A Very Proud MomentPublished 11:17am Sunday, December 21, 2008
The other day I felt like a proud big brother. Being the youngest in my family I am not really a big brother but I still felt like one. Let me explain but I will have to start at the beginning.
Between 30 and 35 years ago when I was in my early 20’s my dad and I were out in the empty lot across the street playing catch with a baseball. As we were enjoying our catch, a group of young kids came up to us with bats and gloves in hand and asked us if we wanted to play. My Dad and I looked at each other and shrugged and said ok, so Dad proceeded to pitch for one team and I pitched for the other and we all had a great time.
The next day there is a knock on our door and my Mom answered and there were these same kids crowded around our back door. “Can Dick and Tom come out and play?” they asked. Mom just chuckled and asked Dad and I if we wanted to play, Dad politely declined and I said sure. Little did I know this was the beginning of a lot of games to be played in the empty lot across the street.
The kids and I went from season to season. In the summer we played baseball as I pitched for both teams and was the umpire. When football came around I was the quarterback for both teams and the referee. When we were sick of playing baseball in the summer we would go over to one of the kid’s yards and they would stand in front of the garage with bat in hand and I would throw batting practice. We used what was known as a rubber coated baseball. It weighed the same as a regular baseball and was just as hard, just ask the kids because I would plunk one once in awhile.
During these batting practices I was truly trying not to let these guys hit the ball, I’m a little competitive so it was a challenge. A challenge, by the way, that got more difficult the older they got.
We had a lot of fun those years, yes there were a few arguments and fights along with a few tears, but it was a lot of fun. I could tell you I did this to guide these kids along the right path in life etc. but honestly, I did it for the fun. When I was their age I would spend hours throwing a ball at our front step, imitating every major league pitcher of the day all the while honing my defensive skills. So playing with these kids was just an extension of my youth.
These kids grew in to high school kids and they all went out for at least one sport in school. The majority of them went on to become All Conference in their sports and one went on to be a state champion wrestler. As fate would have it, at that time I took on a part time sports writer’s job for the local newspaper, the Grant County Herald. With that job I had the honor of writing about their exploits through there high school careers.
One of these kids was Kevin Bullis. Kevin was just a great kid and was one of the youngest of the group but you could tell he would be good at anything he would do. Kevin was the only one who didn’t want to stand by the garage and take a few cuts against me. I was never sure why unless he was afraid I would hit him. But he wasn’t a coward as he would amaze me as he would sometimes crouch down behind the hitter and catch for me as I pitched. No shin guards, no chest protector, no mask, and no nut cup and he would do a good job and never got hurt.
Kevin went on to play high school football and basketball. He may have been the younger of the kids but he grew to be the tallest. He was Al Conference in football at least two years and All Conference in basketball for three I think and was Conference MVP I think twice. He turned out to be one of the best leaders I have ever seen on a high school team.
After high school he played football at the University of Morris and then did some coaching at a small college in Wisconsin. It was here that the Kansas City Chiefs football team would train and he was there to help. He told me that he and coach Marty Shottenhimer (forgive the spelling) got along and he would let Kevin sit in on some of their meetings.
The other day I had heard that he was now an assistant defensive coach at a different college, Wisconsin Whitewater, and they were playing for the NCAA III championship football game and the game was going to be on ESPN. I sat and watched the game and I caught a glimpse of Kevin a few times on the sidelines and that’s when I had my proud older brother moment. To see one of those kids coaching college football on ESPN was indescribable and it brought back all the memories of which I have just written.
I was also reminded of something else with these kids. It was early a Saturday afternoon and to be quite honest I was waking up with a slight hangover from a friend’s bachelor party the night before when there was a knock on our door. My mom had answered and she told me the kids were here. I told her to tell them that I just couldn’t play today but she told me that this time I needed to go tell them in person. As I came to the door I saw the whole group of them with smiles like they knew something I didn’t know. When I told them I couldn’t play today they just told me I had too. I asked why and then they proceeded to give me a present. You see it was also my birthday and my gift was a small plastic trophy that said “World’s Greatest” on it along with some of their Halloween candy. Naturally I played that day and to this day I have that trophy displayed in what I call my little room of collectables and it is one of the most valued treasures I have.
I am not just proud of Kevin I am proud of all these kids as I said before they all grew up to be fine young men. I don’t see much of them anymore as their lives are busy and they don’t get back to town much. One did stay in town, he was the state champion wrestler Mike Kastner, and he is now a very successful chiropractor in town. I also had the pleasure of playing softball with him for many years.
I had very little to do with how these kids turned out in life. Give their parents and the kids themselves all the credit. I just was able to enjoy the games with them and for whatever they would say I gave them, they gave be double in return.