By Edd J. Hayes
During the 1970s-80s, a growing enthusiasm surrounding Black College sports – particularly football, men and women basketball, track and field (men and women) – was riding a renewed popularity, thanks to publications like the Pittsburgh Courier, Sheridan Sports, and newcomers Black College Sports Reports and Black Sports World magazine.
Black college football was producing superstars like Walter Payton (Jackson State), Harry Carson (SC State), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley) and John Taylor (Delaware State)…NFL Super Bowl champions and Hall of Fame candidates (just a short list).
A group of mentors from my church formed a football excursion to several games to expose our youths to the college sports atmosphere. Most of them were kids who possibly had never traveled outside of the city limits of New York City.
Since I was engaged in Black College Sports, I coordinated a Saturday trip to a Delaware State Homecoming game. I had covered a few games on campus and was impressed by the tailgate turnout and the genuine support of fans and alumni. The homecoming weekend was even more exceptional and I was elated that we could share this experience with the kids.
I recall that chilly Saturday morning as the travelers begin to assemble and the anticipation of the wide eyed children who were escaping their neighborhood, if just for a day. But there was one teenager, about 15 years old, who got on the bus in a haughty mood. He brushed his way past everyone and sprawled on the backseat, not willing to share the space with anyone. I kept an eye on him out of curiosity because I hadn’t recalled ever seeing him attend a church service.
“Our greatest reward is contributing to the good of all and it rings of success for all.”
On the two hour trip to Dover, he remained isolated and uncommunicative. However, when then bus pulled into the parking lot, everyone was drawn to the large crowd milling about the lot. There were numerous tailgate parties going on…barbecues, music and just plain joviality.
As they piled out of the bus, I lost sight of the young man. Preoccupied with the game, I was in the press box most of the time and didn’t get to mingle much until halftime.
Even after the game resumed, there was still plenty of activity in the tailgate section and a lot of the kids were involved in pickup basketball games on the courts.
I found myself at the edge of the courts when I spotted the teenager. As I observed him, I was totally amused at what I saw. His demeanor had totally changed…he was immersed in a heated contest with other players and hardly noticed me when I approached him.
What happened next was one of those moments. When he made eye contact with me, he came over and said, “ Mr. Hayes! I’m glad I came! This is so much fun!
In fact, when the game was over and we were trying to collect our crew, we had to go looking for him. He was so pumped. He wasn’t ready to leave!
I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks. Then, one Sunday he came to church, with his younger brother in tow. He made his way to me and we engaged in a conversation that gave me so much humility. He thanked me so heartily and said he wanted to finish school and go back to that college. In fact, he said he was strongly admonishing his little brother to “straighten up” and get his grades up.
It may seem like a small thing to those who have never experienced the lifestyle these young people had and don’t feel compelled to get involved with mentoring.
If we recognize our real purpose in life is to help those who are in need…whatever the necessities are, our greatest reward is contributing to the good of all and it rings of success for all. We may be shaping the next president of the United States of America.