Sunday, October 11, 2015

Getting Cut

I read an article a few days ago about a handful of successful people who were cut from sports teams of their youth. Apparently, the revelation of being told they weren't good enough at an early age was the motivation for them to turn it around and become wealthy leaders in their industries.

CEOs, bank presidents, even former CBS News anchor Dan Rather were all dropped from high school teams and they fared well later in life. We all know about Michael Jordan being told he wasn't going to make his high school basketball team; he turned out okay as well.

So, it makes sense that I should have been doubly successful in life because I was cut twice from teams of yore. Somehow, that early childhood trauma didn't translate into some survival instinct in my career, though.

I never had much of a sporting prowess. Sure, I could play basketball with the neighborhood kids, and I was decent in backyard whiffle ball. I could stick-handle a puck in our street hockey games in Minnesota like old Northstars leftwinger J.P. Parise. But put me in some organized sporting event and I became pretty klutzy. I had the dexterity of a broken-stringed marionette operated by a drunken puppet master with palsy.

I've written about my baseball experience here before. I was about 10 years old when I tried out for Little League in northern Minnesota. I was supposed to wear glasses to correct vision so bad that I think the eye doctors who diagnosed my epic myopic eyesight originally thought of just giving me a seeing-eye dog and a tin cup and pointing me to a street corner. But I opted not to. Vanity, in my case, was blind and I relied on my sense of smell and sound to maneuver around. Yes, I was as blind as a bat when, well, swinging the bat.

I was playing left field for our Little League team on my birthday that year. Some kid on the opposing team — the Orioles, I actually remember — lofted a soft fly ball my way. We were losing 28-1 at the time; if I could catch the ball, there'd be some satisfaction I could garner from the game. I stared at the sky, hoping to smell the incoming ball. Instead, it plopped behind me, the kid scored, we were trailing, 29-1. The coach screamed at me, took me out of the game and ushered me into a world of the first of many disappointments.

When my family moved to Arkansas several years later, my parents wanted me to get involved with school activities more to help bust that culture shock of moving from the north to the deep south. I tried out for the basketball team. Again, I was awful. I could dunk a basketball flat-footed and I knew how to spin the ball on my finger. If we had a halftime show ala Harlem Globetrotters, I could suffice. Forget putting me in a real game, though.

During practices, the coach called for a star drill, in which players ran in a frenzied, yet choreographed, pattern, passing a ball back and forth. When it came my turn to participate, I looked like Lucille Ball trying to dance a congo line with Rockettes. I ran to one point, the ball ended up at another. The star, sadly, blinked out. The coach yelled at me, “It's a star drill, stupid.” I over-analyzed, asking if he meant a regular five-pointed star or if he was referring to a Star of David.

About a week after I tried out for the school team, a small forest fire broke out near our home. My father got a hose and watered down the edge of our yard to keep the fire from spreading. I grabbed a rake and tried to cut a fire line as protection. I ended up stepping into a pit of burning leaves and my sock caught on fire, badly burning my foot. Now, 40 years later, I still have a faint scar from that.

I couldn't walk, let alone do star drills, and that gave my coach the perfect opportunity to cut me from the team. It hurt my pride. Even at that age, I knew I was no good but the rejection still stung.

It may be what helped draw me to the APBA game, though. I decided to learn the strategy of basketball and the tendencies of NBA players of that era and gravitated toward the APBA basketball game. It's a plodding game; most complain about the length of time to play, but I learned the teams by playing those contests and could out talk anyone about the pro game.

Years later, I interviewed the coach who dumped me for a story for the newspaper where I now work. The coach, long retired from the school system by then, had become a county judge of one of the rural counties in my coverage area in northeast Arkansas. I don't recall the topic of the story, but I called him and eventually told him about how he cut me.

He became nervous and asked if he was diplomatic in releasing me from the team. After all, I write for a paper that's read by about 190,000 people during the week and 285,000 on Sundays, along with multitudes online. His words would be read by a lot of people; I think he was apprehensive that I may have carried a grudge for quite a while. I told him he was right to let me go, and he probably saved the integrity of the school's athletic reputation by keeping me off the hard court.

But I wondered, after reading about how all those who prospered in business got cut early in life, why I didn't fuel my rejection into millions in salary.

Maybe I need one more rejection. Maybe there's some senior men's basketball team around that needs some power forward that I could try out for. If they do a star drill, I'm sure to get cut.


  1. Great post, Ken. I'm still bitter about being cut from the JV baseball team my sophomore year of high school.

  2. Ken I always love you Blogs. Sometimes funny, sometimes informative, and sometime even poignant - but always enjoyable.

  3. Actually, Ken, I don't love YOU. I always love your Blogs.