A life lesson about sports

Eriel McKee, then a senior at Anderson County High School, stopped to say hello to one of her biggest fans, Corinne Herndon, in 2014,

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

(This column originally appeared in The Anderson News on July 18,2018, one week after my mother died at age 89. She was a huge Anderson County Bearcat fan.)

The biggest fussing I’ve endured in the last 10 years probably came in March of 2013.

The Anderson County Lady Bearcats had just won the Eighth Region in dramatic fashion and were ranked No. 2 in Kentucky going into the state basketball tournament at Western Kentucky University’s Diddle Arena. My wife and I packed our bags, notebooks, laptops and cameras and made arrangements with a church friend to take care of our sixth-grade daughter for what we believed would be a lengthy stay in Bowling Green.

Before we hit the Blue Grass Parkway, I checked on my mother, who was living by herself, telling her that we had coordinated with several members of her church, Corinth Christian, to make sure her needs would be met while we were gone. Let’s just say she was not happy to be staying in Lawrenceburg.

It wasn’t that I was going to Bowling Green. She knew that was part of this job. But she was ready to go and let me know in no uncertain terms that she should be able to do just that. She’d been a Bearcat fan since the day Anderson High School was formed in 1949 and wasn’t going to let failing health keep her from the Sweet 16.

Especially when Eriel McKee, the granddaughter of one of her friends, was one of the state’s best players.

I stood my ground, then wondered whether I had done the right thing — my family believes I did — for the rest of the week as the Lady Bearcats made a run to the state semifinals. They lost to No. 1 Marion County, the eventual undefeated state champion.

I kind of chuckle at that five years later, thinking of my mom’s spunkiness and how she loved going to high school basketball games. She was there the night C.J. Penny hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the Anderson boys to the Sweet 16 in 2009. She’d been there when the Lady Bearcats had won the region in 2010.

She’d even been kind of a good luck charm for the Anderson softball team when she started attending games in 2002 simply because the pitcher, Ashley Peak, attended church at Corinth and mom wanted to support her. The team was struggling a bit but started winning every time she was in attendance. It was a trend that continued all the way to the Eighth Region championship. Of course, when she was unable to travel to Hopkinsville for that year’s state softball tournament, the Lady Bearcats lost their first two games and were eliminated quickly.

My mother passed away last Wednesday morning. She’d lived almost 90 years and loved God, gospel music and basketball. She was a big Kentucky basketball fan, but those closest to her could tell you if she had the choice of watching the Wildcats or Bearcats, she would take Anderson County every time.

In fact, I still remember the first Anderson game I attended at what is now Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg. The Bearcats hosted Frankfort and were led by sharpshooting Terry Young. He was connected to my family by marriage and that mattered more than the fact he could fill the basket from long range.

Maybe I am being too nostalgic, but for years I have longed for the day when people supported their high school teams simply because the kids live in the same zip code, are in the church youth group, mow your yard or do odd jobs down your street.

Those fans are interested in people, not recruiting notes. They understand success is more accurately measured in the size of the heart than the size of the trophy.

Somehow we have gotten away from that as a society. We tend to judge teenage kids by their abilities to shoot a round ball or run with an oblong one. We sometimes seem more interested in how big or how fast someone is instead of what kind of people we are raising and influencing.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t evaluate athletic skills. Those who claim the prizes are usually the ones with the most ability to perform inside the framework of rules. It’s what makes sports fun.

But I often wonder if we have forgotten that when we talk about games, we are usually talking about the people who play them.

I’m not sure when I came to the realization of what made my mom such a Bearcat fan, but the story that goes with the photo accompanying this column says it all. Mom loved Will Carlton and Jonathan Beasley and Eriel McKee, not because they were some of Kentucky’s best basketball players, but because they were family friends.

It was one of those lessons my mom taught by example.

I can only say, “Thanks!”

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