The Quitter

She quit. She packed up her gear, walked out of the dugout, said something to the head coach and walked away from the field, not looking back, leaving behind eight teammates to ask, “What the hell just happened?”

She just quit.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning in a two-run game.

This is the story of Sara. (Not her real name). OK, it is her real name, but I’m not putting a last name or what team she played for, so I’m hiding her anonymity so future potential employers won’t know she’s a quitter who will walk away when it’s time to learn something, or won’t know she’s the worst kind of team player imaginable.

She is … or, well, was … a travel softball player and right away the coaching staff knew there would be some issues.

She was what some people would call soft.

She would ground out, she would pout.

She would strikeout, she would pout.

Because she lacked foot-speed, she got thrown out from right field. Her head was gone for good, at that point.

Sara was part of the team because the team needed her. Due to some early summer-season number issues, which had players on the roster doing internships, working and taking vacations, it was a struggle to field a team, so when somebody suggested a pitcher to the head coach, he welcomed her.

So, too, did the team.

Sara was shy and always stood away from the team. She had to be invited into the team’s inner circle, but by the third tournament of the season she was part of the team, one of three pitchers used in a regular rotation.

She was a slightly below average pitcher, pitching over head against some tough summer competition. She probably threw more balls than strikes. And, she was a really below average hitter.

But softball, like baseball, is a game where you’re going to fail more than you’re going to succeed.

Mentally, she was never able to embrace that, and her negative Nellie attitude was draining on a team that was struggling to find its first win of the summer.

On Sunday, the team was in the thick of a battle in a game it could win.

Then, in the fourth inning, with runners on second and third, Sara — her team’s starting pitcher — stepped to the plate with one out.

It was a defining moment in the game. It proved to be a defining moment in her young life.

The third base coach gave her the suicide squeeze sign — which for those of you who aren’t sports fans is a simple bunt that must be put into play because the runner at third base is racing home at full speed.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Fortunately, the catcher dropped the ball and the runner was able scramble back to third base.

From third base the head coach bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE’RE SQUEEZING.”

Sara just looked dumbfounded.

“Do it again,” the coach ordered, giving the sign.

Then he added, “We’re squeezing.”

He told Sara. He told the defense. He world the world.

He was calling a suicide squeeze. Again.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Again. Didn’t even pretend she was looking to bunt.

“SARA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The coach was angry. His coaching staff was stunned. She missed the sign twice and missed a verbal instruction that was as obvious as a sun in the sky.

When queried as to what she was thinking, Sara waved her hand at her coach and stepped back into the batter’s box.

The next pitch painted the outside corner. Strike three.

Sara stormed back to the dugout. Behind her teammates, behind her coaching staff, in the back of the dugout, she gathered her belongings and packed up her bag.

When the inning was over, Sara looked over the fence from outside the dugout and told the coach, “I quit.”

Then she walked off away from the field, nothing more than a quitter.

She left her team with eight players to finish out the game, which they lost 4-2.

The coaching staff was angry at Sara. The players were perplexed, but in the long run they all seemed to agree not having her around would be best for the team.

Me?

I was stunned.

If a kid doesn’t enjoy a sport, I understand the decision not to play anymore. But the only reputable way to do it is once the season is over and your commitment has been fulfilled.

I can even understand a kid quitting after a game, though it’s a choice I would never respect or understand.

But to walk away from a team sport  mid-game? Leaving behind eight people who embraced you as a teammate, allowed you to become one of them?

It’s inexcusable.

I could understand the anger coming from the coaching staff, but more than anything I felt sorry for Sara. I felt sad for her and her future.

If she quit a summer softball team because she screwed up something so badly, what else will she quit over the course of the rest of her life?

Every time she failed, she pouted and refused to show any self-confidence, or even a hint at wanting to learn from her failures and grow from it.

The world of sports is full of life lessons. Likewise, many successful lives, without a doubt, can be traced back to the world of sports.

And part of both are parental decisions that help make the difference between success and failure.

Sadly, Sara is a quitter and will likely remain that for the rest of her life.

And that doesn’t make me angry. Instead, it just makes me sad.

 

Sometimes You Just Want To Feel Close To Home

Patrick Stewart of Bangor, Maine, was a senior at Colby College this winter (Photo courtesy of centralmaine.com)

Patrick Stewart of Bangor, Maine, was a senior at Colby College this winter (Photo courtesy of centralmaine.com)

Walking through the under belly of Wesleyan University’s Freeman Athletic Center in Middletown, Connecticut, I came across the Colby College hockey team.

