“I'll never quit…”
Dateline: Elites 2014
“The fish, are not the story.”
I came to sports, as not a sportswriter.
I came to sports, as not a sports fan.
I came to sports, as a writer. Period. Nothing fancy. I wrote serious stuff, I wrote funny stuff, I covered state fair pie baking contests in the morning, homicides at night.
For the last 30 years in the space labeled: Occupation…I have only written one word…writer. Just that.
For the past 22 years, I have written about sports. Not about the final score, not about wins, or loses, not about trades or benching, I am a stats free writer.
As a writer, which as you have read is at my core, as a writer, I have been at big time sporting events, wrote big time stories, got into the cab and was driven back to the hotel, brushed my teeth and gone to bed without any clue as to who won the game.
I don’t read the sports pages either. I never did well at math.
Very early on in my career I worked with, co-wrote scripts with one of the best writers of sports in my lifetime…Frank Deford. This is the last script we worked on together, a sports year in review, 1993. We knew it was our last piece together so he signed it and I have it framed in my office.
I would sit on the floor in Frank’s office at his house in Connecticut, papers spread on the floor all around me, and we would talk…writing…not sports.
In all those talks, Frank never once mentioned a score.
Frank and I talked about the game, as if the game, was alive. As if the game, was a player, as if the game, suited up.
In 1993, ESPN Sportscenter sent me to Cleveland, it was the 30th anniversary of the JFK assassination. In 1963, the Sunday following the assassination, the Cleveland Browns played the Dallas Cowboys at home.
I have no idea who won that game, but I found people who were in the stands watching on that day, found players who played the game that day, and they talked about what it was like to suit up, what it was like to sit in the stands and watch a team from Dallas.
Some bosses at ESPN had problems with my story, I didn’t have any game video from 1963 in it, didn’t have any stats or even who won.
I knew then I wasn’t a sportswriter, just a writer, of all the hundreds of stories I did for SportsCenter, for Outside The Lines, all the awards and things, of all that stuff, that story was and will always be my favorite writer of sports stories.
Of all the stories ever written, the greatest stories on earth are those written about life, about the ups, about the downs, about the human experience.
We as humans began to write so we could tell stories about other humans. The oldest known story found so far dates back some 3,000 years, written in Babylonia about a king and all the sex, lives and thievery in the kingdom.
Stories haven’t changed much.
“…I'll never lay down…”
“I’ve never known anybody to achieve anything without overcoming adversity”
I want you to look closely at these next several photos…it is these photos that made my decision as to what my Elite story of the year would be. Once you see the photos and know some behind the scenes info on the photos, I believe it will be your Elite sports story of the year as well.
I’m at a crawdad boil put on by Elite angler Dennis Tietje and his wife Trudy the Sunday before practice for the Elite event at Toledo Bend. As we ate the wind picked up whipping the trees and causing white caps on the lake.
I took a photo of everyone eating, and over there in the upper left hand corner you can see my great friends, almost family, Elite angler Kevin Short and his wife Kerry. The time stamp on that photo is: April 27,2014 04:03:37 PM
I sat with them some and when they got up to leave I said I would catch up with them tomorrow.
I wouldn’t see them again for almost 3 weeks.
During the night a tornado struck the Shorts home town of Mayflower, Arkansas…they immediately left Toledo Bend and headed home, as they drove I talked with them and all they had been told at the time was, “Our house is gone and what’s left is supposedly on fire.”
In the morning when they were first let into the area to see their home, Kerry sent me this photo. Time stamp: April 28, 2014 11:22:04 AM
In 19 hours, my best friends lives had changed.
Time stamp: May 15, 2014 04:48:20PM
18 days from the day Kevin Short lost his house and most of his possessions he took to the stage at Lake Dardanelle…
…his neighborhood was still rubble…
…Kerry and he were living in a 5th wheel across the street from where their house once stood…
…and at dinner with Kevin & Kerry, and also good friends Steve & Julia Kennedy and their two children, at that dinner on Sunday August 24, 2014 in Cayuga, NY, Kevin sat at the head of a long table, Steve at the other end, I was next to my wife Barb and I had my back turned to Kevin, but strangely sensed something and turned to look at him. We have this weird sense thing between us, but when I turned to look at him, all he said to me quietly was,
“I made it.”
And I used my napkin to wipe back a tear.
“…see, I've promised myself…”
“Everybody pulls for David; nobody roots for Goliath.”
“I made it, made the Angler of the Year tournament at Escanaba, did it basically in just 6 events, everybody got the same amount of points for BASSfest so kick that out, I only fished in 6 tournaments, everyone else fished in 7.”
It wasn’t bragging when he said it, it was flat out astonishment.
For both Kevin, and me.
It was 119 days since the Short’s home was destroyed, as we talked that night their family home was still nothing but dirt on top of a hill.
