I was a good basketball player back in the day, but I had an attitude. I could shoot, but I frowned on the more physically-demanding aspects of the game such as playing defense.
My theory was that if I made eight shots and the guy I was guarding made seven, I won. If he made 10 or 12, as was often the chase . . . well, I tried not to concern myself with that.
It makes me mad now that I didn’t work harder to become a complete player. I don’t know what the deal was other than my general disdain for authority. That’s something I’ve tried to work on over the years, with mixed results.
It was the same in academics. I was capable of doing so much better, except I was more interested in having a good time. I irritated teachers because of my unfulfilled potential in most areas of academics.
I have no idea what I’d be doing if I hadn’t lucked into taking a journalism class in high school. I had no real interest in math or science. I was terrible in art. I could never make anything or repair anything. I was a good athlete but far short of being good enough to ever get paid.
I wanted to be a broadcaster in the worst way and to eventually call St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. I grew up listening to those games with my dad and it was the best experience of my youth. My dad and I didn’t have a lot of deep conversations. But we could talk baseball.
Sports was everything to me as a kid. And I’m not exaggerating. It was always on my mind. I did like music back then, especially the Beatles. But I was a sports nut from a very early age, so much so that I was much more likely to study the baseball and basketball box scores in the morning paper than study the math homework that was sent home with me by my confounded teachers.
School was a necessity. I enjoyed some of the social aspects of being a student. But the actual student part of the equation drove me crazy. I was an excellent student in elementary school. But, then, who wasn’t.
For years I took pride in my academic accomplishments as a second grader. Then I started asking around and everybody did well in the second grade. It’s the seventh, eighth and ninth grades that caused me problems.
I could not have been a lawyer or an accountant. Engineer? Not a chance. Anything that required outstanding academic achievement was off the board for me. Many of my family members were teachers, but that’s not something I was interested in after witnessing first hand what kind of student I was. In other words, I couldn’t imagine trying to teach someone like me.
My English classes were interesting to me, though. I was able to grasp the concept of sentence structure, spelling and grammar for some reason. My parents spoke in complete sentences and with proper syntax. I guess that’s something I picked up on.
My grades, even in English classes, weren’t exceptional. But they were OK and I was interested.
Writing was something I enjoyed, even though many of my friends did not. I also liked doing research for the papers I wrote. It was an early sign that journalism and newspapers might be for me.
Research is something I have always enjoyed. Just today, I’ve gone back through Shocker history to look at free-throw shooting. This year’s unbeaten Wichita State basketball team had made more free throws than its opponents have shot. That’s fascinating to me, so I’ve tried to draw some conclusions about what it all means.
I’ve always been curious, just not necessarily about the things my teachers in school wanted me to be curious about. I figured out early on, for instance, that geometry wasn’t a class that was going to benefit me much in the future. So I kind of tuned out in geometry class, doing just enough to earn a passing grade.
I knew I wasn’t a dummy. But I also knew I wasn’t as motivated academically as I probably should have been.
The same was true in athletics. I could have been a much better defensive player in basketball. But it wasn’t important enough to me.
Those are lessons I learned.
I’ve always been driven in my newspaper career, I believe. And engaged. I’ve had a long career full of ups and downs, but working hard has never been an issue. When it comes to journalism, I get after it defensively. This is where I belonged.