I’ve spent my adult life writing about outstanding athletes.
From thousands of local high school athletes to hundreds of outstanding athletes to dozens of professional athletes competing at the highest levels of their respective sports, I’ve spent the past two decades covering every manner of athlete who have excelled in every sense of the word.
But in all that time, I have never written a word about one of the greatest I’ve ever known — one that has been right in front of my face my entire life — until now.
It’s all a part of human nature, I suppose. We spend so much time worrying about the outside world around us — chasing the bigger and better story — that we sometimes forget that bigger and better is actually pretty close to home. We grow so accustomed to greatness that we fail to appreciate it when we are around it all the time — or even living under the same roof.
My dad was a sports superstar. He was a four-sport athlete in high school while growing up in Boise, Idaho, playing football, basketball and running track and field, while also pitching for his local American Legion baseball in the summer.
In football, he was and all-conference tight end/defensive end, despite weighing a mere 150 pounds.
In track, he was a member of a state champion 4×200 relay team that set an Idaho state record. That record would stand for decades before it was finally broken long after he had gone to college and served honorably in the United States Army.
In baseball, he was so good a pitcher playing legion that, despite not playing high school baseball, he was contacted by Major League Baseball scouts.
He did all of this at one of the the biggest high schools in the state of Idaho, a school roughly the size of Centerville, to put it in perspective for those who are more familiar with Ohio high school sports.
He also did it in the 1950s, when people had certain preconceived notions, stereotypes and flat out racist ideas about what Chinese people were capable of physically. At a time in our country’s when Chinese people were viewed by many as bookish, frail or weak, he was an elite athlete who changed the way many people in his community thought.
He was more than an athlete, he was a ground breaker at the local level. He changed the way many small-minded people thought about Chinese people.
He also was the son of Chinese immigrants, which means he accomplished all he did without overbearing “little league” parents. He did it on his own. While they were certainly proud of their son’s achievements, I’m not sure they ever fully understood the significance of what my dad was accomplishing in these sports they had never even heard of until moving to the United States.
When he come home from practice, he was not coddled because he was an athlete — he was still expected to excel in school and work long hours in the family’s Chinese restaurant.
The funny part? He rarely talked about any of this. He would rather spend his time bragging about what his kids (not me, mind you, but my brothers and sisters) and grandkids did in their athletic exploits.
Still, though, while I was never much of a participant in sports, I grew up with the same passion my father had for athletics. When he was coaching my brothers and sisters in their youth sports careers, I was frequently on the sidelines or in the dugouts next to him, soaking it all in.
When he would watch football games on the weekends or baseball games on summer evenings, I was sitting on the floor next to him as he sat tensely in his recliner, honing in on every snap or pitch.
Dad and I fought about a lot throughout the course of our lives … but sports — like they have for so many fathers and sons throughout the ages — were always what brought us together. No matter what else happened in our lives, we could always communicate through sports.
I have no doubts my sports writing career can be traced directly to him and his passion for the games. In his 76 years on this Earth, he never lost his passion for athletics, which — as anyone who sat within hundreds of feet of him and heard him yelling at one of his children’s or grandchildren’s sporting events — ran deep.
Two weeks ago, however, that booming voice my father used at sporting events was silenced when he passed away at 2:34 a.m. on Nov. 19. As a sign of how deep our mutual love of sports runs, one of my first thoughts following his passing was, “I’m glad he got to see Ohio State win another national title back in January.”
I never told my dad how much I admired him for all his athletic exploits and I had certainly never written about them … until now, of course.
I’m proud of you, dad. Although I have never — and will never — succeed on the athletic field myself, I hope my sports writing, in some small way, can make you proud as well.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong