Role Models and Heroes Feb 5, 2014

By Tom Curry

As we start 2014, let's all reevaluate our definitions of role models and heroes. It's not always the person who scores the most points, has the flashy stats or is a big game star. It might just be that local pro athlete who puts his off season efforts into helping people.

As kids, we all looked up to adults who we wanted to be just like in many ways. In sports, professional athletes seem to be the people we chose to emulate in many ways. I can remember having a Mickey Mantle baseball glove, a Mickey Mantle model bat and wanting to play centerfield. I always wanted #7 in baseball, Mickey's number. I even tried switch-hitting, just like "The Mick" did when he was at bat. Probably like a lot of kids growing up in the New York metropolitan area, we tried to run like Mickey Mantle... elbows and shoulders kind of forward, throw and catch like him, and imitate his batting stance. In the mind of a ten-year-old boy, Mantle was a hero.

In football, there was YA Tittle, the legendary Giants quarterback. YA was a battler, a true grit kind of guy who was a fierce competitor. The picture of him, beaten, bloody and tired after losing to the Bears in the 1963 championship game is still in my mind. He was the epitome of a leader showing a toughness and mental awareness for the game that was worthy of emulation for any athlete in those days.

In basketball, my favorite was Bill Bradley. After seeing him play at Princeton, he became my immediate hero. I wanted to shoot like him, pass like him and be the consummate team player he was. I must admit, though, I did wear gray floppy socks like Pistol Pete Maravich did when he was playing for LSU. Bradley would later play for the New York Knicks and later become a US senator from New Jersey. While with the Knicks, they won two world championships in 1970 and 1973.

As I began coaching in 1973, I was fortunate to be around some legendary high school, and even college coaches. A good friend and mentor used to take me to Army basketball games where I saw Bob Knight as a fiery young coach. Knight's methods may not have been the best, but his skills as a basketball coach in terms of practice planning, game preparation and team play were remarkable and impressive to a young basketball coach. The coach at my high school was one of the most decent people I have ever met. He cared about his players even long after their playing days were over. Though he recently passed, he is still revered by those who played for him. I learned a great deal from both men.

These days, as everyone seems to wear their favorite player's jersey to games and everywhere else, it might be a good time to remind each other as parents that the people our children choose to admire are important choices in their young lives. These professional athletes earn a great deal of money on the field and through endorsements. While that is certainly a goal, it might be best to also look at some of the professional and college athletes we might want our children to emulate as they go through life. There are some really terrific people in the pro ranks who do a lot of positive things for their teams and communities during their playing careers and for years after. During games, they conduct themselves with dignity, respecting opponents, coaches, officials and teammates while they play. They don't really showboat or grandstand. It's about the team and winning a certain way. It's never about just them. These same players often have foundations or organizations that benefit some charity or cause. They put their fame to good use, helping those less fortunate than them.

At the college level, there are so many student athletes and teams that just always seem to do the right thing it amazes me. Many college teams adopt a child with an illness or disability as their own. Quietly and without much fanfare, these teams embrace a youngster and make him or her part of the team experience. Perhaps you have seen the stories on ESPN or before some other network's big game on television. Whether Division 1,2 or 3, these young people seem to give a lot of their efforts to helping someone who needs a lift or be a part of something special to help them face their illness or whatever they might be facing.

At the high school level, I marvel at the many student athletes and coaches who put a lot of time and effort into helping local organizations and national concerns by staging benefit tournaments and games that raise money for various causes. They mobilize everyone in their program and generate a lot of good will and money to assist in whatever fundraising cause they choose. Those of you that have worked on such a benefit or attended a game or tournament for these reasons know just how much work is involved, and can appreciate the commitment the athletes and coaches make as they give up a great deal of time to help others.

Role models...they are out there! Sometimes, they are often right under our noses doing the ordinary things that often yield extraordinary results. It's not always the star player, not always the legendary coach...Many times it's just the player or coach who seems to always do the right thing. He or she senses that they are part of a much bigger picture and that help is needed. As we start 2014, let's all reevaluate our definitions of role models and heroes. It's not always the person who scores the most points, has the flashy stats, or is a big game star. It might just be that local pro athlete who puts his off season efforts into helping people. It could be the local college, high school athlete or coach starting a benefit tournament or event to help a person, or some type of awareness group. Let's remind our kids and each other that, often, the real heroes and role models are right in our own town and schools, making a difference each and every day. We may never be able to buy a game jersey with their number or name on it, but let's make the effort to show our support and appreciation for their heroic efforts and example they set for everyone.

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