True Character Can Be Found On or Off the Field

Rudy Ruettiger as played by Sean AstinHe went to the first football practice his senior year with high hopes of being a starter. One look at the kid and you could tell he was a born athlete, the kind that could play any sport and contribute to the team. Going to a large school where almost everybody played football and nobody got cut didn’t matter to him.

In a town with close to 90,000 people and a high school with over 3,500 students, you can bet there were several players sitting on the bench that would be starters anywhere else. The large number of players would relegate some very talented football players to mop-up duty and special teams.

Going into the season it looked like this kid had a reasonable shot at being a defensive starter. He could hit like a truck and had great instincts. Shortly after the season started the coaches moved him to offense as a back-up running back.

Along with his physical gifts, he was a very perceptive kid and could read the writing on the wall. Early in the season, it would have been easy for him to clean out his locker and quit the team. However, he got together with his dad and discussed his options. For a player with so much athletic ability, it would take someone with a great attitude to stick around and cheer from the sidelines knowing he could help the team just as much as some of the starters. He told his father he had decided he could help the team by giving a hundred percent at practice and challenging the starters so they could get better. In the back of his mind he hoped for just one chance to prove himself in a game on any Friday night.

He never really got that shot. He was a standout on special teams and the team was very successful without him being a major player. When he did get in games, he excelled and there wasn’t a player on the team who put out more effort in practice.

His dad works in my neighborhood and I see him almost every day. He once told me about the time his son looked him in the eye and said, “Dad, it doesn’t look like I’m going to play much this year. But, I’ve decided to give it my all and help the team. I’ve seen kids in similar situations who got all bitter inside and really hurt the team. I don’t want to be like that, Dad.”

His father told me he had never been more proud of his son. He was more proud then than at any time when he was the star on one of the teams he had played on in the past. He told me there comes a time when you hope your kid has developed character and is ready for the world.

“You can only do your best and hope you raise a good kid,” he said. “After a while, whether a kid is good at sports or good at playing an instrument or good at math, those things are all secondary to being a good person. I’ve seen all the competitive parents pushing their kids to be the best they can be at a sport. But, often times you don’t see enough positive personal development come out of that.”

While talking to this hard working, devoted family man that day and reflecting back on the 10 years I’ve known him, I am hard pressed to come up with a person with a better attitude.

This is something we should reflect upon when we start acting like our kid’s junior high football games are Super Bowl XXXXVII.

Comments to Doug Sarant at Doug@oakridgenow.com

Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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After the Vigils, Helping Newtown Begin to Heal

DERBY, CT - From left, sisters Sara, 12, Jessica, 6, and Kaitlyn Gerckens, 10, of Derby (a town about 15 miles from Newtown), gather at the Derby Green during a vigil to remember the lives lost during the tragic shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. The event was organized by the communities of Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton. Photo by Josalee Thrift of the Valley Independent Sentinel

Editor’s note: As individuals, as parents, as people who live in quiet suburban communities, we identify with the families of Newtown, Connecticut, as well as all the other places visited by unspeakable tragedy. We ache for these folks, and we wonder what we can do to ease their pain. We say prayers, hold vigils, send tons of flowers and teddy bears, and we give whatever we can, oft times frustrated by our inability to take away that pain, to turn back time, and even to prevent this from happening again somewhere. Today, Doug Sarant, who grew up in Connecticut, tells us about some of these efforts.

In going back and forth with my long time friend, Mark Feltch, in Newtown since the tragedy, it was nice to hear him tell of a positive experience he encountered today.

“It was a humbling experience today at the NYA (Newtown Youth Academy) in terms of the support that my hometown is receiving from people far and wide, Mark said. Eleven MLL (Major League Lacrosse) stars gave Newtown three hours of their time. Meanwhile, UCONN basketball was in the other gym running a clinic and there was a constant stream of buses taking any Newtown kid and family down to the new Chelsea Piers Sports Complex in Stamford (Ct) to play anything and everything down there – for free – everything was free.”

One of the MLL stars that traveled to Newtown was Scotty Rodgers, who played his college lacrosse at Notre Dame. Rodgers came to The Woodlands the summer after his NCAA Division 1 lacrosse tournament MVP selection to be a part of the Woodlands High School lacrosse camp by taking charge of all the goalies. Mark was able to take in Rodgers’ Newtown goalie clinic and commented that Scotty could not have been better with the kids.

Today was a good day for Newtown, Connecticut and it was comforting to see Mark so upbeat. Mark lived in the Houston area up until the mid 90’s and was a strong presence in the area’s lacrosse growth. Since he and his beautiful wife, Ann landed in Newtown, he has been instrumental in the sport’s growth in Connecticut as well.

