old sounds viable, as does parks and rec baseball around that time. Still, even in those leagues, once all-star season rolled around, I wasn’t the starting shortstop or point guard. No, I was moved to left field or third string.
And let’s face it, none of those all-star teams ever played that much deeper into the summer months.
That’s pretty much where my athletic prowess, such that it was, ends. Sure, I made a few high school teams, but by that point, I was far into the “practices are my games” role. I ended up being the guy rooting for blowouts – one way or the other. Up by 25 with 3 minutes to go gets me into a game.
So does down by 25.
That was my athletic life.
That doesn’t mean my love for sports and its players ever waned. Actually, as I played fewer games and worked out even less, I learned more. I knew from an early point I wanted to write for a living, as far back as seventh grade when myself and a couple of other kids started a middle school “newspaper.” As far as I know, I’m still the only student in Pinecrest High School history to have been on “The Patriot” staff for more than two years.
And so sportswriting seemed like a natural fit for me. And it has been. Would I like to make more money or earn more prestige? Absolutely. But I have a creative outlet through which to share my passion. There shouldn’t be any complaints.
I’ve lived this profession in small towns for small daily newspapers and now at a small Division-II university. And I’ve done it long enough at those stops to become something of a community’s resident sports expert. That community could be in the literal sense as the sports editor for the county’s newspaper, but more often the community is whom you are associated with. Family. Friends. Church. Organization. Et cetera.
Naturally, this column is coming off all about me. My wife would have expected nothing less. That wasn’t the intent when I sat down at the laptop, but for me to work through my recent stream of consciousness, this seems to be the right way to go about things.
I’m a Sports Guy. That’s what I’ve become. There is no take it or leave it. Only take it.
And so when my wife and I found out we were having a baby more than eight years ago, it struck me that, being the Resident Sports Guy, would my child be expected to be something of a star? And if he or she wasn’t, would that reflect poorly on him or her? Honestly, I can say I didn’t care then how I felt it might reflect on me, even with small towns being what they are. But as someone who’s always struggled with worrying about what somebody else thought, I didn’t want our child to feel that kind of unneeded and unwarranted pressure.
And so when it came time for Allison to try her hands (her feet, actually, it turned out, since she played soccer) at athletics, I didn’t push very hard. I’ve seen That Guy, and I can tell you, the Sports Guy was NEVER going to be That Guy. While I wanted Allison to do well, I wanted it for her, and not anyone else.
She did her best, and she went through all the practices and played the games and tried. But it was clear that this wasn’t for her. And so when she wanted to stop after three seasons, my wife and I knew that was enough for us to hear.
Now cheerleading? Allison was good at that. It appeals to her meticulous nature, and whether she realizes it now or not, a sneaky innate ability to lead by example. But she’s not cheerleading this winter.
Because, I think, she’s found her perfect niche.
With no sense of fear, Allison has virtually signed herself up to sing wherever people might be collected to listen to her. She started by singing the National Anthem at the Lee Regional Fair when she was 6, leading to a series of anthem performances. She’s cute, she sings a capella, and, again, there’s no hint of fear or nerves.
Looking back over the last couple of years, though, I believe it’s the confidence she’s earned from those early chances to sing in front of strangers that has led to everything she’s done since. She’s sung at school, at the fair, at Southern Lee basketball and softball games — anywhere that will have her.
But for a couple of summers, she’s been waiting patiently for her chance to perform at Sanford’s Temple Theatre in the summer youth conservatory. Having finally turned 8, she was eligible this summer, and immediately dove into the production of “Alice in Wonderland.” She scored a major part, “Small Alice,” and lived up to it.
But it was outside of the theatre that showed us all the way. She came home with two new nicknames – “LA,” either for “Little Alice” or “Little Allison,” depending on the context; and the ironic “Gangsta,” which has stuck more than “LA.”
She couldn’t wait to go to day-long practices. She couldn’t sleep at night, talking into the late hours about her day, about her castmates’ days, about her director, about everything.
And for the first since I’ve known her, she was nervous.
Following the conservatory, Allison auditioned for the role of “Tiny Tim” in the Temple’s annual playing of “A Christmas Carol.” She scored a callback, then was awarded the part, which includes singing a solo.
Again, Allison has bought in. She races to practices, recounts their events in great detail later, and still can’t sleep at night.
And now, as the first shows approach, she’s admitted again that she’s nervous, that she will feel butterflies as the curtain goes up this weekend.
To me, that’s everything. Everything. Her nervousness means she cares. She doesn’t want to let anyone down, her director, her castmates, her friends or her parents. But most of all, she doesn’t want to let herself down.
Allison wants this. She’s passionate. She’s in her place.
What she’s found is something she can be proud of – for herself, and no one else. This is her thing, and she knows it. Mommy never did this, and Daddy sure as hell didn’t.
Yet she goes on – on her own.
It’s not on a field. It’s not on a court. It’s in a darkened theatre in the radiant glow of the never-shy spotlight.
She’s right where she wants to be. And that’s all her mom and dad can ever ask for.
God bless her. Every bit of her.