I was there for the 2017 National High School Squash Championships. The Mules were there to play hockey.

One by one, earphones plugged in to drown out the outside, they were lugging their gear from the bus, heading to their locker room, their eyes focused on what was to come.

Suddenly, I was focusing on what once was.

Colby College. Waterville. Maine.

Home.

Well, almost home.

Waterville is located about a 50-minute drive from my hometown, but it’s a place I’ve been to too many times to count.

As an athlete. As a sports writer. As a coach. As a fan.

Colby College was a place I knew well.

One of the highlights of my life occurred at Colby College way back during my sophomore year in high school.

The school was playing host to the Maine State Cross Country Championship meet and that day I happened to have the race of my life, finishing 27th … right on the heels of our No. 2 runner who was usually more than a minute in front of me.

From start to finish, I felt great. It was a hilly course and I loved it. It’s one of the highlights of my athletic career (27th? Shows you how pathetic my overall talent level was, I suppose).

The Waterville-campus continued to play a role in my life after I started working at the Bangor Daily News. I was covering a lot of Husson College basketball games back then and it was a pretty intense in-state rivalry with Colby that made those sojourns down I-95 so worth it.

I saw countless good Division 3 college basketball games inside the Wadsworth Gymnasium, and many good players.

For a few summers, when I was in my 30s, I got to work on the basketball courts that Colby College offered up. I was coaching basketball in those days and working basketball camps in the summer.

We stayed in the dorms, ate in the dining commons, and, like kids revisiting our college days, drank a little too much at night.

So, yeah … Colby … great memories.

It wasn’t long after the hockey team walked past me that Colby’s men’s basketball team entered the facility, as well. It too was facing Wesleyan that day.

“Any Mainers on the team,” I asked a random player, recalling the program’s love for in-state players. “I grew up in Bangor.”

“Bangor? Patrick Stewart is from Bangor,” a player replied, pointing up the hallway at the 6-foot-6 Colby senior walking well in front of us.

I left Bangor 19 years ago and never looked back.

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Patrick Stewart, Colby College basketball player.

That meant Patrick Stewart, if he had been born in Bangor, was likely just three years old when I left.

I knew nothing about him short of the fact of what I just learned. He was from Bangor and played for Bangor High School before going off to college.

Suddenly, I wanted to see him play. I wanted to see Colby play. I guess, for even a few moments, I just wanted to feel close to home again.

Where I live in lower Connecticut, about an hour from the Wesleyan campus, it’s a six-hour drive home — Short enough to be able to make the trip in case of an emergency, long enough to be just enough of a pain-in-the-ass to make it home regularly.

There are times when I miss Maine a lot. My family. My friends. The chosen few who have never left my heart and I think of every day.

Things trigger those memories. A song. A smell. A word.

Colby.

Those Colby College athletes walking past me did just that.

So, after my squash duties were done, I made the walk back through the Freeman Center and I slipped into a side door of Wesleyan’s gym. I found myself a seat in the back row of the Wesleyan stands.

It was a close game at halftime, the two teams knotted up at 33-33.

Over the course of the second half, Wesleyan proved to be more athletic and the cold-shooting Colby team was no match for the home team.

The final score was 82-67.

Stewart, who finished with 11 points, two rebounds and an assist, came out of the game in the closing seconds. He walked down the bench, hugging each and every teammate, one by one.

It didn’t take me long to realize I just witnessed the last game of his college career.

Representing Bangor and supporting Bangor: I found myself applauding him as he reached the end of his bench.

Stewart played and started in all 24 of Colby’s game this season. He averaged 16.1 points per game.

Over the course of his five-year career — he missed his junior season with an injury and earned a medical redshirt — he had scored more than 1,000 career points.

And, I’ve since discovered that Patrick has a sense of humor.

While doing some research to write this, I discovered a Q&A with Stewart on the Colby athletics website. When asked by the school why he picked Colby, his opened his reply with, “Well besides the appeal of coming south for the warm weather …”

Bangor humor. My humor.

A second-team All-Maine player at Bangor High, Stewart plans on becoming a teacher. If I had to guess, that means he’ll become a coach, too. He’s following in a long line of many great Bangor High athletes if he does that.