Mark and Ann have two kids: Libby is 22 and a graduate of Vassar College where she played field hockey and lacrosse. Charlie is 18 and a freshman at Curry College. Libby and Charlie as well as others with deep roots in Newtown worked on a tribute film as part of their ongoing healing process. Libby was the location coordinator and Charlie did voice-overs, along with various other Newtown graduates. [Editor’s note: Watch the video]

For the vast majority of us, we can not possibly relate to what the people of Newtown endured on December 14 and will live with for the rest of their lives. What went on today in regards to the activities for the kids of Newtown can only offer a temporary, positive distraction to a heinous, cowardly act.

With good examples like Scotty Rodgers, his MLL brethren, UCONN basketball,  the town of Stamford and law enforcement from all over Connecticut having the people of Newtown’s back, we can follow their lead by keeping the people of Newtown in our prayers when we hit our knees EVERY NIGHT.

Godspeed to the Feltch family and the people of Newtown.

Comments to doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Are Concerns About Youth Football Injuries Overrated?

Photo courtesy of Jim Danvers / Flickr

Now that youth football is over for the year, I wanted to throw a piece out there about how great youth football is for all youth everywhere. We all watch football at all levels to include pro, college and high school. However, far and away the most exciting game to watch is youth tackle football.

Seeing how this is Texas, in just about every town  youngsters have the opportunity to play tackle football if they desire.

If you have a problem with your kid’s interest in tackle football, I encourage you to go watch a game at the South County Football League’s fields located at the Gullo Park located off Budde/Pruitt road.

If you have young children and are skeptical about putting them in tackle football, watch some games of all age kids.

They start when they are 5 years old and the league goes until they are 13. After that, if they still want to play, they compete at the junior high level.

Is it a physical game? Yes! Is it expensive? Not really. Football registration is actually cheaper than baseball.

After you buy the football equipment, it’s all downhill.

The equipment lasts longer than a year and the kids usually don’t grow out of it in just a  year. Plus, you can always buy used stuff.

I guess the main worry for parents would be injuries.

I’ll try to clear this up using what I have witnessed as a football parent when my son played at the youth level.

It will be completely unbiased because I’m a baseball/lacrosse guy. I will side with baseball and lacrosse whenever the opportunity arises. This column is about football so I won’t go into the many reasons why baseball and lacrosse are the greatest sports on the planet.

Having said that, I see more kids suffer injuries playing youth baseball than football.

Case in point: While coaching a Little League game eight years ago, no less than four players on the other team went down and had to either leave the game or take extra time before continuing to play.

Luckily, one of the parents was an EMT that proceeded to carry his medical bag on the field after each occurrence.

During my son’s sophomore (7-8 years old) SCFL season, I only saw one player leave a game due to injury and that wasn’t from contact.

There you have it. I took football over baseball in the injury department.

I’m not trying to create a facade here. During games, some kids get hit so hard they stay on the ground and assume something must be wrong, only to find out absolutely nothing is wrong.

Thus, they get up and the next time they get planted, they get up again.

How good is that for a kid? I think it’s great. To learn toughness at an early age just makes parenting that much easier in the long run.

Picture this; the 7-year-old playing in the Sophomore Division gets lit up like a Christmas tree. He proceeds to cry. He gets hit like that again and cries less. Eventually, he realizes that hitting is part of the game and doesn’t cry after getting hit hard.

This is the kind of kid that isn’t yelling for the paramedics after he gets a scratch when he’s 13.

Kids who experience tackle football at an early age become less high-maintenance when they get older. I don’t think any kid is low-maintenance, so less high-maintenance will have to do.

A parent might say, “My boy is too small to play football.” Wrong!

Size doesn’t matter in most things, and definitely not in youth football.

Again, from my personal experience, the smaller kids get hurt less than the bigger kids. Some of whom have to get over a bad case of hypochondria.

That may seem biased because my kid was always the smallest player and every play he got demolished. But, he’d get up and go right back in there and try to contribute.

Believe me, I’m not bragging. Watching this kid play tackle football was a lot like watching MTV’s Jackass go through his masochism routine.

I could mention several other positives about the local tackle football league. But, I wanted to write a quick piece regarding the perceived injury question/problem.

Check out what York junior high school parent, Ben Hall had to say regarding concussion issues. “All of this concussion talk at the pro level has contributed to the paranoia. As long as these kids are getting coached up well, there won’t be a problem. The coaches are knowledgeable in SCFL and teach their players to tackle correctly with your head up and to always keep your head on a swivel so as to be completely alert.”

I think youth tackle football gets a bad rap and  I suggest anyone interested go out and watch some games.

Base your opinion on eyewitness observations, not on opinions of people who can’t back up a claim with facts.

Besides, if your child plays one year and really doesn’t like it, you can sell his gear and he doesn’t have to play the next year. No harm done at all.

However, that one year will probably do the kid a world of good.

