Sometimes I wonder about the young athletes I covered over nearly four decades as a sportswriter. There were thousands. Runners and shortstops. Swimmers and linebackers. Point guards and gymnasts.
What became of them? Are they doing OK? Where are they now?
I found out about one of them last night sitting in the backyard of a Fort Myers house. Kathy and I attended a party and I stepped outside for fresh air and to sit down.
A man sitting in a chair to my left asked if I used to cover sports for The News-Press. I said yes. His wife was to his left and she looked vaguely familiar. They introduced themselves and reminded me of their daughter Jennifer Massing, who was an outstanding youth soccer player nearly 20 years ago.
I wrote a story or two about her and recall the name. They gave me an update. Jennifer now lives in Italy, speaks fluent Italian, is a construction company boss, married an Italian man and has a couple of kids.
I told Mr. and Mrs. Massing how impressed I was with their daughter.
But what about all the others? What about that crying 12-year-old cheerleader?
This was about 15 years ago and I was assigned to cover the Pop Warner national football and cheerleading championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. There were two or three football teams and cheerleading squads from our area.
When a cheerleading squad from Estero won the national title I asked the coach for permission to interview some of the kids. She brought me over a 12-year-old and then the coach walked away. Ah, hey, ah, coach, I wanted to say.
I always felt it was best if a coach or parent were on hand when I interviewed children. The coach, though, walked away and I asked the kid about winning the national championship.
She immediately burst into tears. I imagined her father seeing his little girl crying in front of some stranger and then sprinting over to deck me with a right cross to the left eye and a left uppercut to the chin.
That didn’t happen. After what seemed like minutes but was likely only several seconds, the kid composed herself, apologized for crying and said she was so happy about the championship she was just overcome.
That kid is now well into her 20s and perhaps the mother of an aspiring cheerleader.
So many athletes and so many sports over so many years. …
Back in my 20s when I worked at the St. Petersburg Evening Independent I was still young enough to play rec sports with athletes I had covered.
Once I was playing quarterback in a touch football game at Azalea Park when a guy rushed in at top speed and sent me tumbling and flying with a hit that would now draw a flag in the NFL. After I stopped rolling and bouncing I asked, “What the hell was that all about?”
I don’t recall the guy’s name but he said he played football at Boca Ciega High and in my weekly high school football prediction column I always picked his team to lose. And he just wanted some payback. I then asked if his team always lost. He had to admit they did.
Boca Ciega had some bad teams back then.
Then there was Jeff Feulner. He was an outstanding fullback at Shorecrest in St. Pete and then played fullback at Purdue.
Again, I was in my 20s when the following happened. I was playing in a pickup basketball game at Hurley Park on Pass-A-Grille. Feulner was on the other team and I was guarding him. Well, sort of guarding him.
Feulner knew me as a local sportswriter and when he had the chance on a drive to the hoop, he lowered a shoulder, barreled into me and sent me flying into a chain link fence. I bounced right back up, uninjured but with enough wits about me not to challenge a Big Ten fullback to a fight.
I just Googled Feulner and found that, according to a Linkedin profile, he resides in West Palm Beach and is some sort of medical representative.
About the same time as those crunching hits from football players I was playing on rec softball teams in St. Pete and on one of them we had a former two-sport athlete from Boca Ciega named Paul Battle join one of my teams. I had covered some of his football and baseball games and now we were in the outfield next to each other.
I can still recall a fly ball hit between us and Paul yelling, “It’s yours, Mr. Miller.”
I think I told Paul he could now address me by my first name.
I Googled Paul and found he still resides in St. Pete and works for something called Kustom US, Inc.
Another high school athlete I recall vividly from those days as a young sportswriter was Northeast High basketball player Ron Shaw. Ron was probably the best high school basketball player in Pinellas County in the late 1970s.
He also liked publicity and I recall he sometimes asked me for rides home or to McDonald’s after games. I can’t imagine anything like that happening today but things were more informal in the 1970s.
I Googled Ron and came across a couple of stories I wrote on him and in one of them I placed each of us in my car.
Here’s how I started a story dated Feb. 7, 1979 with a Clearwater dateline: “Ron Shaw dreamed the implausible dream Monday. As he sped down I-275 in a blue Sunbird late Monday night, Shaw revealed, in a low mournful voice, a crazy idea that had crossed his mind earlier in the day.”
Ron’s crazy idea was scoring 106 points that night against Clearwater, the No. 2-ranked Class 4A team in the state. Although he was coming off four consecutive games with 40 or more points, he managed only 13.
In the Dec. 18, 1982 Independent, this is how I started a story: “Ron Shaw was working at the Hogley Wogley Bar-B-Que on Ninth Street when he received what might be his last chance to play college basketball.”
He went to Miami to play at Florida Memorial College.
I don’t think things worked out for Ron at Florida Memorial and I don’t know what he’s been up to for the past 31 years. I hope wherever he is, Ron is doing well.
That goes for all those other athletes I covered. Even the two guys who knocked me into next week so long ago.