A Stones Throw 11-13-14

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Note: As I read last week’s Vevay Newspapers, I enjoyed reading about the first annual Pacer Varsity Club dinner that was held last Thursday. Among other things, there was to be an announcement “of the details in creating a Switzerland County Sports Hall of Fame.”

The combination of the Pacer Varsity Club and the potential Switzerland County Sports Hall of Fame got me thinking.

First, don’t forget Larry Ray. Larry is the first, and only, Switzerland County alumnus whose athletic skills took him all the way to play baseball in the Major League. Without question, he deserves to be the first inductee into the Switzerland County Sports Hall of Fame. And, along with his induction, his baseball number should be retired.

Recognition for the athletic accomplishments of Larry Ray are long overdue.

Second, I remembered the following ‘A Stones Throw’ – I wrote this nine years ago, but it is as relevant, if not more so, as it was when it was first written.

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The headline reads, “Switzerland County High School celebrates winter sports teams at athletic banquet”. Accompanying the article are pictures of 12 student/athlete girls and of 12 student/athlete boys who received awards for their athletic performance on the various winter sports teams.

Every week the Vevay Newspapers (as do all other newspapers in the country) devote one or more pages to place a spotlight on our local athletic stars. The Bigger the Star, the Greater the Accomplishment, the Brighter the Light.

And, the bright lights are not restricted to our student athletes. We devote full-page coverage to our Queen and King candidates. We start with “young prince and princess,” and go from there.

We know who the leading scorer was last week. We know who led the team to victory. We know who our Homecoming Queen and King candidates are. We know who won. The spotlight is bright.

But for how long? Several years ago, NBA star Dan Roundfield told a group of student athletes: “There are 300,000 boys playing high school basketball. Of these, 3,000 will get the opportunity to play college basketball. Of these, 30 will be drafted by the NBA. And of these, 3 might make it in the NBA. The chance of any of you (high school basketball players) ever making a living playing basketball is almost none”.

In other words, the lights are bound to go down sooner, not later.

But what happens after the lights go down? What happens when the athletic star in high school isn’t good enough to play in college? What happens when a beauty queen is just another woman in town? What happens when a young man or young woman who has received constant attention and adoration suddenly finds that attention and adoration are gone?

For most, it means only a change in direction. New horizons. New challenges. New successes. For others, it means finding ways to replace the natural highs the spotlight provided. The alternative might be alcohol, or drugs, or withdrawal from society.

Then, whether it is the need to survive, or the need to be recognized, drug dealing or other crimes can become the way of life. Others hit the depths of depression and want, or can find, no way out. In any event, our sports pages now carry daily articles concerning drugs, crimes and suicides of those whose lights have dimmed, or have been completely extinguished.

Just as important, almost by definition, for the spotlight to be turned onto some the spotlight must avoid many others. We know who the leading scorer was last week, but, how about those who never appear in the spotlight?

Are we sending a message that they are not as important as those who do? Or, are we challenging them to find their own “spotlight”?

How many of these young men and women do not try to meet their potential because they “don’t measure up” to those in the spotlight. How many act as though the lights have been turned out on their lives even though they were never turned on?

It is easy to condemn those who destroy themselves with drugs and crime. It is easy to not understand those who give up on themselves and sometimes on their lives. What is difficult is knowing how we can help those young men and women adjust to the lights going down, or never coming on in the first place.

And yet, who has the better chance to use his skills toward making a living – the young man who has learned to be an auto mechanic, the student who excels in math or in science, the student who works on the family farm or in the family business, or the student who scored the most points last week?

In some manner or other, we all face the issue of the lights going down. Only the brightness, and the timing change. Even those few who progress through life with the spotlight brightly lit must eventually see it dim. Even Barry Bonds, perhaps (steroids not withstanding) the greatest baseball player of our time said in a recent interview when asked about his potential retirement: “It’s hard, man, when baseball is all I’ve ever known and all I’ve ever done, to hit the switch and dim the lights a little bit”.

If it is hard for someone like Barry Bonds, who has had the spotlight for over 20 years, to even think about when the lights “dim a little bit”, how about those who have no choice in when the lights dim, or even more importantly, when the lights go off.

Maybe the answer is simple. Maybe we shouldn’t turn the lights on so brightly in the first place for some. Maybe we shouldn’t leave the lights off for others.

– Mike Cooney