Such sports as cross country, swimming, wrestling, lacrosse, tennis are often referred to as minor sports. I feel they should not but often they are especially in a high school or even a college setting.
She was only eleven years old when a flyer, a handout was passed around her school in a study hall typing setting saying something about a cross-country run that coming week-end at a park near where she lived. She didn't even know what cross-country was.
For whatever reason she showed up that day, ran the race for three-quarters of a mile and won. She outran all the girls. She said "I wasn't no runner and certainly was no basketball or volleyball player, I wasn't much of an athlete lookin' person." From that first race the coach of the girls' track team ask her to join. This she did. She said, "I ran to avoid a lot of chaos in my life that was happening at the time at home."
The story goes on. In 1972 she had an excellent chance to make the U.S. Olympic only problem was the minimum age to make the Olympic team was fourteen and she was thirteen.She would go on to run in the Olympics. In 1982 she would set eleven world and U.S. running records. In 1984 she would win every race (twenty) in which she made it to the finals. She would go on to set the world's record for the mile with 4:16.71. In 1985 she set U.S. records in the 800, 1,000, 3,000,and 5,000. All this began because an eleven year old Mary Decker saw a flyer and was willing to show up on a Saturday morning at a park and try something she had never done before.
In the late 1960s' I was teaching and coaching at a junior high school in Indiana. One of the sports I was assigned to coach was cross-country. Now I had ran cross-country during my high school days. Any boy who grew up playing basketball in Indiana, well it would be taken for granted that they would run cross-country. I was just ok. Never won. Most of our meets would involved multiple schools with seventy-five to one hundred runners. I generally finished in the middle of the pack.
I remember my first call out for the cross country team I was coaching. Sickly, scrawny lookin' bunch was my first thought. In that group was a young boy I will just call him Danny. A nickname was given him by his classmates as Skinny. . Danny was a non-descript type kid. Very quite, came from a poor family. He had never done anything that would set him apart from anyone in that school. That all changed in one season. Danny became our best runner. In one of our early meets with over one hundred kids running at a school with a prestige's reputation,, Danny did the unthinkable. He finished in the top three. From that beginning season his whole life, image of himself began to change. I am convinced this sport, him doing something he had never done before shaped his personality and his life. It was a a thrill to watch that season unfold and who he became. (I would love to see him today and who he became.)
"I was a skinny kid, gangly, and not a popular cheerleader type or anything. I had my couple of friends. What I got out of that was I did something all my peers respected. It made me feel like I belonged more, as opposed to being this little outsider that was good at running."
Losing Isn't Everything--Curt Menefee
Recently I sat listening to a band in one of my favorite "libraries of culture." The band and the lead singer I had never seen. They and he were fantastic. About halfway thru their set the lead held up a mandolin saying that this was the first "gig" (musician term)) he had ever played this mandolin and he acknowledge that the mandolin maker was in the audience.He asked him to stand and be recognized. For some reason that sparked my interest. Who goes around makin' mandolins? When the band took a break I walked over to the one who had been pointed out as the mandolin maker.
From there we struck up a conversation. I judged him to have been in his late twenties maybe early thirties. I ask him how long it took to make that instrument. He said a bit over two hundred hours. Further I learned he had made twenty-six mandolins and he knew where everyone of them was. "Their kinda like your children," he said. I also learned he was originally from Michigan, had never been to Nashville before coming here and this was his profession, making instruments.
I ask him, "How in the world does one get interested in such an undertaking?" He told me that when he was a young kid he lived next door to a man who did repairs on instruments in his basement office. "He would ask me to come over and help and it just sparked my interest and so here I am today."
Lesson for all of us....encourage others to try the unknown.
Especially young people. Who knows there may be another Mary Decker, a mandolin maker from Michigan or even a Skinny Ellis.
April 10, 2017