Had I stayed in Bangor, and had life gone differently, I might have watched him grow up as a Bangor High player and appreciated him all the more.

Instead, it was a one-shot deal.

One game; one-half of one game, to be more accurate.

But for nearly an hour watching Patrick Stewart represent his parents, his hometown and Colby College, I got to feel a little bit closer to home.

The New World: One Week In

In the summer of 1983, I made the bold choice to transfer high schools.

I went from a three-year private school of 300 students, where I had many friends, to a public school more than twice the size where I knew, perhaps, 10 people — and only three or four of them well enough to call “friends.”

In hindsight, it all worked out. My senior year was a new and exciting adventure where I met many new people, made new friends and memories,  most of which I still cherish to this day more than 30 years later.

That first day of school, though, was like nothing I had ever experienced before in the first 17 years of my life.

I grew up in a two-stoplight town, and even then those stoplights were actually the constantly blinking kind. I started kindergarten there and went through eighth grade.

Many of my friends went to the same high school as me, so there were plenty of friendly faces around when I walked into ninth grade.

My senior year, though, was different — perhaps the first major branch to grow off the tree trunk of what was becoming my world.

I looked to the left of me and saw nobody I knew. I looked to the right and saw more faces I did not recognize. In front of me was a classroom that I did not recognize. Behind me … well, I didn’t want to look back.

It was a whole new world.

I bring this up all these decades later because the one question I’m asked often these days is, “How are things going?” since the sale of my tiny locally owned newspaper to a major chain.

It’s been exactly seven days since things changed, but the only comparison that pops up is the first day of my senior year of high school, only with a unique twist.

At work, I sit at my desk with the familiar view. The computer in front of me. My desk surrounding me. The television high on the wall above me. The fourth floor deck and its door behind me off my left shoulder.

Everywhere else, though, are mostly new faces.

Best I can tell four of us survived the change.

Instead of switching high schools, it’s like my high schools have switched around me.

Everything is the same, yet so totally different.

The job is the job. Games to watch, stories to tell, images to capture. It’s what I do best and when I’m at my most comfortable.

The transition to a new way of doing things is going to be extended over a period of weeks and months, so a full and complete judgement must be held off until everybody is on the same page.

There is a new computer system to learn, as well.

Right now, it still feels like we’re in a dinghy being towed behind the S.S. Hearst. But at least we’re all headed in the same direction and we’ll arrive in our port together.

By then, faces will have names and names will have faces. I hope, by then, I won’t feel like an outsider in my home.

So for those of you looking for an answer, I’m sorry if I stammer a bit to try an find an answer.

It’s a work in progress right now and until the all the changes are completed and final, I can’t give it a fair answer.

Yesterday was good, today has a chance at being better.

And tomorrow? Well, we’ll just wait and see.

A Change Is Gonna Come

TheHourPublishingCo

“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”

— Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come

• • •

There’s an old story about a fork in the road and taking the road less traveled. Well, not a story, really … a poem. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

In less than 12 days, I’m going to be standing at one of those forks, where “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

Only I don’t really have a choice of which one to take. It’s going to be decided for me.

Unlike Frost’s masterpiece, at my fork in the road of life, there is somebody I do not yet know and they are going to be pointing me down one of those paths.

Go left? Go right? Go north or south?

I don’t know the answer. Yet I still trudge — “To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on,” said Geoffrey Chaucer, as played by actor Paul Bettany in the movie, “A Knight’s Tale — toward that fork, toward a decision that is out of my hand and will send my life on a tangent that just a year ago seemed rather improbable.

Welcome to Life 101 — where we’re all still trying to pass the class, not realizing the joke is on us and we will never actually matriculate to Life 202 because it simply doesn’t exist on the campus that is our lives.

Here’s the skinny on what’s going down. On Tuesday, April 12, the company that owns the newspaper I work is getting out of the journalism business. It is being purchased by a competing company and while “The Hour” newspaper will live on under this new ownership, changes will be coming.

My department — Sports — is being especially hard hit.

I’ve been laid off before and one of the things I keep telling myself is that on the morning of Wednesday, April 13, the sun is going to come up, regardless of which path I’ll be shown to take.

That’s why I laughed at myself at four o’clock on the morning of this writing, waking from a sound sleep to realize that the news which became all but official earlier in the day kind of hit me.

It was still pitch black out as I realized, “Holy shit, I could be unemployed in 14 days.”

