COLUMN: Sports stories we could tell…

Published 1:11 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Most, perhaps almost all, who have had experiences in the world of athletics, have some stories they could tell.

There would be humorous events, some that were inspirational; or about keen, stinging disappointments. Some, even, would bring back a bit of anger, or frustration.

The sports realm offers a wide spectrum of emotion-producing possibilities. Incredible highs, and depressing lows. In short, a sort of athletic microcosm of life.

Such experiences are not limited to just players. No, indeed. It includes coaches, officials (referees, umps, et al), parents, fans.

Importantly, special — good, not so good — experiences are certainly not confined to just one or two levels of sportsdom.

From the tykes all the way up to grown men and women — at every level (or lack of) proficiency — there is the potential for special moments to occur. Or the opposite.

Unfortunately, too much emphasis is often put upon organized athletics, especially as it now often exists for our younger children. Way too much. And in a different way, at the collegiate level, as well.

This modest journalistic endeavor won’t elaborate on those valid concerns.

Let me, however, share just a bit of some of my sports memories. I’ll try to be succinct, I promise.

In my junior year at WHS we played Rocky Mount in football. A really large school.  The year before we played them on their home field, and gave a fairly good accounting of ourselves. They won 38-20, but we were competitive. My first high school TD came in that game. Big deal. To me. A sophomore.

Well, now. The Blackbirds rolled into Little Washington (compared to them we WERE little). Lord, what a long night. The final score was something like 45 -7. It may have been the worst loss ever inflicted on a Choppy Wagner-coached team. It was ugly.

Mr. Wagner would always give me a ride home after games. I would wait in the empty field house — save just the two of us — while he checked out, put up, re-arranged things.

Then he’d turn out the lights, lock the door, and we would walk out of the Kugler Field gate to his car. It was rare that he did much talking, and after the Rocky Mount game there was complete silence. Complete.

We proceeded home at his 30-mph “breakneck” speed. When he pulled into the driveway at my house, I reached for the door handle and said, “Thanks for the ride, Mr. Wagner.”

With both hands on the wheel, looking straight ahead, he said, “You was pathetic.”

“Yes, sir.  Goodnight.”

Then there was the time when I was a sophomore, when those who had lettered were told our monogram jackets had arrived. The coveted navy and white jackets.

My jacket was beautiful. Truly. And then I saw it. My name, on the front, was spelled “B-a-r-t-o-n.” Barton.

Since it was activity period, I bolted for Mr. Wagner’s room. When I walked in, I held it up for him to see, and with disappointment and frustration I said, “Mr. Wagner, they misspelled my NAME!”

He took one look, and then said, obviously displeased as well, “I told them your name was BARTOS!”

Ah, but those were such good days. Good years.

How lucky we were to have a coach like Mr. Wagner. Throughout all my playing days, in all sports — Washington, Wake Forest, two teams in the Army — whenever I think of a coach, even the word coach, J. G. “Choppy” Wagner comes first and foremost to my mind.


And yes, almost all of us have stories we could tell.