Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coming Home

Yesterday morning as I sat in the office of a lawyer I know waiting to take a deposition, I picked up an issue of Sports Illustrated off of the coffee table in his firm's reception area (I am a sucker for any sports magazine that has Mariano Rivera on its cover. Jinx be damned.) In the Letters to the Editor section of the magazine (at gun point I could not tell you the issue's date although for some reason October 4, 2009 is competing for space at the front of my brain with all of the other useless crap floating around up there), a couple of readers commented favorably upon a piece that ran in an issue of SI a month or so ago.

The piece in question was written by Richard Hoffer. It graced the pages of the September 14, 2009 issue of SI and its subject? The creator of the most famous of all flops: Dick Fosbury. In the piece, in a use of language that to my eye and ear is simply stunning in its beauty, its accuracy and its precision, Hoffer wrote of Fosbury's motivation for creating his revolutionary high-jumping technique:

All athletes recognize a performance imperative, a drive to exceed their limits, to explore upper boundaries. It's why they train and tweak. But Fosbury had the additional impetus of being a teenager. There is no swifter, more terrible saber-toothed tiger than the ritual humiliation of adolescence.

The "ritual humiliation of adolescence". I thought of the power of those words as I sat in that reception area yesterday reading and re-reading the brief letter to the editor. And I was so taken by them that I did more than just read them over and over. As is my tendency to do, I grabbed something on which to write (a business reply card insert buried deeper inside of the issue) and I wrote them down so I would not forget them.

I thought about them quite a bit last evening and again this morning in the context of this Saturday. Saturday is the Fall Fair/Homecoming at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School. It is an event that as a child of the school - someone who attended it from 5th grade through high school graduation - I looked forward to annually. At that time the school's student body was large enough to support a number of varsity athletic teams for boys and girls. It seemed that from 12:00 p.m. or so every year, the younger student-athletes finished up their contests and ceded the stage to the cross-country team, the girls' tennis and field hockey teams and the boys' soccer and football teams. Turf was protected, bragging rights were earned and school honor was upheld on all four corners of the campus all afternoon long. It did not matter whether you won or lost just as long as you won.

As time has passed, and as my class has now reached the point in time where 2010 will represent the 25th anniversary of our shared sunshine moment as the Class of '85, while I try to get to school for Homecoming, I do not always make it. And when I do return to campus I am always surprised by how much things have changed. Not nearly as many students roam the hallways as did when I went to school there and a large number of the kids who do roam the hallways are little kids, who "back in the day" would have been matriculating around the Plainfield Avenue Campus in Plainfield. A number of years ago, the school consolidated its two campuses into one. Voila! Just add water and you have instant rug rats as far as the eye can see.

I shall be there for at least part of the day on Saturday as my sister Jill - two years my senior and one of three Kenny kids who graduated from W-H (Kara, two years older than Jill, was the first leg of the trifecta that I completed), is going to be inducted into the 2009 Class of the W-H Athletic Hall of Fame. Schedule permitting, Kara is going to be there for the ceremony and to add another voice of support and congratulations to her full-time sister and one-time tag-team partner on a number of extremely successful lacrosse and field hockey teams. I am very pleased that I shall have the honor of presenting Jill at the ceremony for her induction/enshrinement.

I know not how many fellow travellers from our time at W-H shall be present on Saturday afternoon for the Alumni Reception at 4:00 pm and the Hall of Fame Ceremony that is scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m. but it is nice that all three of us will be in the same place at the same time - at least for a little while. Especially since it is a place where, once upon a time, we not only attended school but, also, we grew up. At least it seemed and felt that way quite often.

We attended W-H under the enormous shadow thrown by our father's presence, both while he was alive and thereafter - Jill's final two years and my final four years -in death. We survived the experience. I of course had the pure unadulterated pleasure of not only driving back and forth with the old man every day to school. And as a bonus - because Dad and I enjoyed one another's company so much - also as his wingman as we drove all over Central and North Jersey in pursuit of what admittedly felt at times like an endless number of lacrosse and field hockey games.

In my most immodest moments, I like to think that we not only survived it but that we made it through to the other side in quite fine stead. When I think of all that both Jill and Kara have accomplished in the time that has passed since they made the transition from student to alumni - both professionally and personally - it makes me smile. And it makes me damned proud to have both of them as my sister. Each is an amazing woman.

And each has spent a lifetime grabbing Dick Fosbury's dreaded tiger by the tail and beating the living tar out of it.


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