My friend and fellow church member, Dave Tanner, has been going through cancer treatments for a year now. He’s on his 6th protocol. The first five have not worked. This one is experimental. He has lost 50 lbs. He is in pain all the time.
But Homecoming was a Saturday ago, and he was a 50-year letterman, swimming on one of those great Doc Counsilman IU teams. So did he stay home, the way a cancer patient should? No, he rode in the parade with his fellow lettermen. He went to the ball game. He went to the banquet. And Sunday morning, after all that fatiguing stuff, he looked as healthy as I have seen him in a long time.
Being a letterman does that for you. Because you’re a letterman, you know that you belong.
I so much wanted to win a letter in high school, and never did, or so I thought. I have often said through the years that I would trade all the other accolades and achievements of my high school years for a sports letter. I think I was prouder than daughter Katie was when she won a cross country letter in high school.
We all want to belong, and there is nothing that tells others, and ourselves, that we belong, like a uniform does. Or a letter for wearing that uniform.
When I was twelve, I played baseball in the church league. I was so proud of the small green felt “M,” for Methodist, that Mother ironed onto the front of my white t-shirt. It wasn’t much of a uniform, not much of a letter, but it said that I belonged.
I was class president and on the Student Council for three years, editor of the school newspaper, in the band and orchestra, and still didn’t feel like I really belonged at Oakland City High School because I did not have a sports letter.
Recently, though, I’ve been going through old report cards, newspaper clippings, and the other detritus we collect along the way, parceling it out to relatives who might want one thing or another, and discarding the rest. In the process, I found an article in which I was listed as a LETTERMAN! In track.
I suppose I always thought I was not a letterman because I did not have a letter sweater. In Oakland City, the school bought and presented to senior lettermen not a jacket but a pullover sweater, green, with a big white O in the middle. On the bottom line of the O was a little gold football, or basketball. On the sleeves were chevrons to indicate how many years you lettered.
But letter sweaters were awarded only for basketball and football, not track or baseball, our only two other sports. There were no sports for girls, of course, although Shirley Black did get a letter sweater for cheer leading, the first time they awarded a sweater for cheering, and then I suspect it was because Jim Shaw had been the school’s first male cheerleader and they wanted to give him a sweater and so had to give one to Shey, too.
All these years, yearning for a letter, when I actually had one. Surely a lesson there somehow. Oh, yes, the real belongings, to God and family, do not require a letter. That’s nice.
Also, however, just in case belonging to God and family are not enough, do you know where I can buy a green pullover? And a big white O? And a little golden winged foot? And some white chevrons?
John Robert McFarland
It’s never too late to be a letterman. Maybe a big G.