Comments to Doug Sarant at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Should The Game Have Been Canceled? Puhleeeze

Photo courtesy of Jim Eastin

This weekend we’ll move onto covering the last Oak Ridge football game of the season between Oak Ridge and The Woodlands. Before we do, I have a few last thoughts about the cancelled Lufkin game this past Saturday, and all the factors that had to be considered leading up to the game stoppage and the awarding of the win to Lufkin, with 52 seconds gone in the 2nd quarter.

We originally supported the stoppage because a monsoon had rolled in, and to restart the game at a late hour seemed unwise considering that Lufkin had a two hour drive back home and the students would have been getting back way too late. Not to mention the many War Eagle students involved in a re-start, such as the cheerleaders, band members (in this case, junior high school band members), trainers, Liberty Belles, color guard, etc… that could have been faced with logistical and possibly even safety and liability issues in potentially leaving and returning to the stadium, and arriving home late themselves.

I suppose they could have said, “Hey everyone, the storm is projected to pass completely out of the area by 10:00 pm, so go kill some time for five or six hours, and meet back here at 10:00.” Because we all know how accurate weather forecasts are in this part of Texas.

Let’s also assume that all the other people involved in putting on a game at Woodforest Stadium were down with this plan. The police officers directing traffic, the ticket takers, ushers, concession stand workers, the maintenance folks on hand, the announcers, game officials, EMS folks, and the many other people essential to putting on a high school football game all said, “Sure, we had nothing else planned for Saturday night.”

If you could ensure that everyone would return, and the storm would have indeed passed, then in theory, the game could have been started and concluded before the strike of midnight.

Seems unlikely though, doesn’t it? That you could actually get everyone involved with playing game, from both schools, not to mention the Woodforest Stadium staff, on the same page and actually pull this thing off? Still, I hear the grumbling. I hear folks say that Coach Rush should have never agreed to this. Really? I don’t think he had a choice.

Why would Coach Rush agree to cancel the game and take a loss? Well, without being a fly on the wall where this decision was made, I cannot imagine him making this one on his own. As head coach and athletic director, he’s responsible for his team on the field, and perhaps the booster club participation. He might also speak for the cheerleaders and training staff. He is not, however, in charge of stadium operation, or responsible for the band, other Oak Ridge student participants, or for anyone from Lufkin. Other folks have a say in the final decision.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Briese

From a purely football standpoint, I am guessing that Coach Rush was considering all of these things:

  1. Although Oak Ridge was being severely outplayed, a long break would have taken some of the steam out of Lufkin’s train and it would have given Oak Ridge time to wake up and play like they are capable of playing.
  2. Oak Ridge was not out of the playoff picture completely and a good coach whose team is down 24-0 with 52 seconds gone in the second quarter still believes his team can win. No matter what the circumstances, no coach truly believes his team will lose with 35 minutes of football still remaining to be played. That’s just not how coaches are made and certainly not how Coach Rush is made.
  3. If the game is postponed to another day, the visiting team, or in some cases the team who was leading gets the most say on where the game’s venue should be. Usually, they select their home turf… duh! Have you been to Lufkin for a football game? Rush needed this game to be played at Woodforest for them to have the best chance of winning.
  4. Regardless of what it looked like to the average fan who doesn’t really know the game of football, Oak Ridge had started to adjust and was reversing the damage. An adjustment on defense created an interception. A successful defensive stand resulted in a field goal for Lufkin which should have been a punt had the War Eagles not given them good field position.
  5. A restart later that day or night would have been to Oak Ridge’s benefit, as Lufkin’s passing game would not have been as effective as when it was dry.

Coach Rush has one of the most notable winning records in the state. He left a team competing for the championship last year that is destined to play for the 4A championship this year. He uprooted his family as well as several other families (assistant coaches) to take over a program at its lowest point because he relished the challenge. Many coaches will say they make major moves because of a higher calling. Most of the time it is typical “coachspeak” and it’s in one ear and out the other. People who have taken the time to get to know Rush truly believe he is being genuine.

Now, you’re thinking, “Okay, so if Rush is this way, who pulled his strings?” Why do you think he really had no say in the matter?

We don’t believe anyone, whether it be the CISD, Lufkin’s school district, UIL or all combined, tried to intentionally screw Oak Ridge. We just ended up with the raw end of the deal because, well, someone has to win and someone has to lose.

If the game is rescheduled, each team must wait five days before their next game can be played (four full days in between). Obviously, rescheduling is not preferred as it has the potential to cause a chaotic back-up of schedules and have a cascading effect on other teams trying to maintain itineraries… especially approaching the end-of-the-season.

It costs way more than you would think to put on a game, especially when the opposing team is coming from so far away. You better have a good reason for creating a rematch. Transportation, officials, stadium, lights, police… just do the math. No ISD in the state relishes that extra expense, especially in light of budget cuts.

So there you have it. It’s just our opinion but in no way do we think a man of Coach’s Rush’s character, with such inner desire to do right by his players and Oak Ridge High School, would blithely decide to end the game. He believes in Oak Ridge! He probably believed in Oak Ridge before most of us did. The man came here to look at what Oak Ridge had to offer and liked what he saw, knowing he could turn the place around. Dereck Rush is a man of great faith with a purpose and a vision. Nowhere in that description will you find a person who concedes a game after just one quarter of play.

