Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Insight: A father does know best

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In my profession as a newspaper editor, my free time is limited because of work. Somehow, I missed watching sportscaster Joe Buck’s television interview show “Undeniable” when it aired from 2014 to 2019.

Ed Pierce is shown with his father, Ed. Sr.
about 1958 in Rochester, New York. 
On the program, Buck sits down in front of a live audience for hour-long interviews with some of the most prominent sports stars ever. During the past week, I made time to watch two of these exceptional interviews, one with tennis star John McEnroe and the other with hockey Hall of Fame legend Wayne Gretzky.

What I discovered is that they both had fathers who envisioned tremendous careers for their sons and were encouraging and supportive of them years before anyone had heard of them. Their keen insight and guidance regarding their sons resulted in five Wimbledon championships, 77 career tennis titles and four Stanley Cups and nine National Hockey League Most Valuable Player Awards.

I enjoyed learning about their early lives and how both of their dads realized their talent and suggested ways to continue to improve their skills so they could go on to lead productive lives.

When I was young, I had two dreams, one was to become a sportswriter and journalist, and the other was to coach the men’s college basketball team at Syracuse University. I had fallen in love with basketball from the first time I attended a Rush Henrietta High School varsity game at Christmas in 1966 and had watched a player named Bill Smith compete in a tournament for our school.

Smith, a 6-foot-11 center, graduated from high school the following spring, and enrolled at Syracuse. He went on to be one of three Syracuse players to average more than 20 points a game during his career there and set the all-time single game scoring record with 47 points in 1971 against Lafayette, a mark that still stands nearly 53 years later. 

Today I am friends with Bill, who played in the NBA, and is retired and lives in Oregon.

My own basketball career came to a crashing halt at Rush Henrietta when I became the first player cut from the team on the first day of tryouts in November 1969. The coach offered me a position as a manager and wanted me to keep the scorebook for the team.

I remember speaking to my father about this and he thought it was a great idea, telling me that if I couldn’t play, it was the next best way to stay involved with the team. He also reminded me of something that I had done several years before.

When I was in Fifth Grade, I watched a sandlot baseball game in Brighton, New York between my brother’s elementary school, Queen of Peace, and my school, Our Lady of Lourdes. I jotted down details of what happened in the game and produced an account that was published on Sunday in the church newsletter. My father thought that it was a remarkable feat for being just 10 years old and never forgot it.

I accepted the scorebook job, but it was the responsibility of the coach to call in the box score after each game to the daily newspaper. Because he was so busy, sometimes the coach would bring me into his office after games and have me call the sports desk at the newspaper to tell them what happened.

Once, the assistant sports editor asked me if I could watch a game in a neighboring town when our high school was not playing and call in the results. I did it and received a $5 check in the mail for doing that the next week.

But by the time I was graduating from high school, I was torn between the decision of going to college and studying physical education to become a basketball coach, or to study journalism and pursue a career as a sportswriter.

When it came time to fill out my college application form, I had made up my mind and was determined to follow my dream of coaching basketball. I handed the application to my father, who had to sign it as my parent. He said he’d do that and take it to the post office and mail it in for me.

After a month of waiting, a letter from the college arrived for me and informed me that I had been accepted into the freshman class that fall. I spent the summer getting ready to travel across the country and preparing to take the first steps of living on my own for the first time. Before I got on the plane, my father told me to work hard in school and that he believed in me.

When I arrived at the college admissions office to receive my class schedule, I was surprised. My schedule was filled with journalism classes, not physical education classes. When I was shown my college application, I found my father had erased physical education and in his own handwriting, had replaced my major with journalism. Now 48 years into my career as a journalist, I can’t thank him enough for doing that for me.

I’m not John McEnroe or Wayne Gretzky, but I understand when they speak with reverence about how their fathers influenced their lives. I can say the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment