Youthful Mistakes Follow You; Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart
THE WOODLANDS, TX -- National Signing Day has passed but the overall process is not over by a long shot. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of nightmarish occurrences of scholarship signees who took their future for granted failing to realize how good they have it.
Every now and then I reflect back to a disheartening story that occurred some years ago. It involves an elite high school athlete in a small New England town in the mid to late 70's.
This kid could do everything and as he progressed through every grade, he was easily the best athlete in any sport on just natural ability alone.
You name the sport, he excelled more than everyone. He could control a soccer ball better than everybody...catch a football better with one hand than most could do with two...he possessed the best slapshot in hockey...the best outside jump shot in basketball...could hit passing shots by you on the tennis court.
But, most of all, he was easily the purest natural baseball player ever seen in the area. We will call this kid Johnny for identification purposes. Johnny was a fair student never pushing himself being quite satisfied with C's in school.
Being the natural athlete that he was, it might not surprise you that he gave about as much effort on the athletic field as he did in the classroom. Yet, he was still the best in the athletic arena.
Athletics ruled this kids life. But, with all the natural ability in the world, he was never challenged. He could go through the motions and still be better than everyone else. In and out of the classroom, his philosophy was why drive yourself crazy stressing out when you can get by on auto-pilot.
As all of us grown-ups know now, but maybe didn't realize back then, this kind of attitude can lead to bad habits.
In Johnny's case, it led to a lazy attitude that transferred to other aspects of his life.
When Johnny was 16-years-old, he was still the best player on every team without going 100 per-cent. It was almost to the point where he felt guilty being so good at sports and was embarrassed to excel in front of other people. To his coaches and teachers, it was obvious that he was headed in the wrong direction. The attitude he had developed resulted in low self-esteem and he started hanging out with kids that were labeled 'freaks'.
At this point in American History, it was all about 'freaks' and 'jocks'.
The jocks were those that involved themselves in sports. Freaks involved themselves in getting high and basically thrived on getting in trouble to get attention.
Johnny tried to live in both worlds which was almost impossible to pull off.
Near the end of his junior year in high school, he committed to be a two sport scholarship athlete (soccer and baseball) at the University of New Hampshire . In the northeast, soccer is a fall sport.
He also had professional baseball scouts interested and was instructed to play summer ball so they could keep watching him.
To people that didn't know Johnny well, it was thought that he was on a fast track to be a complete success in life. All anybody ever heard was accolades in regards to this kid. If you knew Johnny well, saw how he grew up and knew what he was going through socially and academically, you knew he was a disaster waiting to happen.
As it turns out, those who knew him turned out to be prophetic.
One night at the start of his senior year, Johnny and his freak friends were out drinking beer. They were bored and decided to do something crazy.
In the sleepy town these guys grew up in, there wasn't a great deal of law enforcement.
The boys knocked down a few and were feeling indestructible as they walked up to a closed corner store.
One of them broke the front door window and they all climbed in and helped themselves to several six-packs of beer, candy, cigarettes and whatever else they could get their hands on. They ran out of the store, laughing and congratulating each other on a great cure for boredom.
Two days later, the doorbell rings at Johnny's house and his mother answers the door. Soon, she is tapping on Johnny's bedroom door accompanied by two police officers. The officers had some questions for Johnny.
'Where were you two nights ago at 10 p.m.? Who were you with?'
The officer indicated that two witnesses identified one of the boys in 'the corner store heist' as it was being labeled around town. When questioned, the boy sang like a canary and gave up everybody involved, including Johnny.
The officer said he couldn't believe it, but had to come over and cover all the bases. Johnny broke down and confessed that he was indeed involved.
Long story short...This is big news in the local papers. University of New Hampshire found out and withdrew the scholarship offer. Calls ceased from the baseball people.
Johnny's life is now in a total free fall. One day he is the golden boy. The next he is a leper and the brunt of all jokes. What was low self-esteem is now just a mess of a person who must try and pick up the pieces of a once promising life. It is now several years later. Looking back, Johnny graduated from high school with the C average he always averaged.
He attended junior college and played baseball with some success. Most importantly, he eventually graduated from a university.
He has a family and a good enough job to be able to live in a middle-class town. He regrets screwing up his life and having to work so hard to repair what he destroyed.
He always tells me that he tries to be involved with area youth and offer anything to the kids that he can.
He's amazed at all of the kids he sees taking the same path he took and he tries to make a difference in their lives.
Johnny blames nobody but himself for what happened. However, he wishes someone would have slapped him in the face and said, 'I've been in your place. This is what I've learned. LISTEN TO ME!'
He thrives on helping whoever will listen and promises that he hopes to make a difference in several young lives before the curtain of life falls on him.
Just thinking about Johnny makes you wish total maturity occurred at birth. Wouldn't it be great if, from day one, we realized all of our potential and performed to our natural ability?
Sometimes, it seems unfair that the bad decisions people make at an early age can have such far reaching implications.
Johnny was once the talk of the town and the young person all parents wanted their child to be like.
Johnny is fine now. He has a loving wife, children that love him and is a decent person.
What he really regrets is visiting his old town where the same parents that worshiped him now simply view him as a cautionary tale.