Throughout most of our lives we had people who I call “unsung heroes.” They did things along the way that defined our lives. Those who impacted my life may be similar to those who had an impact on yours. The names may be different, but people just like them were in your life.
It all started with my dad. Very easily he could have spent time with his buddies and friends, but chose to put time in with me and sports. I hear all the time that people have natural talent, but without having a passion for it, it will only take you so far.
He passed to me on the basketball court, I wore his hand out with a baseball glove and most importantly he made sure I got the chance to play. That meant miles and miles of driving and putting me first instead of himself. We learned by watching and we learned technique by doing. You have to play to get better and play we did.
We had a neighborhood where sports were first. Guys such as Mike Blake, Trevis Phillips, Doug Francis and Phil Morris wore out paths in the yards and had to find new ball diamonds whenever the vacant lots we used got a new house put on them.
Basketball started at 7 a.m. and quit when it was too dark to see ... not once in a while but just about every day. We were like most kids and also had dirt clod fights and rode our bikes, but there was always a ball glove or a football or basketball tied on them. Our parents saved for our equipment and sometimes we repaired it or did without for a while.
We also fished and dragged our dads to creeks and ponds. I don’t remember catching much, but the experiences were the best. Harold’s Pond was a mud puddle we fished, but we spent more time on that pond fishing, throwing rocks and catching varmints than imaginable.
Dew worms and small frogs and grasshoppers were bait and Humps Gas Station, a stone’s throw from the pond, was always a candy bar and a bottle of pop.
As I got more into sports, coaches played a huge role into wanting to be more competitive. Normal Mites football was where Don Reynolds instilled drive into me to always to better. He was one heck of a football coach, but was a better friend and had a smile that lit up a room. Many of my friends today came from those days.
We played sports and then we hunted and fished. It's just what we did.
In junior high, Wayne Patkunas taught us how to play the game right and in my opinion was the best basketball man I had ever been around. He believed in sports, but wanted us to play all sports and not specialize as kids do today.
He felt other sports made us better and humbled us, too. Until his death this past year, we still spoke a lot, but most talks were about fishing Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake. He took his time to make sure kids had the chance to enjoy the outdoors and went with us on trips to the boundary waters and Table Rock Lake.
In high school, two coaches who stood out to me were Tom Cooper and Bart Williams. Cooper was our basketball coach and could be a wily sort, but found a 5-foot-7 dribbler had a place on the varsity starting as a sophomore. I learned more about X’s and O’s from him and he was light years ahead of his time.
Bart was and still is a baseball nut. I only got to play one year for him as a center fielder, but we still talk baseball. My junior year I blew out my elbow and it took me a while to break into the starting lineup my senior year, but that senior year gave me a chance to play in college.
He also was ahead of his time and knew more about hitting than any coach. Baseball was family and he is still a friend.
Fishing caught on the tournament side later as I still wanted to stay competitive and loved spending time on the water. Just like today, I lived tournament fishing and was inspired not only by the Mackinaw Bassmasters, but also with a move to Florida.
There I learned more about techniques and the mental aspects from locals such as Shaw Grigsby, Bernie Schultz and Peter Thilverous, who now are veteran pros.
Some may say I am lucky, but honestly it isn’t as much about me anymore. It’s about seeing youngsters, young men and women gain the same passion for the outdoors I have. Coaches instilled my passion and it’s up to me to give mine back.
The outdoors is a special place where dreams can be realized. It’s a big puzzle and the pieces were given to me along the way by unsung heroes and mentors.