Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hall of Fame moment

Back in the first grade, I remember feeling compelled by some inner voice to stand in front of my classmates and give them a heartfelt speech about sidewalk safety while walking to school.

The speech, as I recall, was all off the cuff — no notes, prompts or cues of any kind.

It could have been a watershed moment for me. Now that I think about it, I might have been this close to becoming a speechifying politician had fate tricked me into thinking on that particular day that I actually might be good at baring my soul in front of strangers.

As life turned out, I didn't give another speech until 13 years later, when I took a public speaking class in college. For my final grade, I recited a poem that I had written. A lot of good that class did me because I didn't speak in front of an audience again for another 35 years or so.

Mementos of a long career. (Photos by Donnie Roberts)
Then came last night. I was being inducted into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame, a singular honor for me and the unexpected capstone to my 30-year career as a sports writer for The Dispatch, and I had to find a way to say thank you.

Suddenly, all those notes, prompts and cues that I had abandoned as a first grader were imperative now. So I wrote myself a script and practiced it a few times. It clocked in at just under three minutes, essential on a night when the 145 or so folks in attendance were probably itching to rush home and watch the Florida State-Clemson football game.

There's not a lot I remember after reaching the podium. Familiar faces that I had socialized with just moments before suddenly turned into complete strangers. I was standing in a tunnel and time stood still. When I did start talking, the mic made my voice sound like somebody else's. "Pro-JECT, pro-JECT", I kept telling myself, recalling the only lesson I could remember from my ancient public speaking class.

I thanked my newspaper colleagues. I thanked my wife. I expressed my sincere amazement at the incredible honor I was receiving. But I got through it. My friends, who somehow rematerialized from the land of total strangers, said I did a nice job and I was grateful for that.

I applaud my wife, Kim, for her incomparable support in my career.
I was particularly pleased to be inducted with this class. I consider West Davidson's Charles Elmore and Central Davidson's Gene Poindexter (both of whom were coaches and athletic directors) to be friends of mine, and our separate careers virtually began and ended together, to curiously criss-cross and interconnect over the canvas of space and time. County athletic director Phil Rapp seemed to be at every game I covered. Anna Coleman Hayes, an exceptional tennis player in her day, is practically a next-door neighbor. South Davidson coach Mike Crowell, inducted posthumously, left us way too soon. I didn't know him well, but he always made me feel comfortable.

 And so ended a special night, and my thanks to all.

I'm speechless.

        The entire Class of 2013 Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame.

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