We’ve all been invited to apply for a position in this company — which lets not forget already employees hundreds of others who might be interested in this same position, as well.

On paper, I’ve got as good a shot as any with my experience and abilities. I started in the field of journalism in late summer of 1984 and save for a two-year hiatus where I dipped my toes into the world of education it’s all I’ve ever known.

This August will be my 32nd year as a journalism. This October would have been my 10th anniversary being employed by my current employer.

April 13 will be a brand new day and as of this writing I can’t tell you what it’s going to be like.

Will I get up and go to work?

Or will I sit down at a computer and grow more and more depressed over the prospects of finding a new job in the ever-gloomy field of my chosen profession, which I love today as much as I ever have.

To coin a term from this world, It’s a jump ball.

I’ll apply. I’ll hope to get an interview. I’ll try to knock it out of the park.

Then somebody I’ve never met until that day will show me the way to go.

I started this post with Sam Cooke’s title of his 1964 song. I end it with Frost’s final lines.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — … “

Well, that’s to be decided, isn’t it.

And come April 13, that will have made all the difference.

THE BEST OF ME: When I first realize the healing power of a sports team

In May of 1993, I wrote the following story for the Bangor Daily News. Personally, I can really start to see a maturity in my writing from the last item shared from 1992. But this story really hit home for me in a sense that I truly began to see how a sports team can also become a family. The tragic death of a 15-year-old girl as seen through the eyes of teammates really hit a chord with me and I realized trying to capture the emotion inside a story is really important. I just hope I did Mylissa Moors justice in this piece.

• • •

Central players try to cope after death of teammate

EAST CORINTH — They played softball again at Central High School on Thursday. But it wasn’t the same.

There was an emptiness, a hollow feeling inside each and every Red Devil player. Someone very special was missing.

Last Saturday, at 6:06 a.m., 15-year-old Mylissa Moors was killed in a car accident in Kendusgkeag. Moors was a sophomore at Central. She was the Red Devils’ starting left fielder.

Her death sent the Central players on a week-long emotional rollercoaster ride through reality. Tears have been shed, memories have been shared.

Even a 16-4 victory over Penobscot Valley of Howland on Thursday afternoon did little to ease the hurt, to fill up the sickly empty feeling sitting stagnant inside of them, or even dry up the tears.

Only time can do that.

The Central softball team has decided to deal with the death of their friend and teammate the same way they win and lose games — as a team.

“We had a meeting Saturday morning and I told the kids I was ready to forfeit those games,” said Central Coach Mike Thomas, referring to a scheduled Saturday doubleheader against Schenck. “But the kids said, ‘No. We’re better off here together.'”

Central split the twinbill, but more important results were at stake than just wins or losses.

“A lot of them asked, ‘Why?; some took a step back and said, ‘It could have been me;’ others say it makes you realize how fragile life is,” said Mike Hatch, Central’s athletic director. “I thought it was good for the girls to be together, to let the healing process start. It was a big step for the team, to begin to go through the mourning process.”

“I don’t think many of us wanted to play, but we felt we needed to be together,” said Cheri Greatorex, a senior shortstop. “It was hard to play. Our minds kept wandering.”

Central postponed Tuesday’s game against Piscataquis Community and did not practice either Monday or Tuesday, the days of the wake and funeral.

Instead, they tried to cope and understanding, leaning on one another, their families, or counselors made available by the school.

After all, most of these girls are 15-to-18 years old. They haven’t even learned about life yet. Why in the world wold the cruel hand of fate force them to learn about death?

It’s a question that has gone unanswered throughout the ages. The kids of East Corinth are no exception.

“I don’t understand why it happened,” said Greatorex. “I’m sure nobody understands. That’s a common question. Why? Why her? I don’t know. There  have been a lot of things going through my mind. I’ve never been through something like this before. We all feel it. We keep thinking about it. It’s hard to see a young person like that die.”

On week prior to Thursday’s game against PVHS, Moors had a home run and a single in her final game, a close to loss to PCHS.

She was also the starting goaltender for Central’s field hockey team.

Moors will be remembered much more as a person than as an athlete, though.

“She was one of the best people I’ve ever met,” said Greatorex, who became one of Moors’ close friends. “I loved her. She was fun to be with and she was a quality person.”

“She was a little spitfire,” added centerfielder Beth Miller. “She’d do anything for anybody. It makes you mad. I wish she was still here.”

