“One by one, my hopes are vanished in the twilight…”
Dateline: Our Future
I remember the day the world told me,
I didn’t matter.
Remember every moment of the 45 minutes it took for me to realize the world had just turned it’s back to me.
It was 4th period.
It was at a “Parent Conference,” with my mother, and my Guidance Counselor.
For 45 minutes I sat in a straight back chair and listened to all my faults, heard I didn’t “test well,”
“not college material,”
and the childhood Coup de Grace, “maybe…slow…you know.”
In the hallway after the session, as all the other kids in high school walked by, my mother could barely look at me as she said, “I told you so, you are nothing but a disappointment.”
And then she walked away.
But I don’t, I DON’T blame her at all, here was a working stiff lady, barely a high school education herself, a human being conditioned with the belief that men in ties and suit coats knew more than she did, were smarter than she was, and she just sat through 45 minutes of pretty much being told her son, was a dope.
I don’t blame her at all.
From that moment on, I blamed those in suits and ties.
From that moment on, I blamed authority,
and stopped listening to it.
What was decided at that meeting was that college was out of the picture for me, so I was put into a program called, “Work Study.”
I was being trained to be a worker, a serf, not a king.
We would take a couple of classes, check back in to the “Work Study” room, and then leave the school for the job the school, or someone, found for us, the job someone felt we could handle.
I was out the door, out of the school’s hair before the 1st lunch period.
I spent the rest of the day learning how to change tires in a muffler shop. It was how I got the school credit to graduate.
Being a tire changer.
I was 17.
Not once during the 45 minutes where the world said I didn’t matter, not once did they ever call me by my name, that’s how little I mattered.
They only called me….him.
When a child loses his name, he loses hope.
He becomes concave.
Belief in themselves, is lost.
The world shrinks to “Them.”
And take it from me, “him” becomes…invisible.
Which is how I felt.
Felt, not there anymore, felt not ALLOWED to be there anymore.
If only during the 45 minutes when they world told me that I mattered none, if only once the world asked me a question, if only once the world would have listened instead of dictated, they would have heard this:
Him…would have told them,
“I see words in my head and the words float on music, I see the words and the music at the same time and as the words and the music get bigger and bigger the words and the music turn into pictures…in my head. When you talk…I SEE YOUR STORY.”
Him…would have told them,
“I’m not distracted…him is not, not paying attention…him is just watching what you are saying in my head…watching your story play out.”
But no one ever asked.
Because the world had moved on,
“…one by one, my hopes have vanished in the clouds…”
When the world loses interest in you, you return the favor.
I lasted about a week as a tire changer in a muffler shop, at the time I weighed maybe, MAYBE 105 pounds, couldn’t lift the tires onto the rims, I was again a problem, again a “him.”
The owner, a big man covered in grease would do a lot of yelling, name calling, threats. I had pretty much by that time had all I could take from a world not interested in me, had enough of going from “him” to “stupid,” so on the Friday of my first “Work Study Week,” a threat was met with a tire iron thrown in response.
At the boss.
At the world.
I spent the next week suspended, here’s the counseling I got that Monday morning, “You can’t even get that right can you.”
For the next two years I took the state mandated three courses in the morning…Shop…History…English…then left the school to go work various menial jobs.
I got a “D” in shop.
I got an “A” in History.
I got an “F” in English…failed it in grade 10, 11 and 12...had to take it in summer school to legally get out. How do you diagram a sentence when the sentence on the chalkboard starts a whole story playing in your head.
When one single adjective leads to a one act play raging through your head.
When a pop quiz became a pop song in your head.
I became exactly what the world thought I would become…a punk. A violent gang member…a child with nothing to lose, because I had nothing to gain.
And then I did stuff that I am not proud of.
And finally, drug abuse. It was the 1960’s, and I bought an all day pass on the Magic Bus.
I did it in the hopes that it would change me, that it would somehow wipe out what made me bad, what made me different, what made me “Work Study.”
It only made it worse.
Broke myself and my parents apart, a void that lingered through my adult life to the day they died, and beyond.
Lingers through my professional life…I don’t do well with authority figures…with bosses…or bullies…the Establishment…and especially with bureaucracy.
It is those who are lost, that I feel most comfortable with.
It is those who the world has told, doesn’t matter, who I most protect, who I most fight for.
“…one by one, my dreams are fading fast away…”
I believe a hundred years from now, it is not the tournaments we will be remembered for.
I believe a hundred years from now we will be remembered not by what we took, but what we gave back.
I believe that what we will have given back, will be the lost children.
And that will come through the B.A.S.S. high school outreach program.
I believe we need to grow the sport, sure I buy that, but what I would crusade to do, is to first, grow the children.
Grow the children, especially the lost ones, the tough ones.
The ones like me.
We need to look past the front of the class to those hiding in the back. There should be no lost children in education in America, or elsewhere for that matter.
Every child has an entry point. Every child has a spark within them, a spark we need to grow, not blow out.
