“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”- Jim Valvano- 1993 ESPY Awards
It’s been nearly a quarter century since the late coach turned broadcaster Jim Valvano delivered that memorable speech. It’s a speech that is replayed at least once a year as ESPN carries on Valvano’s legacy in trying to find a cure for cancer.
When I reflect on the year 2016, I’ll remember the many events I was able to experience. I’ll picture the final play of the final high school football game of the season. I’ll feel the mist falling on Fitzpatrick Stadium as MCI’s Eli Bussell turned a botched play on a potential game winning field goal into a title winning touchdown. I’ll relive the final plays in Cony’s improbable playoff victory at Lawrence. I won’t forget the sheer will of MDI’s Northern Maine title run as they vanquished perennial power Winslow to win the school’s first regional championship.
I won’t forget how close the local lads from Hampden and Hermon came to playing in front of the ESPN cameras at the Senior League World Series. Weeks later we learned it would be the final one played in Bangor.
While football is my preferred sport of choice in the fall, my appreciation for “the beautiful game” of soccer grew by leaps and bounds this year. Thanks to coach Pete McDonnell and the John Bapst boys for such a memorable season. The teamwork and sportsmanship they displayed drew me in. Progressing from two wins a year ago to a berth in the Eastern Maine championship game is quite noteworthy indeed.
Mostly when I recall the year 2016, for better or worse, I’ll remember and feel the emotions coach Valvano described. I may not have had days when I experienced the full spectrum of feelings but all three manifested themselves powerfully over the past year.
As I previously mentioned, this August marked the final Senior League World Series to be played at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. The teams that represented their communities from all over the world certainly did their areas proud in how they competed and with the type of people they were. A team from Melbourne, Australia caused me to laugh in ways I hadn’t for a long time. They were some of the most laid-back, fun loving, genuine people I had ever met. I still keep in touch with a number of the team members.
Baseball, unlike other sports, has a slower pace which can lead to some interesting banter in the press box. At the Senior League World Series, Tom Hanscom handles the operation of the stadium message board. Particularly if the game is getting long and I’m getting tired he is always there with a quick witted comment, which depending on my state of mind can lead to uproarious laughter.
During the basketball season, I’m fortunate to be a part of the John Bapst program as their scorekeeper both home and away. Hanging out with teenagers over the course of three months can certainly lead to times of laughter.
It’s been said many times that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to associate with people who have challenged me intellectually as well as with my thought processes. Such an individual is my good friend Les Stevens who I enjoy taking in high school football games with in the fall. Les provides a perspective at games few others can with his vast historical knowledge of teams. I always treasure watching a game with him.
Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of partnering with Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Eastern Maine. Whenever Sandy Thomas and I get together we talk Jesus and basketball. I always come away more knowledgeable and with new perspective in both areas.
For a number of reasons in 2016, more than any other year perhaps, I’ve thought much more about how sports tie in to this greater picture called life. What is the proper role of sports, which has been called the toy department of life? While I’ve pondered this on many occasions I still don’t have a definitive answer and probably never will.
I’m not one to cry much. My emotions were moved to tears on many occasions in the summer of 2016. Prior to the start of the state baseball championship games I learned one of our John Bapst basketball players, Jonny Bowman, passed away after a battle with cancer. I was stunned. How could a beautiful person, so full of life, be gone so soon? It was at that moment and in the weeks to come the full range of emotions came into play. I spent some time in tears as I longed to tell Jonny how much I loved him one more time, yet couldn’t. I could no longer see that big, beautiful smile of his.
Through the sorrow, I laughed with others as we reflected on the wonderful times we had, how he made us all laugh. I, along with many others, spent some time in deep thought as we remembered the lessons he taught us in his short life and how he’d want us to carry on.
While there were many noteworthy events in 2016, it was the people I was able to share with that I’ll remember the most. As I look back on the year 2016, there often was that right person waiting for me, providing what I needed at the right time. Through times of great joy and great sorrow it’s people, not events, that matter most.