This story begins, as most stories with happy endings do, with someone noticing a need and determining to do something about it.
The ‘someone’ is the Mayor of our City of Lakewood, Don Anderson. The need was a little boy.
Like the parable fairy tale of the toad who was really a handsome prince, the transformation is always – always – dependent upon someone who will take the time: to notice, to listen, to care.
Who is a champion?
Probably most people would say a champion is one who – blessed with exceptional skills, natural talent, or biological giftedness, or all three – achieves recognition, acclaim and accolades in the form of headlines, endorsements, trophies, medals and ribbons.
There they stand, alone, or as a team, in the arena, or on a stage, or some platform of one kind or another.
But how, and when, and where is a champion made?
All would-be champions, like a deflated basketball abandoned in the rain-washed gutter given the splits in the thread-bare leather have leaked air for what seems the last time, begin as boys or girls who are inspired (literally to “breathe in”) by someone living life slow enough to notice them; who, going somewhere else, nevertheless stop their car alongside the road and watch them; and then, with a smile, pull back into traffic having decided to do something to encourage them.
Thus it is to be inspired, to have new life breathed in. To do, or be, or feel that you matter. Because someone cares.
Such was Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson’s serendipitous moment one day not long ago in Springbrook, a suburb of Lakewood. Why he was there and where he was going mattered no doubt far less than noticing the little boy bouncing the well-loved basketball.
Whether the youngster would get the ball anywhere near the rim, or whether the ball would last one more bounce for one more attempt at the rim – these two questions seemed to compete for which would occur first.
In relating this later to fellow councilman John Simpson who then shared it with me, the Mayor said he wanted to speed away to buy a new basketball and hurry back before either the ball caved in and/or before the boy gave up.
Chances were, however, the Mayor decided, he would be shooting hoops on his own.
The boy would probably be gone before he could get back.
A stroke of luck, as it turned out, or, more appropriately, inspiration, led Simpson to share the Mayor’s story with Duncan Stevenson, Athletic Director of Pierce College where Simpson, retired Air Force Reserve Officer, is a history professor.
It’s unknown whether Simpson needed an appointment to see Stevenson given the A.D. is one busy administrator.
The feared Pierce College Raiders are champions in any number of categories thanks to the leadership of Stevenson the last 24 years.
The softball team for example won five consecutive Western Division titles. Student-athletes earned an unprecedented eight division Most Valuable Player awards in the past six years.
And there’s more, much more from the Pierce College Raider Athletics website.
Including the fact that Stevenson was selected as the first-ever recipient of the Dutch Triebwasser Award, recognizing the outstanding athletic administrator in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
Stevenson was also responsible for the development and construction of the Health Education Center at the Fort Steilacoom college that is widely regarded as one of the premier college athletic facilities in the Pacific Northwest.
That’s where Doug Carlson enters the story.
Carlson is the Operations Manager of the Health Education Center. Carlson works closely with the athletic department, manages a lot of the supplies and equipment, and basically acts as the go-between in getting stuff where it needs to go.
So when the Mayor told the history professor who told the athletic director who told the operations manager about the little boy and his basketball, Carlson told Kevin Davis, head baseball coach of the Pierce College Raiders.
Davis played pro-ball and, like the boy with the basketball and for that matter many of the nine-and-ten-year-old boys in the Tillicum community who play Crusher baseball in Lakewood’s PONY league (Protect Our Nation’s Youth), Davis mentioned some of the challenges he faced as a youth.
Then Davis said what all on this team – Mayor, Professor, Athletic Director, Operations Manager, Baseball Head Coach – understood as the common denominator of success.
In describing his experience in playing professional baseball whether celebrating a victory or sharing high-fives in the dugout with players from all over the world, Davis said, “No matter where we’re from, when it comes to sports, we all speak the same language.”
And with that – the Mayor having cared; the history professor having shared; the athletic director giving the thumbs up; the operations manager requesting the coach gather up – soccer balls, basketballs, and 100 well-loved baseballs were gladly given up to the Crushers and Lakewood’s youth.
One of the more loved of those well-loved baseballs – it’s threads coming undone, it’s heart exposed, not unlike the basketball, or the boy, which began this story – now sits on a shelf in Simpson’s office, a photograph of which he took and shared, as a reminder, he says, that baseball and books go together; activities for youth supported today in our communities, academics – also a field of dreams – in one day attending college.
And now you know almost all the story, the rest of which however is this:
It’s what Pierce College Athletic Director Duncan Stevenson said that for everyone served as their inspiration:
“I was once that little boy.”