Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Famous Too Soon

I've mentioned that I rarely watch television anymore. Without cable, there simply are few offerings that I want to watch. Instead, I've turned to the Internet and specifically you tube for entertainment. Recently, I find myself watching ESPN's 30 For 30 series, documentaries which for the most part have centered on momentous sporting events since the inception of the network in 1979. I've watched the one on the 1985 Chicago Bears and one on why Christian Laettner is arguably the most most hated American college athlete in history. Currently, I'm half way through one chronicling the ABA's dysfunctional franchise, the Spirits of St. Louis. The show that has made the most impact on me is one called Little Big Men, the fairy tale story of how a bunch of twelve year old boys from Kirkland, Washington shocked the sporting world by winning the 1982 Little League World Series. Intertwined with television footage are interviews with the players, now in their mid 40s as well as the one surviving coach and parents of the squad. No one gave the Kirkland kids much of a chance even to make the Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, let alone win. The event had been dominated by teams from Taiwan and it was a foregone conclusion they would win again. But as sometimes happens in the magical world of sports, they didn't.

Much of the retelling centered around the star of the Kirkland team, Cody Webster. A youngster bigger than his teammates, Webster dominated the World Series both on the mound and with his bat. With this dominance came instant fame in the days before social media. Cody became the center of attention in countless television interviews and newspaper articles, often leaving the impression he was a one man team, far from reality. In fact, he was an introverted not yet teenager who just wanted to fit in with his friends. The clips of his television appearances were painfully awkward. He did not seek stardom and was unprepared for its consequences. I recall in one of his adult clips saying he would rather be a football lineman who nobody makes a big deal of. Webster went on to play on high school teams which won state championships in both football, as an offensive lineman, and in baseball. His college baseball career was derailed shortly after it started due to injury. Three of Webster's Little League teammates went on to play minor league baseball, a tremendous feat for a team from a town of 20,000. But fairly or unfairly, most sports fans' memories of that magical title centers around one kid, Cody Webster.

It should have been an uplifting story and parts were inspiring. But there was a very sad side as well for me. The worst was how some adults reacted to these kids' success, particualrly Cody's. He and his parents told how in the following summers parents of players on other teams would yell and curse at Cody, calling him a 'Fat ************.' He even was spat upon. His crime? Being better than other kids at an early age. He came across as a truly likable kid and now man. Sometimes, I got the idea he might have been happier if the whole baseball thing had never happened. Many of us secretly believe when we are kids that we will be famous one day. But as Cody Webster found out, fame is that proverbial double-edged sword.

On thing I really enjoy teaching my 8th grade students is the story of Jesus in the temple when He is twelve, the same age as the boys from Kirkland. It looks like His mother was irritated with her boy, which often happens with mothers and sons at that age. But it was after this incident and not before that Luke records one of the most famous quotes about the young savior in chapter 2, verse 52:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
That's the growth pattern that hopefully all young men, and women, will follow. Some things you just can't rush and some situations can't be predicted. I'm not sure how I would have reacted to pre-teen stardom but perhaps like Cody Webster. At the end of my 8th period class today, I was talking to some of my students on why I have to be strict with them when we count money for our Honduras/Haiti project. It boils down to two words- the boys. I asked them how thy thought I acted in 8th grade and they rightly guessed like our 8th graders, who really are good kids. Development runs along predictable stages and I was a precursor to the middle school males I teach now. You know the saying, boys will be boys. And for the most part, that's not a bad thing. We just need to make sure our growing doesn't stop in adolescence. 

Applicable quote of the day:
All American males are failed athletes, and it was big time even if it was Little League. It meant a lot to you. 
Nick Nolte

God bless,
Luke 18:1

E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

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