Thomas added, “The kids will remember her every time they step on the field.”

Miller says she still looks over to left field, thinking she might see Moors out there. Moors best friend on the team, second baseman Savannah Bodwell, digs in a little deeper when she has to make a play. Teammates are constantly pulling each other back up when one of them gets down.

“I think we’re still feeling the effects,” said Greatorex. “We’re thinking about it a lot. This whole week has been the toughest week of my life. Hopefully, it will pull us all closer together.”

They played softball again at Central High School on Thursday. But it wasn’t the same.

It never will be, not without Mylisssa Moors in the outfield.

Still, the Red Devils are healing themselves and they play on with a friend and a teammate only a memory away.”

Three Year Laters: They Could Have Changed The World

 A woman kneels in front of a fence with the names of the 20 children killed a week ago at a memorial at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, 21 December 2012. On the darkest day of the year, communities across the United States paused Friday for a moment of silence at 9:30 am exactly one week after a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  EPA Photo by JUSTIN LANE

A woman kneels in front of a fence with the names of the 20 children killed a week ago at a memorial at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, 21 December 2012. On the darkest day of the year, communities across the United States paused Friday for a moment of silence at 9:30 am exactly one week after a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (EPA Photo by JUSTIN LANE)

It’s December 14th, which means its one of the saddest anniversaries of my life; one of the saddest dates in world history, if you really think about.

December 7th. November 22nd. September 11th. And December 14th.

Three years ago, a sick madman walked into an elementary school just 20 miles from where I sit, writing this, and started pulling the trigger on his gun — a Bushmaster XM-15-ES2 rifle that is meant to do nothing but kill and produce mass casualties.

Tragically, it did its job, taking away 20 children and six educators who walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School that morning thinking it was just another day.

It should have been a day that changed that world, but it didn’t work out that way. It rarely does.

Think about it: If those 20 children live, they would have had an opportunity to change the world.

Instead, they left it up to us and we have failed them.

We have failed them and we have failed the 142 other instances of gun violence on school campuses that have occurred in the past three years.

We have failed people in San Bernadino, Calif., in Roseburg, Ore., in Boulder, Colo.

And I do support the right for people to bear arms. I’m a native Mainer where guns are a way of life. Own your pistols. Own your shot guns. Protect yourself and protect your family. Go hunting and kill animals for sport or food.

You don’t need an assault rifle to do that. You don’t need an assault rifle to kill an intruder. One bullet can do that. You don’t need to tear apart a deer carcass by firing off 20 rounds into it. One well-placed shot gets you your meat.

And, for far-right-wing non-realists who say you need such guns to protect us from our own government, let me just say this: Buy a fucking tank and put it in your backyard because if the government is coming for us, we’re already toast with the weapons they have.

There’s a quote, penned by the writers of the television show “West Wing” where Sam Seaborn is speaking in the wake of a shooting against the President and his entourage.

“They bought guns. They loaded them. They drove from Wheeling to Rosslyn. And until they pulled the trigger, they had yet to commit a crime,” Seaborn said. “I am so off the charts tired of the gun lobby tossing around terms like ‘personal freedom’ and nobody calling them on it. It’s not about personal freedom. And it certainly has nothing to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.”

This is why I hate today.

What began as a tribute to 20 fallen angels and six educators, who could have changed the world, it turns political and the anger starts to boil inside me.

And that, I fear, is where we are failing them and our future.

I’m angry now and those people who just “like guns” are angry.

There is no middle ground and more people are going to die because of it.

And there is nothing we can do about it.

I think that saddens me even more than that date three years ago when we were all shocked by what happened in Sandy Hook.

They could have changed the world.

We should have changed the world.

Yet none of us could.

RIP, sweet angels.

I’m so sorry we have failed you.

Dear Basketball

The three senior players from my varsity basketball team, including yours truly on the right. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

The three senior players from my varsity basketball team, including yours truly on the right. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

Dear Basketball,

I didn’t realize this was it how it was done. Thankfully, Kobe Bryant has shown us all the way.

That being the case, I’ve come back to you on this day — the last day of November in the year of our Lord, (Michael Jordan) — to let you know I’m announcing my retirement from basketball. Retroactive, of course, to 1999; the last time I played in a 5-on-5 game.

I first met you when I was in third grade and it was love at first dribble. I was, what, eight years old? The moment I felt that ball in my hand, I knew you were the only sport for me.