It turns out that, based upon the weather, the earliest kids would have been allowed on the field would have been at 10:00 PM for a 10:30 re-start. An earlier version of this story suggested 8:00 PM for a 9:00 re-start. We have made the correction.

Comments to doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Battle of the Piney Woods Spurs Reflections on SHSU

Sam Houston State University offers a quality education in a serene small-town setting. It's certainly been much quieter since Doug Sarant graduated. Photo courtesy of Justen Barber.

Being as how I’m a proud Sam Houston State graduate, on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon I thought I’d mosey on down to Reliant Stadium and see if, maybe, the Sam Houston/SFA Battle of the Piney Woods clash is as big of a draw as my wife was saying.

I could have stayed home and rooted for my old school on Channel 39 from the comfort of my couch, but I was feeling nostalgic so off we went.

As we reached the Reliant parking lot, the place was a sea of orange. Real orange, not any of this burnt orange knockoff stuff. For once, I was at a big time stadium where the color of choice was for my school. Bearkat alumni could be seen tailgating as far as the eye could see drinking water and glomming on barbecue.

Texas A&M, UT and Texas Tech fans get to watch their teams play on TV almost every weekend at any sports bar in the state. It’s not very often we get to see Sam play at a major venue. This was one of the first times since I graduated almost 30 years ago that I’ve been able to do this.

A few years ago I covered the basketball team when they beat SFA to advance to the NCAA Tournament. That was exciting, but since I was at the courtside press table I had to control myself and act unbiased.

This game was different.

The school spirit thing hasn’t changed much. Huntsville is a small town within a quick drive of the Houston area, which is where most of the students come from.

The term “suitcase college” applies now, albeit not quite as much as it did when I attended Sam, back in the dark ages.

Since New England was home, I had nowhere to go on weekends. So, I hung around and lifeguarded empty swimming pools and bartended at The Cowboy (similar to today’s Shenanigan’s).

This is no exaggeration, some weekends in Huntsville I felt like the last man on Earth. I could easily identify with Charlton Heston’s character in “The Omega Man.” Nowadays, as the school has become much larger and their facilities top notch, students stay on campus on the weekends and like it. Back in those days, on Saturday nights the creatures weren’t coming out of the woodwork to kill you. They were coming to fill one side of Bowers Stadium.

If you’re not familiar with Sam, you might think filling half of a 14,000 seat stadium is no big deal. But, when half the student body of a small school went home to “let” mommy do their laundry, that meant the other half, every soul on campus, was at the football game.

Huntsville isn’t Austin or College Station. Generally, the town folk weren’t into supporting the university athletic teams. I guess if you opened the doors to the prison, the convicts might fill the place up, or not.

Personal experience tells me that those 7,000 crazies can make up for a lot of empty seats. Whether it’s the “pit” when I was there, or the end zone couch potatoes some years later, the place has a personality only a Sam alum could appreciate.

Fans are just as knowledgeable in Huntsville as they are in any other part of this football crazy state. Granted, on game night people weren’t bringing clipboards and following Coach Randleman’s strategy by diagramming plays. Us Sam fans were as enthusiastic, if not more, than any school in the country when our boys in orange took the field.

Here’s a personal story about school spirit. Back in the early 80’s we had a really good lacrosse team.

Anyway, depending on how you look at it, late one Friday night or very early Saturday morning, some of us lacrosse guys circuitously made our way  into Johnson Coliseum (basketball stadium) in hopes of borrowing Sammy the Bearkat so we could display him at our game later that day.

Sammy isn’t alive. He’s a tall statue weighing several pounds.

We got in, located Sammy and somehow carried him up a narrow stairway to the main corridor. We were in the process of wheeling Sammy through a glass door when we heard a loud voice. “Hey!! Where are you going with Sammy??” It was none other than assistant basketball coach John Tucker.

I was so surprised, I asked him what the heck he was doing in the coliseum at what was now 3 a.m. “Studying film! What else would I be doing here?” He replied.

At this point, we were all wondering exactly how much trouble we were in. Think about it. We broke into the coliseum and were stealing the school mascot. People have been thrown out of school, or in jail, for lesser crimes.

Coach looked at us and said, “You guys are always at our games in the front row with your faces painted, right? I won’t do a number on you this time. But, do me a favor. Watch your language when you’re yelling at the refs. Now get the @#$%&* out of here!”

I promise, we laughed our backsides off all the way home – without Sammy.

Coach Tucker later became the head coach and won a conference title. Dedication will do that for you sometimes.

