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By Staff | Oct 17, 2018

To me, a recent e-mail I received following the publication of the 25 greatest area athletes was the visual equivalent of fingernails raking across a blackboard.

It was from a mother who wanted to explain why her son didn’t make the list. She wanted me to grant her an interview, so she could present me with facts and stats to uphold her case. She said his teams didn’t get enough coverage when he played in local high school sports.

That reminded me of what I once heard a sports writer tell a father who called to complain that his son, a high school athlete, wasn’t getting enough ink. The writer said if that’s why your son was in high school sports, he was in them for the wrong reasons.

For sports writers, it’s common for parents to call up and complain that their kids aren’t given enough press. They don’t seem to understand that the sports department’s staff of two has to cover about seven high schools with about 12 sports each. Plus many other high school events and local activities.

When I played high school sports, I would have curled up and died of embarrassment if my parents had made such calls to our local paper. That was in the 1960s, and girls’ and women’s sports were just coming into their own.

Girls didn’t get into sports for the glory of it, because there was no glory to speak of. They could usually count on one hand the number of spectators at their games. It was much more prestigious to be a cheerleader or majorette than a softball, volleyball, or basketball player. They were happy as clams if the local newspaper printed anything more than a line score of the game.

But looking back, I’m not sure it was a bad time to be a female athlete. Sure, there were some big egos. But the pressure they put on themselves was small potatoes compared to pressures parents and others put on high school athletes – male and female – today.

As a nation, we mostly justify the emphasis on sports in school by saying it teaches teamwork, dedication and good sportsmanship. When I hear of parents counting the number of times their kids get mentioned in the newspaper, I begin to wonder.

If the parents don’t keep the lofty ideals in mind, it’s unrealistic to expect kids to do so.

After failing to make an all-star team a few years back, I heard a boy’s father complaining quite bitterly. The boy turned to his dad and responded, “Who is going to remember those names in a month?”

He was right. When I think back on my high school sports days, what I recall is the smell of Ben Gay and sweat on the bus rides that were noisy with hollering and laughter. I remember the adrenaline rush of winning and the sting of losing. I remember the incomparable feeling of hitting a jump shot. Nothing else mattered, making an All-Star team was the farthest thing from my mind.

I learned early on to play for the love of the game and not for glory. It happened when one of our regular players was benched for breaking the team rules. He was later removed from the team. I was given his uniform.

That was my reward. That was my glory. I was a late-season sophomore varsity player. I was a younger player replacing a veteran. Never once got my name in the paper.

There’s been many like that. They set records; they made great plays and many All-Star teams, yet there was always some Hall of Fame, some All-Conference team – a time when they were not considered the best.

I have always said Muhammed Ali was the best boxer ever. Prior to him was Joe Lewis, Rocky Marcianno, and then along came Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. There were lots more like George Foreman and Joe Frazier. How can you be positive about the best?

I was listening to XM Radio the other day, and they have narrowed the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list down to 20. I thought I knew a lot about music, but several of the names and groups I know nothing about. I can’t name a song they sang or wrote. I don’t agree on many that are already members.

Some of the football greats I don’t agree on, and the baseball hall of fame has left out many of the greatest. I believe the OVAC Hall of Fame has forgotten many of the area’s greatest. It’s for sure many have been left out because of lack of exposure.

After talking to the lady by phone for nearly an hour, she came to realize her son was probably one of the best. However, he did not receive the recognition he deserved while in school. That could be the result of many factors – lack of stats from the school, lack of press, lack of recognition from his coach, or playing on losing teams. There are multiple reasons people don’t receive their just due.

One thing for sure – I didn’t ever want my mother complaining, even if I had never made the team. That is one of the biggest problems in society today. Parents cannot accept the fact that someone else may be better than their child. Parents should stand by their kids at every angle, but they will never win every award and make every All-Star team.

I heard a story of a baseball player who was a sophomore catcher on his high school team; he was in a batting slump, and the coach benched him for a few games, with a better hitter. The benched player never complained and always cheered the team on. After a few games, the coach started him again, and he played the rest of the season – eventually winning the most valuable player award.

Someone asked his father why he hadn’t made more of a fuss. They said, “Aren’t you proud of him?”

“Of course I’m proud of him; I’m always proud of him,” the father said. “But I was more proud of those games he sat out and never complained, never sour-graped about it.” That tribute never made the paper either.

Stand by your kids, your family members, and always be proud of them. They won’t always make every all-star team or hall-of-fame, but you can always be proud of them. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com