“It wasn’t just our home, my father lived next door and his home was destroyed as well, Betty, his girlfriend, she lived across the street, her home was gone to, our shop where I keep my boat and all my fishing stuff had suffered major damage, one of our neighbors had died…”
The stats of his year, tell none of that.
The fish he held up on stage, told none of that.
If you just look at his year, if you just look at his fish, you would say he had a good year, may even make the Bassmaster Classic, but it is never a black and white world, when your jersey is pink.
“It was hard to get back on the water, and yes it was therapeutic to get back to doing what I do for a living and away from all the destruction but…”
“…but db, I knew that he wasn’t just himself, that even out there fishing, even out there rigging his bait, yes he was back fishing but I worried about him because I knew what happened to his father was weighing heavy on him.” Kerry Short.
Kerry Short is basically my younger older sister on the Elite trail. At the end of every phone conservation, be it Kerry, be it Kevin we all say, “…Love ya, bye.”
And we mean it.
“Hell yeah,” was Kevin’s answer to, “Did Kerry help you through this.”
“No way, no how would I have made it without her, we worked non-stop every stinking day clearing debris, making sure everything was okay with my dad, pulling everything together so I could even be back out here.”
The day before when Kevin checked in, that Saturday he placed in the 12 spot for the Top 12 cut to fish on championship Sunday, as I sat in our rental cottage and watched the results on the computer, saw that another 30 or so anglers still had to check in, I looked at Barb, who was also watching, looked at her heartbroken, we both thought the magical season had come to an end.
Kerry: “Max came up to me and asked where Kevin was, and I told him I didn’t really know, and why, what was wrong, and he told me to go find Kevin quick because he was going to be called up on stage…he had made the 12 cut. When I found him and told him, all I could do was cry.”
And back in the rental cottage when Barb and I saw the results, all we could do was cry as well.
Kevin: “You know it all…”
Kerry: “…happens for a reason. It’s like…”
And I finished my younger older sister’s sentence, “…there is a hand that is guiding it all.”
“…that I'd never let me down, so…”
Believe, like I do, that random, isn’t so…random.
I know this, not sure who is driving the bus we are all on, but it ain’t me, it ain’t you, but there is a presence in the driver’s seat up front there.
Kevin and Kerry lost their young daughter, Michelle, a beautiful young lady who is almost exactly my daughter’s age, lost Michele several years back to an auto accident.
In the Short’s home, Michelle’s room was kept the same as the day she left and never returned.
If you say material things can be replaced, you have not lost a loved one and all that you have left of that person are material things.
I slept in Michelle’s room when I stayed with them, her cheerleader pom-poms were on her desk, her life sized cardboard cutout of Derek Jeter stood with her red bauble necklace around his neck, I knew her perfume from her stuffed animals.
When I talked to Kerry as they sped back to Mayflower to see what was left of there home, unspoken between the both of us was simply this…Michelle’s room.
In bed that night, in the beds of all their friends, their family, only one prayer was said, “Please God, don’t take Michelle’s room.”
I say nothing, I can’t, Kerry is looking at her house, I can hear Kevin talking, they are standing looking at what is left of their house…
There is a lump in my throat, I’m wishing Barb was here to just hold me.
Kerry is choking on the lump in her throat as well.
“db…Michelle’s room is all here…nothing was touched…it is all here…”
The roof of Michelle’s bedroom was gone, and yet, yet, her pom-poms where still there, yet Derek Jeter still stood tall, yet…”
That lump is still in my throat.
“..I'll never give up, never give in…”
…for a reason.
As I write this, the Shorts are heading to the AOY event in Escanaba, Kevin is sitting in 34th place in the AOY race, if the season ended today, he would make the Bassmaster Classic.
Behind them in Mayflower, a framing crew is putting up the innards of their new home, in it some of Michelle’s most precious things will be prominently displayed, but there will be just a Master bedroom suite, a spare room (called db’s room), and an office/bedroom.
The door has closed on Michelle’s room.
…for a reason.
I told Kevin the last time we talked, “Dude if you would have quit, then the tornado would have won. Sports trumped the twister.”
None of this is of course reported in the box score of his season.
There is no asterisk that mentions…Michelle.
…for a reason.
I believe in my heart, this is Michelle’s season.
I believe in my heart, that the person driving the bus, moved over and let a pretty young lady take the wheel.
And that is coming from the heart of a writer, of sports.
I wish nothing but the best for Greg Hackney.
I wish nothing but the best for Aaron Martens, Todd Faircloth and all those fishing in the AOY event.
I wish nothing but the best for all those who fish the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
But I won’t be watching the weights, won’t be watching the weigh-ins…
…I’ll be waiting at a bus stop…
…to thank the driver that guided…
…Kevin and Kerry’s season.
And the driver will be wearing,
a Derek Jeter jersey,
and smell of the perfume,
found on stuffed animals.
And that to me, is my pick for the Elite story of the year.
“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”
– Grantland Rice
…a writer, of sports.
“…and if I fall, I'll never fail, I'll just get up and try again”