We don’t get to brag on Sam very often, so I’m going to continue. Another thing I liked about Sam was the philosophy of the students. When I flew in from New England to go to Sam, I sensed a laid back, level-headedness. Many kids went there for the strong programs and still do. Maybe they weren’t at the top of their class or their parents wouldn’t or couldn’t afford to send them to A&M or UT. Maybe they were like me and wanted to get the heck out of wherever they were from and start over with people they never saw before in their lives. Whatever, snobs were a non-factor in the Sam Houston State student body.

I might point out how things have changed – still no snobs but now you have to be in the upper percentage of your graduating class with an above average SAT score.

When I attended Sam, they would take your pulse, your money and send you to a dorm. If you were lucky, they would send you to a crazy nut hole called White Hall. If you were unlucky you’d get sent to a cave called Departmental. The other dorms were somewhere in between.

I’m not saying my degree from Sam Houston State is worth more than one from a prestigious university. That would be out of character for a humble, non-snob from Sam. But, I will say this, when people walk up to me when I am out and about displaying Sam gear and ask if I am a graduate of Sam Houston State University, I light up like a Christmas tree and exclaim, “Yes I am, thank you!”

So, on that one Saturday afternoon for me and about 15,000 of my orange clad friends, all you people from UT and A&M had nothing on us.

And, just like you usually enjoy, our school won in glorious fashion.

See you at Shenanigans!

Comments to Doug Sarant at Doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Aggie Bonfire Memorial: Respect, Remembrance, and Spirit

Photo courtesy of James Wilke

A little while ago,  I did something I haven’t done since 1999.

When I attended Sam Houston State University in the early ’80s and played on the lacrosse team, we played in the Aggie Lacrosse Tournament every year. After college, we took club teams there.

The tournament is unique in that it caters to college and post-collegiate club teams in several talent divisions.

I received a call from a buddy with the itch to get “the boys” together and see if we could still run with the young guys. In my desire to destroy all comers in College Station, that’s all I needed to hear. I immediately started neglecting my work by making calls to see who would be available.

Long story short, although we destroyed all competition at the tournament, my inspiration to write this column goes past lacrosse. I told you I hadn’t gone back to the tournament since 1999. Anybody who hasn’t been hiding in a cave in Afghanistan knows that was the year of the Bonfire disaster.

Back then the tournament was played on the polo fields off Texas and University before the A&M/UT weekend. We would always go over to the bonfire and hang out with the cadets that were involved in building the bonfire.

We were fascinated by the whole Aggie tradition thing and the lengths the school would go to promote school spirit. At first, the discipline that went on at Bonfire was comical to us. I remember thinking, “It’s just a bonfire,” until I found out what goes into it and the reasons behind it all. Besides, it’s a military thing and anything having to do with military is serious. (This was written by a person who did NOT grow up on a military base.)

We’d look for the ranking officer when we went over to the bonfire. He would talk to us for a few minutes, apologize because he was busy and assign two cadets to answer our questions. A few minutes later, he’d order them back to work and assign two more until we were done asking questions. I remember thinking it was cool that they took the time to talk to us.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wilke

Let me say this about our visits. Every year we spent hours hanging out at bonfire and talking with the people there. Not once did I see anyone doing anything but working hard on site.

I’m aware of some reports that say alcohol played a part in the collapse. I have my doubts as to the truth in that. We were a bunch of club lacrosse players. If there was booze within half-a-mile one of us would have smelled it. I choose to believe my own eyes and nose.

Because of my respect for the people involved with bonfire I felt I had to visit the memorial. I’m sorry it took me this long to visit.

It’s at just about the same location they used to build on at the polo fields. Linda, Connor and I walked the 150 yards of peat gravel leading to the circular memorial.

I took the time to read all 12 memorials to the young men who died as a result of the collapse and got emotional. So much so that Connor looked at me and I tried to hide it. He’s a good kid though and I got the “it’s OK” look.

In walking around and taking notes, several people asked what I was doing. I told them I was going to attempt to show my respect by writing a story about how I see things here. One older man thanked me and I asked if he was a relative of one of the deceased. He wasn’t, but pointed out that he was an Aggie and these great individuals deserved as much recognition as possible.

I’ll leave you with something I read on the late Jeremy Frampton’s monument. Jeremy was no doubt a good writer.

He wrote:

If I stare long enough, if I talk hard enough, if I touch soft enough, if I look good enough, if I love deep enough. Will I live long enough to love life enough?

To all the relatives and friends and Aggies everywhere, I may not be an Aggie, but I’ve spent enough time there to bet Jeremy and his 11 friends lived long enough to love life more than enough.

Doug Sarant can be reached at doug@oakridgenow.com

For more information about the Aggie Bonfire tradition and memorial, Texas A&M maintains a terrific Bonfire website.

