Everything I love about sports I learned from my dad. He was my first and best coach: teacher, disciplinarian, counselor, critic and fan.
Some of my earliest memories of him include throwing a sponge ball around the living room, watching black and white wrestling films on the dining room wall and sitting next to him while he scouted high school football games.
He started teaching me to play softball before my hands were big enough to hold the ball. One of my favorite things to do as a child was field ground balls and pop flies. Even after he’d worked a 10- or 12-hour day, he’d find time to grab the bat and ball. We’d play for hours, until the sun was long gone, and it was too dark to see anymore. He must have hit thousands of balls to me over the years, from my fourth grade pigtail league days through my college softball career.
As much as I loved the game, I would never have played at Penn State if it weren’t for him. I was ready to go to a small college on a partial scholarship, but he advised me — demanding actually — that I try to play at a major university. He encouraged me to walk on at Penn State and wasn’t at all surprised when I made the team (though I myself was shocked).
He always had more faith in me than I had in myself. He gave me courage to set my goals high and pursue them wholeheartedly, maybe because I feared disappointing him more than I feared failure.
My father loved all sports, and we would sit for hours watching any sport that was on TV. We’d watch college softball together over the telephone, each of us in our own living room. He even became a NASCAR fan because I started covering the races.
Dad seemed to know everything about everything when it came to athletics, having played and coached a variety of sports, but what he always talked about most was sportsmanship, commitment, hard work and teamwork. He was highly competitive, but always valued good behavior above winning. He worked extremely hard in his career as an educator, but always found time to have a catch with me or come to my games, even when they were hours away.
That’s what great dads do — they play catch, shoot hoops and run laps with us. They share with us their time, talent, experience and wisdom. They are firm but fair, tough but tender. They encourage us to be the best we can be, but forgive us for not being perfect. They make us better than we believe we can be.
The last time I saw my dad was Father’s Day 2002. He died five days later, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. He’s the person I measure everyone else against, and the person I will always want to make proud.
Kellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs on Tuesdays.