Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Mentor

Mentor (definition): a loyal friend, a wise advisor; a teacher and guardian

Sometimes life is really hard, especially when you give it your best and it doesn't work out; or when a dream you have had for years is finally within your grasp and then the dream dies. It is hard to deal with when you have to do it alone.

It is somewhat easier when you have a mentor helping you along the way.

I have had many mentors in my life. I have several right now that I look up to as I teach or in my church life. But my favorite memory of a mentor was in high school football.

My dream was to play college football. The problem was that I was too small. When my family finally stopped moving around and I could try out for football, I was in the tenth grade, I was five feet five inches tall, and weighed 110 pounds. I remember my mother hesitating as she signed the permission slip so I could play.

It didn't take me long to realize that football would kill me if I kept playing. I was fast, but so were my teammates and the opposing players. I had some skills, but there were players who knew the game better than I did because they had played little league football and junior high football. I did not...tenth grade was my first try.

But on the first day of practice, I met someone very special. He was the third-string quarterback and a year ahead of me. He was no bigger than I was, but he played the game the way it should be played - with joyous abandon and absolutely no fear at all. In practices, he always seemed to throw me the passes that no one else could get to. In the drills, he always made the trickiest moves against me, but he winked at me before he did them (sure made me look good when I moved the right way...the coaches ALWAYS noticed!). He also made sure to call me "Fly" and not by the sorry nicknames that the "Meat Squad" players like me sometimes acquired; he told me I was "Fly" because of the way I flew down the field to catch his passes. When it was time to go in from practice, and the Meat Squad players had to pick up the equipment, he always made sure I carried the mesh bag with the footballs - sure was easier than moving the blocking dummies or the tires. He was very cool to me and he made me look good.

In the halls of the high school, I was beginning to meet people and beginning to learn who to stay away from. My mentor always made sure to smile and say hi to me - even if he had a pretty girl on his arm or another one by his side (and he ALWAYS had at least one around!) or if he was with his friends. I heard, "Hey Fly!" at least twice each day. It made me feel accepted at this new school, and that was a good thing for a sixteen year old kid who didn't even want to be at this particular high school in the first place.

I managed to survive the season without serious injury, but I knew that my dream was over. It was hard to accept, but my mentor made it a lot easier. I got my chance and I even looked good many times in practice...I simply did not know the game the way I should have. I did not have the skills I needed to be as good as I could be. And my allergies were killing me since we were rolling around in the grass for two hours every afternoon; my sinuses were so infected that it took the whole month of December for me to recover!

When I went to the coaches and told them I was quitting, they did not try to talk me out of it (surprise!)...they were really classy...they just thanked me for trying and wished me well. I thanked all of them for working with me. My mentor heard about it and found me. He asked me why I was quitting, but all I could admit was that the allergies were taking a toll...I couldn't admit I couldn't do it. He just smiled and patted me on the back. He told me to keep cheering for the team and he would see me around.

After Christmas, I discovered that he moved away. His father got a really good job in another town. I never even got to say goodbye or thank you. But I have never forgotten him and the way he treated me. I still remember watching him go up against guys twice his size in blocking drills, trash-talking them with a big grin on his face, making them laugh before he took them on! I remember him outpassing our starting quarterback in every drill I ever watched. I remember how sneaky he was with the football when he ran the offense. But most of all, I remember how he showed all of us how to play the game: with joy, abandon, and with total effort - no matter your size.

And so...wherever you are Mac, thanks for everything!

And if you had sons of your own, I am pretty sure how they turned out.

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