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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On Class: The Road Less Traveled

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

This story that I wrote for Oak Ridge Now two years ago is dedicated to a new friend whom Linda and I met through the People to People Ambassador Program. Her junior high school daughter is presently on a P2P trip in Australia with Linda. This great mom is recently widowed. Dana (Dovell), your strength and faith in how you have handled tragedy in your life reminded me of a story I wrote about an Oak Ridge High School student a couple years ago. You and this boy are similar in that you both took the road less traveled. Your “way” is special and you are all about the message in this story. We are fortunate to have met you as you are an example of what the Oak Ridge High School feeder zone is packed with… it’s packed with CLASS!!! This story is for you, Dana.

The other day I was talking to an Oak Ridge high school student/athlete. This particular person had already been through some traumatic experiences in his young life which has made him wise beyond his years. Sometimes, it seems like we have to go through some tough times in order to grow. I mentioned to him how impressed I was with him in that although he has experienced massive hardship, he didn’t allow it to take him down a wrong path. I said people would have excused him if he had a few hiccups, yet he used his experiences to help him.

His response was classic. “It would have been easy for me to be weak because that’s what everyone expected me to be. I could have milked everyone and walked around feeling sorry for myself”. He continued, “For a few weeks I was a little quieter than usual which in turn taught me how to be observant enabling me to see how other people really are. I can’t say I did this on purpose, it just happened. During this time, I saw how people treat each other. How some people are just naturally nice and comfortable with others, while others try to create negative things about people to try and build themselves up.”

In talking to this young man, I had to constantly remind myself that I was listening to a teenager. He went on to say he wanted to be one of the people in this world who makes lemonade out of lemons.

Before our conversation turned to something of a less serious nature, I had to ask him if he would mind if I wrote a story about him. I told him a lot of people in his position do not go down the road he took and perhaps this would be good for some people. He said he preferred to not make a spectacle of his trying times and that it would be better for him and others personally involved to just continue to go through these times alone. He did say that I could always write the story without using his name.

Well, that’s the story. Later that day, I came across a writing a friend of mine had given me a few years ago. My friend is a fellow coach and he gives this to each of his players on every team he coaches. I picked it up and read it again. I thought to myself, “This describes the young man I just had a conversation with.”

It’s about “Class”. We all have weak moments and stray from the following description of “Class”. However, I figure if a teenager can lead his life with class, perhaps we can all learn to stray less often. How cool is it that we can continue to learn from young people?

“Class never runs scared. It is sure-footed and confident. It can handle whatever comes along.

Class has a sense of humor. It knows that a good laugh is the best way for people to break the ice with each other.

Class never makes excuses. It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes.

Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small, effortless sacrifices.

Class has no social status and has nothing to do with money. Some wealthy people have no class. Yet, some people who are struggling are loaded with it.

Class is real. It can not be faked.

Class never tries to build itself up by tearing someone else down. Class is already “up” and doesn’t need to strive to look better by making others look bad.

Class can hang around with everyone. Whether you are popular or unpopular, you are comfortable with class because class is comfortable with himself.

If you have class, you’ve got it made. If you don’t have class, no matter what else you have, it doesn’t make any difference.”

The youth of Oak Ridge RULE!!!!

[Editor’s note: so do a lot of the older folks]

Doug Sarant can be reached at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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If I Had a Child to Raise Over Again…

Photo courtesy of Werner Stoffberg / iStockphoto

Okay…I am officially bored and ready for my wife to come back!

You are probably thinking TMI (too much information). Shame on you! Nah, Linda is in Australia on a People to People trip. P2P is an organization that allows kids to travel to foreign lands as ambassadors. They learn about various cultures and in turn, inform people what we are about here in the United States. Their chaperon’s are teachers, as is Linda.

While I would like to educate you as to everything P2P, the program reminds me of a poster I saw in a high school classroom. The teacher occupying this particular classroom specialized in the Humanities and although he stressed getting a good education, he believed that real education occurred outside of a school classroom.

Hence the poster that read, “The Real Classroom is Outside”. The picture depicted a young man walking out of a classroom.

Although schooling is a necessity, the education us parents give our kids is paramount to their growth and essentially quite a bit more important than what goes on in the classroom. Are we being good parents and preparing our kids for the real world?

As a parent for the last 19 years, I’ve struggled and made numerous mistakes. I’ve gone the knee jerk route and blown up instead of inhaling a situation for a while.

Before I get to the meat of this piece [Editor’s note: We’re six paragraphs in, and we haven’t got tot the meat?], I have a bone to pick with Linda first! While she’s been gone, I’ve taken upon myself to go through everything in this house and throw out the clutter. Like some of you, I tend to save everything for that one chance I just might need it again. In going through our closets, I found a piece of literature that caught my eye. It’s titled, “If I had a child to raise all over again.”

It’s an impromptu guideline of parental common sense. In my son’s 19 years, Linda has been the voice of reason in this family. Every situation that could have come up, she has handled with expertise. Often times, I wondered if she was reincarnated because no one could be this good of a parent the first time around.

Then, I found this piece of paper and it all made sense to me. She had a cheat sheet the whole time. Linda the cheater… Linda the cheater… Linda the cheater!

