One of the joys of being a dad is getting the chance to coach your own kids.
Teach them how to play. Teach them how to win, and more importantly, teach them how to lose. If they learn how to handle failure at a young age, there will be less headaches for their teammates, coaches, and more importantly, me and Mrs. Franco.
And you just knew that yours truly would be able to relate some personal sports stories to the little ones that would enable them to wade through all of the trouble that comes with the world of youth sports. My 17-year-old daughter, Maggie, isn't involved with sports anymore, and my 14-year-old, Julianna, well, being that age basically means anything we tell her at this point is lost on her because all that age hears is Blah, blah, blah!
In fact, I believe when she reads my column, her eyes only read Blah, blah, blah!
But my boys, they're only 9 so I still have a shot to get through to them before my voice is drowned out by the advice of their friends as they grow older.
They've been playing baseball and football since they were 5, but for the first time, theyve taken up basketball, and its been somewhat of a struggle but they keep plugging away. Success comes in tiny bits and pieces, but I will be there to lend an ear and a story.
Lesson No. 1: Pay attention.
While playing for the Mount Carmel Raiders in the Altoona Parochial League in the fall of 1977, my team had the ball at the one-yard line with under a minute to play. As the starting center, all I had to do was snap the ball to quarterback Billy Yankovich who had called a quarterback sneak on third down. I was supposed to snap the ball on set. Easy, right?
Quarterback yells Ready. Set ... and I snap the ball ... but I didn't because I forgot to snap the ball. The line moved forward. The backs, the receivers, even Billy fell forward into the end zone, but I stood there in my stance, with the ball still in my hands.
Penalty flag. Five yards back, and we were stopped on the next, and final, play, and we wound up tying St. Mary's, 6-6. My coach at the time, Frank DeLeo, who I was fortunate to also be the nephew of, was the only person to get near me after the game. Not even my brother, Tom, who started alongside me, got near me.
Uncle Frank put his arm around me, asked me what I did wrong, asked me if I would ever do that again, and when I told him never again...he told me to forget about it and move on. That was my Lifesavers candy moment in the 1970s.
Lesson No. 2: Don't walk.
Back to the APL, but this time in basketball. We are playing McNelis Catholic over at the Jewish Memorial Center. We are down one point with just seconds left, and our team tries to inbound the ball to Jimmy Ellis, who was one of the best players on our team. Except the ball is passed to me, not one of the best players on our team, but at least one of the most personality-filled players on our team.
I catch the ball, turn around, dribble and put up a shot at the buzzer which is good. The crowd reacts. My teammates react. I go crazy, but, out of the corner of the floor comes official Dick Bickel, who waived off the bucket, calling me for a walk, robbing me of my chance to impress the likes of a Becky Ciccarella or many of the other pretty girls that attended Mount Carmel at the time.
I tried to plead my case. If I had a photo of Becky, I think I could have won Mr. Bickel over, but it wasn't meant to be, which is what I will try to pass on to my boys as they grow older.
You can't win every game, and you can't make the winning shot, or get the winning hit, every game. But hopefully, there will still be a mom and a dad at home to cheer them up, or maybe they'll find their own Becky Ciccarella in school some day.