Sure, I tried soccer for a year. I played football for one season in eighth grade, but the day I got my bell rung, I kind of knew it would be my only season.

I even played baseball up to high school, until I saw my first curve ball. Then I realized I was an a no-field, no-hit player who just had above-average speed.

You, basketball, became my sport; the love of my life.

As you know, I had to overcome a lot to play you.

I was undersized — 5-foot-11 on my best day with the right sneakers. I couldn’t really shoot all that well, either. I was an average ball-handler.

As a player my sophomore year at the Bangor Auditorium.

As a player my sophomore year at the Bangor Auditorium.

But I could jump, I could play defense, and I could out-hustle anybody on the court.

Heart was my strength and it’s never failed me on the basketball court.

I learned that would be my calling early on in life, during that first season when my coach, a man named Bob Ryan, taught me how to take a charge.

The rest was history.

Though it was a rocky history, for sure. Love, I supposed, can be like that sometimes.

I found out that you were a political sport because of those in power positions.

For the three years I was in junior high, I had a teacher/(ahem) coach who I knew hated me. Needless to say, I wasn’t his biggest fan, either.

At the time, I suppose somebody could have said I simply wasn’t good enough to make the team. I would have disagreed — vehemently, probably — but what the hell does a 12-13-14-year-old boy know when compared to a grown man in a power position of being a coach, right?

The grown up is always right, even when they’re wrong. And this guy was wrong. Period.

Well, when I went to high school, I was handed some ammunition that helped me state my case: As a freshman, I made the JV basketball team.

Fuck you, Mr. Hooper — though he would come back to haunt me once again.

I didn’t play much as a freshman and that was fine. I played JV again as a sophomore, suiting up for my favorite coach of all time, and got the most playing time of my high school career. A JV starter might not mean much to the world, but our varsity basketball team that season won a state championship and it was great to be in the pipeline.

In practice during my sophomore year.

In practice during my sophomore year.

To be honest, I thought I was good enough to make varsity as a sophomore. But the varsity coach took only one sophomore that season — a 6-1 forward.

He became a swing player later in the season, going up and down from JV to varsity, and I’ll never forget the practice where my JV coach paired us players at each basket to play one-on-one and he put me up against the varsity player.

I won.

It was my way of proving a point and, my coach would later tell me, his way of making a point to me, as well. Yes, I was good enough.

Then my junior year, it happened again.

Mr. Hooper.

My middle school coach — remember I told you he hated me? — had become the school’s JV coach and while I made the team, I was back on the bench, back on JV again.

It was the worst year of my basketball life.

I hated hating you, basketball, but that’s what Mr. Hooper did to me. He didn’t teach me to get better. He taught me to hate basketball.

Over that following summer, I transferred from that school to the high school I would graduate from.

Without Mr. Hooper — I will never call him Coach! — I ended up making varsity on a team that played for the Eastern Maine Class B championship the year before, and we got back to the semifinals; again, proof to me that this one man was holding me back as a player.

But that year renewed my love for basketball and I carried that with me into the future, too.

I was never good enough to play in college, but after high school I learned my eye-sight was pretty bad and starting wearing contacts.

That actually helped me become a better shooter as I played pick-up games at Husson College and the Bangor YMCA.

I became a better shooter, a better passer, and I never let the hustle waver — even as my body got older and took such dives to the court a lot more harsher.

Over the years, basketball remained a huge part of my life — mostly in my role as a sportswriter — but I also became a coach for four years and a certified patch-wearing referee for two winters, as well.

Sitting with former Wakefield (Mass) High player Liz Labriola at a summer basketball camp.

Sitting with former Wakefield (Mass) High player Liz Labriola at a summer basketball camp.

Through the years, I’ve been a fan of the NBA, though that has waned in recent years because of the spoiled players, the money and the style of game. College basketball and high school basketball still rates high, though the one-and-done of college hoops is a sad state of affairs and AAU basketball is spoiling part of the high school sports experience.

Another winter is now upon us, which means another basketball season is here.

I’m excited to get out there to be a part of it.

But on Sunday night when Kobe Bryant wrote you that letter, telling you he has retiring from basketball, I realized I had forgotten to do that.

Thus, I hereby make it official.

As of 1999, I have been retired as a player from the sport that has given me so much over my life.

Thank you, basketball, for being there for 42 years.