I’m kidding, of course because she’s just a naturally awesome parent and wasn’t resorting to a piece of paper. This paper was in her old teaching things (clutter if you will) and by the way I am not allowed to throw away any of it.

As for me, this piece of paper would have proved valuable to me. If I could have had this resource to look at every day, I bet I would have been a much better parent as my son was growing up. I was good at some things and terrible at others. Linda was the Captain and steered the ship. In admitting that, some of you egotistical men may be thinking I am, well, a weak man. To the contrary, I feel I am more of a man because I am willing to admit who is really in charge around here. It was a few years ago when I stopped acting like a robot and started learning from this woman.

Anyway, I looked on Google and found that the author is Diane Loomans who seems to be another Linda. Here you go…

If I had a child to raise over again…

I’d build self-esteem first, and then the house.

I’d finger paint more and point the finger less.

I would do less correcting and more connecting.

I’d take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes.

I would care to know less and know to care more.

I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.

I’d stop playing serious and seriously play.

I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.

I’d do more hugging and less tugging.

I’d see the oak tree in the acorn more often.

I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.

I’d model less about the love of power and more about the power of love.

There you go you young parents…. Your very own cheat sheet. Use it to your advantage. I wish I wasn’t so old or I’d insist on doing it all over again.

I’m pretty sure the boss would say no, though.

Hey everybody, see you out and about in the real classroom!

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Just Being There Is the Most Important Thing

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

While watching my son play tennis a few years back I noticed something I had taken for granted for years.

On the next court over another kid was playing and his dad was watching as well. I guess I was bored because I started reflecting again.

Thinking back about 15 years, I remember having a conversation with my sister who has spent a lifetime devoting her time to kids. Being a Youth Activities Coordinator at an Ohio YMCA for decades and having four kids of her own, I guess you could say her whole life has been about kids.

At the time, my son was 3 and I was finding it difficult to spend time with him. With my new business starting to be successful and my love of playing lacrosse, I was always out of state. That combination didn’t leave much time for my son.

I always justified putting it off by telling myself I would do things with him when he started putting complete sentences together.

Gale, my sister, asked why I wasn’t doing anything with my kid. Most of you can figure what my reply was, “I don’t have time.” She came back with the perfect answer that will stick with me forever, “Douglas, you have to make time.”

Then she gave me the lecture about how our lives shouldn’t be judged by how many toys we have when we die. It should be judged by how good we feel about ourselves deep down and whether we were good people or not. She went into more things, but I started to get bored and her voice just kind of faded away. I did get her main point, though.

I had always taken for granted that all youth coaches haven’t necessarily been actual coaches. All parents/coaches who volunteer are not always good with kids. At one time in the distant past, volunteers did their own thing and helping kids wasn’t the main priority, or any priority.

I had looked at other coaches across the baseball diamond and all I wanted to do is beat their brains in because I’m so competitive. Sometimes, I would forget the other coaches are volunteering their time as well and have some of the same philosophies I do. Of course, some of us are more warped than others, but at least we’re giving of our time.

Still, spending time with kids is not something everyone is automatically good at.

Do you remember your first “real” job after college? Mine was in the insurance business and I was neck deep in things I didn’t even know existed. Insurance is a perfect example because it’s a type of business that when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes something you had no clue was even on the radar screen.

It’s the same with kids. You are thrown to the wolves. It’s learn as you go and hope everybody lives to tell the tale. Sure, it might be easier if we all had a live-in Dr. Phil to guide us every step of the way. But, how much fun would that be?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living or how busy you are. If you don’t make time for your kids and other people’s kids, what’s the sense in making kids in the first place?

I guess watching your son play sports gives you a good way to get in touch with your inner feelings.

Anyway, in looking closer at the dad looking down on the next court, I knew he looked familiar, but it took me a while to realize who he was. I should have recognized him quick because I’ve been to Woodlands Church a few times and have seen him on television commercials and in the paper. You could say he’s a local celebrity. This man represents everything I had been thinking about for the past hour. The Woodlands Church and Pastor Kerry Shook started with nothing about 20 years ago and now have a huge campus off Hwy. 242.

How busy do you think that guy is? If he could take time to watch his son play tennis, what are you doing on the couch, potato?

Nowadays, my son is 19 and just finished up one year of school at a university in Chicago. Being without him for that year took a lot of getting used to. He was thrown to the wolves of life and survived. Myself and my better half (that’s an understatement), Linda would stare at the ceiling hoping that we had done a good enough job with him so he wouldn’t be back with his tail between his legs wallowing in failure.

Today, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, I’d like to give you your Fathers Day card a day early because I just can’t wait”. I really wish I could show the note to you but of course, the note is personal. In a nutshell, he wrote that all of what I was preaching through the years did not fall on deaf ears. He added that he may have been rolling his eyes back then but that he soaked in every word and it all makes sense now.