Let me tell you how strongly I believe in this…show you my bias up front…and remember where it is I come from on this point.
If, we, us, use fishing as an entry point to a child and that child stays in high school, then follows that entry point into college because that college has a fishing team, and that one child then graduates from college…ONE CHILD…then everything we have done in the sport becomes worth it.
If that happens, to me, the sport then becomes validated.
And if we keep doing what we are doing, the odds of that happening are screaming upwards.
“We have about 130 kids here today from 22 high schools in Illinois.” Jon Stewart, the B.A.S.S. guy who runs the high school seminars for the kids told me the other day.
“They get 15 minutes with each Elite angler who gives them a seminar on various aspects of fishing and then takes their questions.”
Here at the Elite All-Star event in Decatur, Il….seven Elites came to talk to the kids. Skeet Reese, Brandon Palaniuk, Travis Manson, Brody Broderick, Fletcher Shryock, Randy Howell and Byron Velvick who hopped on a plane and flew in from Texas just to spend a couple hours with the kids.
Matt Lee…an college angler from Auburn University who will be fishing in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, also gave a seminar even though he is not far removed from those around him who stood under a tree on a rolling hill and listened.
“…one by one, the days are slipping up behind you…”
David Ittner, the Tournament & Pro Staff Manager for Yamaha took time away from a wedding to come here and bring with him…80 or so pizza’s to feed the high school kids.
“db this is so important, school is so important that whatever I can do to help this, help the kids I will.”
Other than wearing his Yamaha jersey, I never heard David mention a thing about Yamaha to the kids. But this is what he told me, “I get 100’s of resumes asking me to sponsor this or that angler, and I tell you what I look for is an educated angler. Someone who speaks well, correctly, well versed in business, marketing, manners, general knowledge. High school is setting these kids on their career path. Our future is in front of us right here eating these pizza’s.”
Frank Labanowski sees that everyday.
Frank is the President of the Illinois Bass Federation Nation and has visited scores of high schools in the state, “I try and get them to offer tournament fishing as a club sport…right now in the state of Illinois over 100 schools offer it.”
Some schools have 30 kids on the team, others just 2 or 3, the average is about 5.
I told Frank of my story of being lost in high school, and as it turned out, Frank himself was another lost child, “I grew up in Chicago, southside, I was just like you, I go back to the old neighborhood and some of the guys I grew up with are still sitting in the same bar as we did as teenagers, the only thing that has changed…are the bar stools.”
“What we are doing with the kids transcends tournaments.”
And then he told me a story, of a lost child.
“He was a teen, had some issues with his parents, with school and academics and got a big attitude. He showed up one day, joined the fishing team…and I tell the kids I’m going to treat you like an adult until you show me I have to treat you otherwise.”
Physically we are sitting on folding chairs in a tent…at least Frank is…I’m back in a 4th period parent meeting…
“I watch as this kid starts to do well in tournaments, starts to get this spark, all of a sudden he starts coming to meetings, starts becoming involved, starts paying attention to school work…I tell all my kids you don’t have to be on the honor roll but you have to take care of business with school work or you won’t be a part of the team.”
Spark…he says “spark” and I push my Costas tighter on my face because I don’t want this stranger to see my eyes water.
“Then the kids mother comes up to me and she is crying…I didn’t know what was wrong but I was glad I had my wife standing next to me…so this mother she says to me…this is the first year that he has had no problem in school…no problem since he started fishing.”
I’m not sure, wouldn’t swear to it in journalism court, but I think Frank’s eyes are starting to water too.
“And then db she says this to me, ‘You have no idea what kind of affect you and this program has had for the good on my child. Now…now, he is even talking about going on to community college.”
And with that, pools form behind my Costas.
“…one by one, the sweetest days of life go by…”
I sat and talked to some of the kids eating pizza, told them of a lost child I once knew.
A child who did not matter to the world. Maybe I should have, who knows, it is still something very hard for me to physically talk about, far easier to write the story alone in a hotel room than to try and get the words out to strangers.
Still hurts, 45 years later.
Bu as I talked about it some to the kids as they ate their pizza I looked around the table for the child who wouldn’t look at me eye to eye.
Looked for the child who stared only at the pizza on his or her plate.
The lost child.
Takes one to know one.
To the table I spoke of the values of fishing and higher education. I told them that education, that knowledge would be the greatest catch of their lives. And that fishing would be something they would be able to do 30 years from now with their kids or grandkids.
And then I told them this,
find your spark.
Find your Frank Labanowski.
Find your David Ittner.
Find your Jon Stewart.
There is a world out there waiting for you.
A world that wants you, a world where you will matter.
It is our obligation to provide that to you, to find the spark that is you.
Accept nothing less than that.
Demand we search out your sparks. It is those sparks that will light the way to our future.
Be they the sparks of fishing,
or of seeing words come to life in your brain.
It is those sparks where you will make your name.
And where you won’t be known as just,
“…one by one, the teardrops fall as I write you.”
One by One
See db's photos from the B.A.S.S. High School event here.