Pick 3: St. Johns River Marshals

“What is faith…”

Dateline:  St. Johns River Elite Registration

What if, random, isn’t random at all.

What if, my picks, aren’t my picks at all.

I’ve done Pick 3s many times before, even did a Pick 9 once. I would pick names out of hats, have someone else pick the people to be interviewed, close my eyes and point to a name on the Bassmaster Elite Series Marshal sign-in sheet.

The other day at the St. Johns River Elite event, I did a little bit of all three, wanted to make it as random as possible,


for the life of me, I don’t believe it was.

When you read this, I don’t blame you if you think I set this up, but I didn’t.

When one, allegedly randomly picked Marshal started telling me his story, I froze, or as Paul Elias says, “got instant stupid.”

I’m thinking, simply this: “No way.”

No way this stranger is telling me this story.

Not possible.

How does he,


But first, the long haired dude with a graying beard told me he was from Nashville, Tenn. …cool a music dude,


I was wrong, way wrong.

“…a heart of gold will take you to the rafters…”

Ronnie RichardsThe dude with the long hair and gray beard was only sort of in the music biz…

…he made folks face the music…

…the dude was a cop.

“I was on the Nashville Police force for 30 years, started when I was 22 years old, just recently retired,” said Ronnie Richards

So I take it the retired cop knows something about being a Marshal, turns out he does, “This is like my 10th or 12thtime being an Elite Series Marshal; I’ve been one in New York, Wisconsin, Georgia, Tennessee and last month at the Bassmaster Classic.”

Swear, I didn’t know that. Pinky Swear.

“So, Ronnie, what was your gig in the Nashville PD?”

“Worked undercover some.”

I guessed that, then “Spent some years in the K-9 unit.”

Okay, I’m thinking, here’s the story, now to get it, “Ronnie, you a dog guy?”

It wasn’t until my wife got Riley, a semi-crazed, fiercely independent, loving Shih-Tzu that I became a dog guy myself.

“Yeah, we would go through an 18-week training class with the dog and we would bring the dog home with us.  The dog was ours in our house; you get really close to the dog.”

“You ever bring any home?”

“Yeah, three, Jerry, Ace & Bandit.  Jerry was my favorite…”

“…any others come home with you?”

“Yeah…sort of.”

And it is in the next sentence where I find out that Retired Police Officer Ronnie Richards had pretty much, as we say in the news biz, BURIED THE LEAD:

Ronnie and his Day 1 draw, Elite angler Mike McClelland“My wife and I, we have one biological child but we brought home 4 other children…we adopted four kids.”

See, classic “buried the lead.”

Here’s Ronnie: “Twenty years ago we adopted four children all at one time, two boys, two girls. The boys were 1 and 3 years old; the girls were 5 and 6 years old –

all brothers and sisters. The state was going to break them up, easier for people to adopt, I guess. But my wife said that wasn’t going to happen; I thought it stunk as well, and so we became a family with five kids.”

And raise them they did, with Ronnie working extra duties as a cop and his wife working full-time at the Post Office. 

“All the kids are doing great. The 3-year-old boy is now 21 and still lives with us; the girls, all the girls have married and I’m now a grandfather with four grandkids.”

Ronnie and I talked some, mainly about kids and dogs; I got the feeling that had other kids, or dogs, needed a family, Ronnie would have taken them in as well.

I have spent almost 25 years dealing with law enforcement officers; every one I came to know over those years, whether man or woman, told me the exact same thing when I asked, “Why you, why this?”

They always told me they became a police officer because they wanted to help people.

The long-haired, gray beard dude did exactly that for four kids…and possibly several dogs.

Nashville, when this dude … one of your finest … when he retired, I hope you gave him a parade down Main Street.

And to Officer Ronnie Richards…

…Salute, Sir.

Steve GerrardNext, random dude #2.

He was the 17th Marshal to sign in after Ronnie.  I asked a guy in line, “Dude, give me a number between 1 and 10.”



So, as the Marshals passed the sign-in table I counted 1, 2…17.

#17 was an older guy, white short hair and beard.

His name is Steve Gerrard,

and because of Steve,

I may never believe in random,


“Steve, so what do you do for a living?”

“I’m retired.”

“Retired from what?”

“I was a teacher.”

“Cool, what did you teach?”

“I taught Phys Ed and Work Experience.”

And that was the moment,

I froze.

“…where you get your angel wings…”

Steve and his Day 1 draw, Kevin Hawk.I was never supposed to be anybody.

When I went back to Kenmore, N.Y., for my 30thhigh school reunion, most of the 100 or 200 people/classmates in the banquet room,

they had no idea who I was.

Not their fault; they weren’t a bunch of stuck up teeny bops. The plain truth of the matter is that most had NEVER SEEN me before.

You see, other than Home Room or Gym, I never went to class with any of them. 

They had the normal school curriculum, normal after school stuff; me, I had two classes in “shop,” two classes in “English” (one that I failed the year before and one for the current year) , and one “Study Hall.”

After “Study Hall,” I went to a class called, “Work Study,” after which I was dismissed from school that day and sent off to work.

I was 17 and washed up.

All my classmates at the reunion got an education, I got a vocation. They were all learning college prep; I was being prepped to punch in.

“Work experience was about…”

Steve is starting to tell me what Work Experience is all about; I have somehow picked a random nightmare.

I lower my head and pretend to write down what he is saying, but to be truthful I lowered my head so Steve, or his buddy Wayne, wouldn’t see the tears forming in my eyes.

Tears that still form, form now when I type the two words that have haunted me all my life…Work Study.

And then I do something I rarely do…I stop an interview dead in its tracks.

“Steve, man, you don’t know this but I was a Work Study kid.”

And the man with the white beard…double clutched.

And the man with the white beard…once again became the teacher of misfits, who cared:  “I understand, and I’m not surprised, but I understand that type of kid,” he said to that type of kid now trying to interview him.

“As a teacher you have to alter your plans, you have to understand that not every kid fits into the mold we want them to fit in.”

In my notes all I write down is, “don’t fit.”

Because, I didn’t.

Steve, I’m sure senses I’m once again a 17 year old walking down empty school halls, alone, off to work, never to a dance, a school play, or school lunch with friends.

“I got really close to the kids, Don. Sure, they were a challenge but I have to tell you it was the most satisfying work, teaching, that I have ever done with kids.”

And then I asked the hardest question of my life, the question I still wrestle with, the question I still get p.o.’d about.

“Did, did, did any of your kids ever make it?”

Not many in mine did.

“I actually had a couple gifted kids, kids off the chart in one or two areas, but not in the mold of the education system. One became a lawyer; one now designs medical prosthetics.”

Steve, taught, and cared about the kids for 35 years. I hope more than two made it; from my time with Steve, I’m sure others did as well.

I shook Steve’s hand, thanked him, took a photo of him and his Elite angler, Kevin Hawk, then dropped my pen and notepad into my backpack,

and left.

Random had smacked me upside the head, and I wasn’t about to have it happen a third time today.

Pick 3, turned into just a Pick 2.

This one hurt.

Didn’t see it coming.


Hurt not because of what it meant to me, did to me, but,

hurt because of what it has done to others,

others, punished, lost, for being different,

others, I was never able to help.

Didn’t see it coming.


I was just done, and I left.

Just a Pick 2.  Too close to home.


“…faith is believing…”

“Johnny’s Song”

Cross Canadian Ragweed