“Great Equalizer: Part IV” The Gridiron
In the spring of 1990 I went to my parents with a request that would challenge everything they believed in raising me from a small child to a seventh grade student. Kent and Brenda Haley had allowed me to participate in any activity I requested, and if it was appropriate for my age group. This particular spring I wanted to play football. Yes, after having six surgeries on my arms, and spending hours in therapy to recover from each operation I wanted to play a sport where kids literally crash into each other.
When I came to them, to their credit they were calm, and simply asked if I was sure I would like to do this. Of course I never even thought of the repercussions of being hit and injured by playing. My parents never told me I should not play, but they did tell me they were concerned about me playing a contact sport. I explained I would at least be wearing pads, where in the backyard where we played a tackle football game every day, was more dangerous than any practice I would participate in at Sumter Academy.
With reservations my mom took me one afternoon to get a physical from my doctor. As it turned out Dr. Eller was absent that day, but I met with a substitute doctor taking her place while she was away. I went through the physical and just before it was concluded the doctor began discussing worries about possible injuries. This man, who had never met me before, began a conversation by telling me that I could not participate in something. I had been questioned whether or not I could play a sports before, but I would just perform, proving them wrong. This man was making an assumption and concluded that he would not sign off on my physical telling me I could not play. As a physician he had the right to do this, but now I was determined to play football just to prove this man wrong. This action also brought my mother to my side, as she drove me to another doctor’s office, as my regular doctor would be away for a week. Dr. Simpson saw me that afternoon and signed off on my physical so I could begin spring workouts.
Coach John “Bud” Murray was a great guy to play football for especially for a novice like myself. He treated us all the same and put players in positions he felt they could succeed in or most likely in my case to ensure I would not get hurt. For me, I was put on the offensive line at 93 pounds, but in practice I played outside linebacker. Now after coaching football myself I understand what Coach Murray did every day in practice. As a former middle school head coach for seven years I understand Coach was protecting me in practice on a daily basis. We had a small number of players and to maximize practice he put his best players on the right half of the offense and left half of the defense to run our offense. At the time I wondered why the ball was never run in my direction, but of course that was by clever design.
I was not a starter or even a back up, but before our last game against Warrior Academy I was goofing off by snapping the ball to the quarterback in practice the day before the last game. Bud saw me doing this, but I did not think anything of it. Going into the fourth quarter our team scored a touchdown to lead by two scores. Bud shocked me by telling me to warm up our back up QB by giving him some snaps. He shocked me further when he told me to go replace my good friend Blaine McCorkle who went on to play for LSU after high school. Four a couple of possessions I got to do what the doctor told me was not possible. I was hiking the football to start each play and going against a kid twice my size. Although I did not push him off the ball I did not get dominated and when our offense went off the field Bud made my day by letting me stay in at linebacker. My parents watched as I made a couple tackles along with the help of my teammates, and a little piling on strategy I used to have my number called. My football career as a player ended that day as I walked off the field, but the pride I felt in myself for accomplishing something a man, a doctor, said I couldn’t do was even more satisfying.
If you enjoyed this feature please check out Part I , Part II and Part III of the "Great Equalizer", as always comments are appreciated.
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