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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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These local stories can inspire athletes who sit the bench

Dear high school athlete:
If you’ve made it through summer workouts and two-a-days and all you have to show for it is a spot on the bench and indifference from the coach, these personal stories may inspire you to work harder even if your parents and peers tell you that you are wasting your time.


Overcoming lack of size
He grew up watching the old American Football League, now the AFC conference in the NFL. The AFL was a pass receiver’s dream. It featured wide-open, high-scoring offenses. Unfortunately, this young man, who dreamed of catching footballs, attended the largest high school in Ohio at a time when Woody Hayes and his four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense was the standard. Besides, he only weighed 127 pounds. By his junior year, he weighed 137 and played on the junior varsity team. By his senior year, after a summer with the weights and a grueling conditioning program called “Happy Hour,” he weighed 147 and was ready to compete with more than 100 young men.

By the end of two-a-days he had won a spot one coach called “the lonesome end,” a position named after a famous end at Army who split away from the line during the days of the t-formation. By the first game, however, the coach, who was a disciple of Woody Hayes, had moved him back to tight end where he started the first five games of the season. There was no reason to pass when the three starting backs were good enough to go on to play football at Illinois, Ohio University and Harvard. The team went 8-1-1 and won a share of the league title.

Looking back on it some 40 years later, the man doesn’t remember the games he sat the bench or the games he started. What he does remember is learning how to deal with intimidation and how to move much bigger men by utilizing the techniques he learned. What has stayed with him is the confidence he gained through training and meeting physical challenges.
 

Overcoming humiliation
He had lettered in soccer as a freshman, suffered through a personality conflict with his coach as a sophomore and saw his playing time diminished. He didn’t play as a junior due to a surgery to repair a hernia. He was the last player to make the cut as a senior, picked behind some freshmen. Humiliated, he was destined to spend his senior year on the bench. Then, in the preseason varsity-alumni game, the team’s all-league sweeper broke his leg. Eventually, he worked his way into the starting line-up. By the end of the season, he had set the school record for steals and intercepts, made honorable mention all-league and all-district and played in the Northwest Ohio Senior Bowl.


Overcoming self-perception
She had been a defensive player since she was a little girl playing on the boys’ travel team. She lettered three years at her high school, but lost playing time as a senior, in part, because the coach had a surplus of defenders and saw in her the potential to add some needed offense. She rebelled, unable to see in herself what her coach saw in her. She finally acquiesced to the transition halfway through the season. Maybe, she came to the realization that playing offense was better than sitting on the bench. In her last eight games, she scored 13 goals, four in the Northwest Ohio Division II All-Star Game and she was named honorable mention all-league.

Sometimes, the coach does know more than the player, and most of the time, the coach does know more than the parent.


Honing your skills
He was among the many high school and college students who came from as far away as Maine to try out for the Toledo Cherokees Junior B hockey team. He didn’t make the cut, but he didn’t quit. He went to Detroit and honed his skills in the Little Caesar’s Travel League. Many nights, at age 17, he drove there alone for an evening practice arriving back home after midnight. He juggled a brutal travel schedule with school, school sports and work. He played year-round to keep his edge.

He made the Cherokees the next year, played in 42 games, scored 36 points and the game winner in overtime in a play-off game in Peoria, Illinois.

These athletes are your neighbors. If you talked to any of them they would tell you to stay with the sport that feeds your passion. They would tell you that the present doesn’t foretell the future. They would tell you that the value derived from sport is found in the struggle, in the testing of your will and your mental toughness. It is found in overcoming the challenges you face in the weight room and the lonely miles running to build your stamina. They would tell you that you have an advantage in practice because you are hungry and the player in front of you may be complacent. And, they would tell you not to let a friend or parent determine your future by suggesting your time is better spent elsewhere. It’s your time and one day you’ll look back on how you spent it. Don’t you owe it to yourself to try to create the memory you want to see in the future?

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