I know this type of story has been told a million times so I won’t continue other than to express to all of you young dad’s out there that feel your fatherly efforts aren’t making an impression on your kids, us old timer dad’s are here to tell you to just keep on keeping on by continuing to spend lots of time with your kids and being the awesome role models that you are.

On this Fathers Day, let us all celebrate with our families and cherish the time we have with each other. I promise you, the time just flies by way too fast.

See you out and about with your kids!

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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Taking Risks Is Part of a Sports Hero’s Job Description

I can’t believe I’ve been writing for Oak Ridge Now for almost two years and have yet to tell who my favorite sports movie hero is.

Like the overwhelming, vast majority of normal people, I couldn’t live without being able to watch or participate in sports. So, my favorite sports movie hero would have to have done something pretty monumental to qualify as numero uno in my book.

I had to think back through a whole bunch of great movies to pick out my favorite.

Lou Gehrig in “Pride of the Yankees” came to mind. Roy Hobbs knocking out all the stadium lights in that great fantasy movie “The Natural” is probably on everybody’s list. In “Miracle” you could choose either Herb Brooks or Mike Eruzione.

Here’s a good one; what about Jimmy Chitwood in “Hoosiers”? That guy could shoot the rock like nobody’s business. James Caan as Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song” has to get some points. If you didn’t tear up somewhere in that movie, you don’t have an emotional bone in your body.

If you’re into track and field you’d have to choose between the two runners in “Chariots of Fire” and, of course, Robbie Benson’s depiction of 10,000 meter runner Billy Mills in “Running Brave” when he stunned the 1964 Olympics with his miraculous victory against much more accomplished runners.

On a lighter note, maybe Reggie Dunlop’s name could come up in this conversation. He really brought those Charlestown Chiefs to respectability in “Slapshot”, didn’t he?

Maybe all the athletes on the Jamaican Bobsled team in “Cool Runnings.” Maybe the surfer girls in “Blue Crush?”

All of the above would come across anyone’s radar screen, plus many more that would be impossible to mention in one column.

However, far and away, the one movie character that did it for me was in a famous baseball movie, but the heroic achievement was performed at a swimming pool.

OK, my favorite sports movie hero of all time is Michael “Squints” Paleodorous in “The Sandlot.”

For the two or three people that might not have seen this movie, it’s about the trials and tribulations of a bunch of 12-13-year-olds who basically live at the neighborhood sandlot in the summer of 1962.

Once in a blue moon they’ll venture out to some other activity. That’s where this story begins, on a day when one of the characters hit a home run into a yard that had the most ferocious kid-eating dog in town occupying it, the boys had no choice but to go to the neighborhood pool for some rest and relaxation.

Squints had other ideas. At the ripe old age of 13 he was starting to notice girls. In particular a blonde, red lipstick, red nail polish wearing bombshell named Wendy Peffercorn who occupied the lifeguard chair high above the pool, which made her all the more appealing to Squints.

To most people, not being able to swim may be a hindrance. “Squints” saw it as an opportunity.

Picture this: Squints is 4-foot nothing weighing 60 skinny pounds or less with black hair and black eyeglasses so thick you wonder how the kid even sees a baseball, much less catches one.

He walked over to the edge of the pool looking up at his dream girl in the lifeguard chair, threw off his glasses, held his nose and jumped in.

The sandlot guys saw this, but had no idea what he was up to as Squints was secretive as to his motives all day. All they knew was that he couldn’t swim and was going to die unless someone saved his scrawny butt.

Lo and behold, Wendy Peffercorn whipped off her whistle and dove into the pool. She went deep and pulled Squints onto the pool deck.

After insisting that she had things under control, Wendy got in CPR position and started giving Squints mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

After about the fourth round of mouth-to-mouth, she put her ear to Squints chest to listen for signs of life.

As she was doing this, Squints opened his eyes and winked at his bewildered friends so quick the lifeguard didn’t see when she came back up for more mouth-to-mouth which he didn’t need in the first place.

She started again and Squints grabbed her head and started kissing her. This didn’t sit too well with Miss Peffercorn and she kicked Squints and his friends out of the pool forever.

On the way out of the pool and outside the pool area, Squints was a major hero, about as popular as a kid could get in one lifetime. The kids were hooting and hollering and running around like they just beat the Yankees in the World Series.

The movie got a little more serious at that point and the narrator explained that this had been a growing experience for Squints.

Meanwhile, Squints walked up to the pool fence with his voluptuous lifeguard in sight. He looked at her. She lowered her sunglasses and looked back at him, giving him a little smile as if to say what he did was terrible, but she admired the little pervert’s courage.

I know, you think I’m really twisted and have more than a few screws loose.

I won’t argue that point. But, this is fact: a sports movie hero must have courage, brains and, maybe, even be willing to risk his own life.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Michael “Squints” Paleodorous.

See ya at the pool.

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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