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Paying It Forward
About a year ago, I read a newspaper article about a boy named Adam Thomas. Adam's story reminded me of the experiences of my son, Ben. Adam is a few years older than Ben but one thing they have in common is that they are both quite tall. Adam is 7'2"; Ben is 6'8". As I read the story about Adam, I couldn't help but notice the similarities to Ben. Adam worked in a grocery store. At the time, so did Ben. Adam felt that his unusual height made him feel shy and awkward. So does Ben. Even though he grew up as a tall kid, Adam had taken no interest in playing basketball. Neither did Ben. They both experienced the same comments from people. "How tall are you? Do you play basketball?" The reason for the article about Adam was that he walked into the coach's office at Penn Valley Community College (PVCC) and expressed an interest in being on their team. What?! He'd never played organized basketball. Just a few pick-up games here and there. The coaches at PVCC took him on. They taught him how to play basketball and accepted him on their team. At the end of his two years at PVCC Adam accepted a scholarship offer from a four year college in California, Cal State Fullerton. He now plays for them. After reading Adam's story, I showed it to Ben and asked him if he saw any similarities to himself. He did. I asked him if he wanted me to contact the PVCC coach to see if he would be interested in working with Ben. He did. I sent the coach an email thinking that mine would be one of hundreds from people with tall boys. The coach called the next day. Mine was the only email he had received. He invited us to a game that night. Ben, his dad, younger brother and I drove to Kansas City to go to the game. It was a hard-fought game but PVCC lost. Not a good night for the coach. But he met with us briefly afterward. He said that he would give us a call to see about setting up a time to start working with Ben. We never heard from him. Ben and I didn't talk about it but we were both disappointed. For a variety of reasons, without this opportunity, Ben probably would not attend college.After a chat with a friend recently, I decided to make another effort with the coach at PVCC. I had changed jobs since our last meeting. Maybe he'd tried to contact me at my old phone number. Maybe he just wasn't interested. I didn't know. I emailed him. He called the next day. He had lost my phone number. He was still interested in working with Ben. He would have his brother, an assistant coach, call to set up a time to start working with Ben. After an anxious week of waiting, the assistant coach called. Ben is now training with this coach twice a week. He has improved noticeably, not only in his basketball skills but also in his overall level of confidence.During a recent practice, the coach said that Adam planned to be there that day to practice with the team. His parents live in the Kansas City area and he was home for the holidays. Sure enough, Adam showed up. As he was shedding his sweat suit and changing into his basketball shoes, I took the opportunity to introduce myself and also introduced him to Ben. I told him that he had been an inspiration to us and that we were hoping that Ben could follow his lead. We chatted for a few minutes and then he went to practice with the team. When they were done practicing, Adam and another team member, Kyle, went over to where Ben was working with the coach. Adam and Kyle jumped right in and started giving Ben some pointers. No one asked them to help. They just took it upon themselves to give him the benefit of their experience. At the end of practice, Adam, Kyle and the coach came over to chat. They mentioned that it would be a good idea for Ben to have a gym bag and a pair of basketball shoes that he wears only on the court. I thought we would stop on the way home to buy a pair but at the end of the conversation, Adam asked what size shoe Ben wears. Ben wears a size sixteen. So does Adam. Adam handed me the brand new pair of shoes that he had in his hand. "I would like for Ben to have these shoes," he said, "I get free shoes all the time." I was speechless. Ben is literally following in Adam's footsteps.