I enjoy following Cleveland teams, and I’m a big fan of players who remain in NEO long after their careers are over. Some, like Doug Dieken and Austin Carr on our cover, contribute thoughtful commentary as broadcasters. Others coach. Many volunteer.
I didn’t always feel that way about sports or, truthfully, about athletes. Their confidence, coordination and skills intimidated me. I was an alien on their planet.
A physically challenged gene pool no doubt played a role in my early athletic struggles, but it was a gym suit that ultimately turned me off sports — at least for a few decades.
The one-piece stretch gym suit was purposely designed to humiliate a self-conscious, thick-glasses-wearing middle school klutz. I hated it. It was the final indignity to my brief but memorable athletic career.
Before the gym suit came a long trail of athletic failures. In elementary school, I attempted crooked somersaults overseen by former college cheerleaders-turned gym teachers. Their attention went to the lithe classmates who tumbled and flipped around me. I tried not to get in the way.
On dodgeball gym days, I let stray balls tap my foot and eagerly sought refuge in the bleachers. I was usually the last picked for teams, except when a friend was the captain. I’m still friends with them, possibly out of deeply ingrained gratitude.
I tried, goodness knows I tried to be athletic. But in my family, I comfortably settled into the role of a bookworm. I hung out with the other anti-gym kids at school and joined them in both mocking the jocks while secretly admiring their sports prowess.
I no longer mock athletes, the result of four decades of post-gym-suit recovery. The ones I’ve gotten to know, both personally and professionally, are nice — just different than me. I’m still envious of their coordination and competitiveness, but no longer intimidated. It’s not their fault that they moved confidently and gracefully through the world while the rest of us stumbled and struggled on gym floors, basketball courts and ballfields.
All of that brings me to our cover stories about Cleveland sports and the fans who love them (including me, now). Rick Manning, Austin Carr and Doug Dieken were friendly and generous with their time while giving their takes on nurturing young fans, the state of the game and our teams in general.
I talked to Indians radio voice Tom Hamilton for our Q&A. His voicemail message sounded like he was calling a game — strong and enthusiastic. Listening to it will be the closest I get to feeling like a professional athlete. He’s a favorite of mine, and he lived up to my expectations.
If gardening is more your thing, then you’ll want to read about NEO’s tapestry of community gardens and the harvest of friendships and produce they yield each season.
Our story about Akron offers great ways to spend a day — or more — there. I’m a fan of the zoo and Stan Hywet, but feel free to find your own favorites.
The longer days have put a spring in my step. I’m anxious to get back on my coaster bike and cruise the sidewalks in my small town. I’m gearing up for garden season and the meditative rhythm of digging and weeding. And I’m grateful that awkward middle school kids don’t have to wear gym suits anymore.