Note: This is Part 1 of a series devoted to recognizing those who have helped me in my athletics journey
In 1859, Frederick Douglass, a pioneer in the abolition of slavery, delivered a famous lecture touting the concept of the self-made man. This was not a foreign concept in America at the time. A number of our country’s founders had also championed the notion of self-reliance and rugged individualism. Men such as Benjamin Franklin, who came from a poor upbringing, noted his hard work and solid moral foundation as the keys to his success.
If anyone had room to boast about his achievement as a self-made man, it was Frederick Douglass. As a man born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, he escaped in 1837. He became a great orator and through his writing and speeches slowly began to change the attitudes of slaveholders. Yes indeed, Douglass proved African-Americans did have the intellect to function on their own in this country, despite the doubts of many at the time.
Douglass believed if a man be ambitious enough they would climb the latter of status regardless of circumstance. Upon reflection, prior to delivering his remarks, he is quoted as saying “Properly speaking, there are in the world no such men as self-made men.” After all, someone taught him to read at age twelve, which by the way it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. He was able to escape slavery through the assistance of a free black woman from Baltimore, who he later married and moved to the free state of Massachusetts.
As is was with Douglass, so it is with you and I. We are not self-made men. While writing a previous column about 16 year old Tom Hanscom, I saw many parallels between Tom and where I was at his age. In sharing a bit of my life story with Tom in preparing to write his story, it caused be to pause and reflect on the many people who invested in me during those years. So many saw something in me that at the time I didn’t see in myself. I’m sure if you go back through life, you will recall those who influenced you in a special way or opened doors for you as well.
As a general rule, our parents are our primary influences as we grow into adulthood, and even beyond. I was no exception as I am blessed with two wonderful parents who have helped guide me along the way. While they were instrumental for helping to shape me as the person I’ve become, others played a major role as to what it is I do.
For the better part of my adolescence and into my adult years, athletics have woven a major thread through my life. It wasn’t always that way. Growing up I was not in the least bit athletic. Sure, I’d play some pick-up ball on the playground, knocked most of my two front teeth out during recess in fifth grade, and generally was the recreational player. My dad played in the high school band and music became part of my life at an early age. I took organ lessons for years, enjoyed it, but looking back never really had a passion for it. I would play some at church growing up and received accolades for my talent, which felt good.
Going into high school, I thought my plans were laid out for me. I would try to do well in school, I was a good student in middle school, although high school proved to be a struggle. I was involved in Boy Scouts at the time and still taking music lessons. I didn’t realize it at the time but I would encounter two individuals during my freshman year at Bangor High School that would change my life’s direction forever.
Throughout middle school I began to develop an interest in sports, however not being an athlete and attending a large high school, I never envisioned where I would fit in. Enter John Stubbs into the equation, a little pun on words here as he taught my Algebra I class. Now Mr. Stubbs was quite an imposing individual to a 14 year old high school freshman. I remember many years later how orderly and demanding his class was. From his perfect chalkboard penmanship to how he expected your notebook to be, he was a perfectionist in every sense of the word.
As we got more comfortable during the later part of the first ranking period, the conversation after class would often turn to sports. Mr. Stubbs was also the boys freshmen basketball coach at the time. Coach, noticing I had an interest in sports, asked me if I would be interested in being his scorekeeper and manager. I said, sure. This wasn’t the only offer I would get this fall, however.
Down the hall from the math wing at Bangor High School was the social studies department. All freshmen back then were required to take civics. My civics teacher was none other than head basketball coach, Roger Reed. You might have heard of him. I also received an offer to be a team manager and statistician. I remember it being a tough decision at the time but I decided to go with Coach Stubbs and help the freshmen team.
The decision came down to the freshmen game times being earlier and the travel was less then with the varsity team. Having struggled a bit academically the first quarter of my high school career, I figured this would be advantageous for me. Plus, I would be with my own class and people I knew. I would go on to spend the next three years of high school with the varsity program and Coach Reed.
Later during freshmen year, thoughts turned to baseball. Coach Stubbs was a longtime assistant coach under veteran Bangor High School baseball coach, Bob Kelley. I knew Coach Kelley very well as I had him for three years of phys. ed. at Fifth Street Middle School, now known as the Doughty School. Mr. Stubbs encouraged me to manage the baseball team, and keep the scorebook, which I did.
Coach Stubbs planted the seed but little did I know how deep the roots went down. From John Stubbs, I learned more than anything the value of organization. He was just so meticulous in everything he did. This example has served me well throughout everything I’ve done in life from my public address announcing duties, to coaching, to writing, to broadcasting, and through to my career as a service coordinator with Aging Excellence.
Later in my high school career, I would also encounter another man who has had a major impact on my life and who has opened numerous doors in the area of athletics. Bob Cimbollek was the head of the phys. ed. department at the time and was in his second year as the head basketball coach at John Bapst. At the time, Coach Cimbollek was writing a book on shooting and would ask me to come down and help proofread during free periods. I also got involved with his summer shooting camps.
I was fortunate to have had a number of quality teachers at Bangor High School, who not only taught academic subjects, but who also impacted who I’ve become. Two teachers that really stood out in my senior year were Arthur Monk, who taught psychology, and Drew Milliken, who was an outstanding English teacher. Mr. Monk was a great supporter of our basketball program and just an avid fan of high school basketball in general. I remember going along many nights scouting with Coach Reed and Mr. Monk. When the topic turned to politics, things got really interesting as Mr. Monk was a strong Democrat and Reed a staunch conservative Republican.
Mr. Milliken might have been the best teacher I had at Bangor High School. Demanding but fair, he really taught me how to write well. I remember having a number of conferences with him regarding my senior research paper in which we would carefully go over each line. By the way, my topic dealt with the corruption and scandal in college athletics. I told you athletics ran through my core. While I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve learned in school, many of Mr. Milliken’s lessons, particularly with regards to writing, have stuck with me.
Upon graduation from Bangor High School and entering college at the University of Maine at Farmington, I thought my days of being involved with athletics were over. Save for helping Coach Reed with his summer basketball program during my vacations home, they were for two years. Little did I realize it was only the beginning of wonderful journey.
To Be Continued