Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mike McMurran First Capitol News Sports Editor

With Veteran’s Day coming up, I thought I would share one of my all-time favorite stories with you. It is very personal, and at the same time one of my favorite stories to tell. It has to do with the two disciplines that most changed my life: the U.S. Navy and football.

You see, I am not only the first in my family to graduate from college, I pretty much was the only one to make it out of high school. I’ve two brothers, one of whom spent over 20 years in the penitentiary, and one who the authorities are looking for as we speak. Both have a child and neither plays a role in their child’s life. Regular readers know how much my kids mean to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always such an all-american. At one point in my life the judge said: “Jail or the military,” which is how I ended up in the Navy. The unit I was assigned was Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 – I was a “Fighting Seabee.” Our motto was, “We build, we fight,” and we did plenty of both. We also engaged in just about every athletic endeavor you can imagine: Boxing, wrestling, basketball, baseball, softball and of course football. It was while stationed at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, that I joined the Battalion football squad. Unlike my current physical condition, I was literally in the best shape of my life – 6’ 0”, and 185 pounds, 32 inch waist. I was hot! But I digress.

I played offensive line; I wasn’t really a dirty player, but close. I would do “whatever it took,” to insure the man I was assigned to block would not make the tackle. We played Marine Battalions and small local colleges. I was named first team All-Caribbean at right guard – an award to this day I cherish!

Anyway, in the Navy they have this little rule about “fraternizing.” It had nothing to do with males and females, rather it had to do with officers and enlisted. We were allowed to work together and play football together, but that was about it. If we saw an officer off-duty and out of uniform, we were pretty much to ignore him. Repeating, we were allowed to play football together, which is where this story is heading.

One day, I’m not certain if it was after practice or a game, an ensign was sitting next to me in the locker room. This is what I said to him: “Permission to speak, sir?” Yeah, it was that formal. He granted me permission to speak to him. “I don’t get it, sir. We leave here and you go sit down in a restaurant-like setting and the Philippinos serve you your dinner. I on the other hand stand in line in the chow hall.” You could tell he was only acting like he was interested in what I had to say. “We leave here and you have someone iron your uniform for inspections while I have to spend hours preparing my own uniform.” You could tell he was loosing his patience as he responded, “Is this little conversation going anywhere?” Yeah, it was going somewhere! “On the football field I’m faster than you, stronger than you, pretty much kick your butt up and down the field – what makes you feel you’re so much better than me,” I asked him.

He sternly pointed out that I had stepped over the line with the “kick your butt” comment, but wanted to help me figure out why he was “better than me.” I’ll never forget what he said: “I graduated from college.” Four words that changed my life forever.

Remember now, no one in my family had ever graduated from high school, let alone college. Thinking back upon it, I think the work “college boy” probably had negative connotations to it in family conversations. That being said, when that ensign said to me, “I graduated from college,” I knew that if graduating from college warranted such respect, such a difference in life-styles, that I too would do whatever it took to someday graduate from college.

It wasn’t easy, but then I don’t think it was suppose to be. I started at the junior college level, taking night classes as I worked construction. After I changed jobs and went to work for the railroad, it was impossible to take classes working all three shifts, seven days a week. So after a little over five years, I quit working for the railroad, got a job tending bar (greatest social move I could have made) and returned to school full-time.

At 35 years-old I’m rather certain I wasn’t the oldest graduate at UMSL’s May 1990 commencement – but I was older than most. When awarded my Master’s from Lindenwood in 2002 my mother showed up for the ceremony and asked, “I thought you already graduated from college?” She didn’t know the difference between an Associate Degree, which I also earned, and a Master’s Degree – but she shared with me how proud she was that I was earning all those degrees.

If I have shared this story with you already, I apologize. It’s just that it comes to mind around Veteran’s Day. I do know that I’ve credited the U. S. Navy and football for most of my success in life. They both taught me an unconditional discipline I’ve followed my entire adult life. One thing I think I’ve failed to do is to thank someone else – my lovely wife, Lynn. Without her believing in me I’m not so certain I could have done it.

Quickly, this Sunday is Just Kids biggest show of the year – the Veteran’s Day show at St. Peter’s. As much confidence as I gained playing football, my daughter’s “football,” is performing in front of hundreds of people with her performing arts group – Just Kids of the Patt Holt Singers. Watching my daughter perform so gracefully, so confidently – well, it’s just one of those magic moments in life. Happy Veteran’s Day! See ya next edition.