John Grindrod: Learning a lesson too late

First Posted: 8/1/2014

While in another time, I’d be writing a back-to-school column a few weeks later. The fact of the matter is another season has begun today at my alma mater, LCC. So, every year at this time, I try to revisit my freelance roots at the beginning of the century when my editor Diane Pacetti would request of me a column to herald another school opening.

So, we’ll try this one more time as my attempt to provide a message to those students returning. This one’s for you, Diane, for the kindness you showed a younger aspiring writer.

In my elementary days, like a lot of boys, I loved to play sports, especially football. And, just as there are now very grown men who have no trouble remembering their midget-football affiliation as a Bruin, a Mercury or a Scorpion, I was a Bombardier. While hardly as talented as one of my teammates — future Lima Senior three-sport star and eventual Major League Baseball player Bill Sharp — I felt what I lacked in ability I made up for with enthusiasm.

Now, in the 1960s, once boys became too old for midget, there was no organized football in parochial schools until they were freshmen in high school. So, it was on to the sandlots either with my block pals in the combined back yards of my Latham and Nixon avenues neighbors who all shared the same initial letter — the Binkleys, the Blanks and the Boops — or at Faurot Park in the area just west of Bradfield Center historically called The Hole.

When high school started, I played. While I really wanted to run the ball, I was sent to defense. At 120 pounds but possessing good foot speed, I became a cornerback and tried both to support the run and defend the rather gangly boys from South or Shawnee running their patterns on local fields.

I can remember both the thrill of making an open-field tackle and running a punt back when I was allowed to drop back in punt situations. And, of course, I also remember the abject shame of being sucked in on a reverse and being so out of position that all I could do was chase a South Tiger ball carrier all the way down the sideline and into the end zone. He carried with him a football that represented the winning points in the waning seconds of a game we thought we had won.

In that moment in time, while walking to the bus with the sting of perspiration and tears enveloping my eyes, it took young coach Carl Helmig to pull me aside and lift my spirits by telling me there were 10 others who had also been duped by misdirection.

At the end of the season, I was never more proud as when I received my monogram, my graduation year of “69” with a small football splitting the numerals. I hounded my mom until she sewed that monogram on the sleeve of my school jacket.

A year later, after a sophomore year of starting every junior varsity game and seeing the field on the kickoff team at Lima Stadium, I pestered Mom again to sew another monogram — this one shaped like a football with the letters “LCC” inside — right below my name on the front of that jacket. I played for Ray Young, a Miami University graduate. As I would have for Helmig, I’d have run through a brick wall for Young. Surely, at that time I could have never known that I would one day also graduate from Coach Young’s college and follow his same career path. After all, far graver concerns involved finding a date for Homecoming and, of course, that zit on my chin.

By the time I headed out to that dusty practice field as a junior-to-be in August 1967, I was poised to start at cornerback for the varsity. And, yet as the early two-a-day sessions unfolded, ones played under a blazing sun and while playing under the direct command of a varsity coach with a far more demanding and aggressive approach than either Helmig or Young, I just didn’t feel the same about my football experience.

So, I convinced myself that there were better things I could be doing. And, riding around with friends and trying to fashion a fake ID and 3.2 beer was easier. And, less than two weeks before what would have likely been my first varsity start versus Greenville, I did what the faint of heart do. I quit.

In an empty locker room between another hot August day’s morning and afternoon practices, I turned in my practice jersey to a coach who tried hard to dissuade me, and I walked away. I told no one at home prior to one of the worst and rashest decisions of my impulsive youth to ensure no one would either talk me out of it — or, in my father’s case, force me stay. And, at that time I couldn’t even calculate how long the stretch of years would be that I wished he had done so.

As sometimes happens with great mistakes early in one’s life, my momentary and impulsive action was one that resulted from equal parts youthful brashness and lack of foresight.

The regret I felt eventually forged a positive. After some additional resistance to acknowledge the regret and a few more years of my salad-days’ missteps, that positive was that I vowed never to quit anything again. It’s a promise I feel I’ve kept.

But, it’s a promise, even at 63 years old, I wish hadn’t come with such a steep price.

So, for all you students headed back to school — whether you’re in a sport or taking a particularly demanding class — there are two words I’ll leave you, ones I wish I could have heard resonate in my own head some 46 years ago: Don’t quit.

John Grindrod is a freelance writer and the author of two books. He can be reached at [email protected]