When the stu­dent-ath­lete be­comes the teacher

The Covington News - - SPORTS & LIVING -

One of the rea­sons why sports jour­nal­ism is so awe­some to me is the fact that it of­ten be­comes a class­room set­ting in which the stu­dent be­comes the teacher.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last seven years that I’ve been cov­er­ing sports in metro At­lanta where I’ve heard coaches talk about how much they’ve learned from the stu­dent-ath­letes who are sup­posed to be learn­ing from them.

I un­der­stood, but I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand — mean­ing I knew that the po­ten­tial for this phe­nom­e­non had to be present, but be­cause I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced it per­son­ally, I didn’t have my own point of ref­er­ence.

That is, un­til I had the priv­i­lege of in­ter­view­ing Cousins Mid­dle School soc­cer player Jor­dan Beam.

Last week I chat­ted with him briefly about his ex­cite­ment for At­lanta’s new Ma­jor League Soc­cer fran­chise. But this week I had the op­por­tu­nity to peel back a few lay­ers and learn how awe­some of a kid he is.

In short, this week, I was in Beam’s “class­room” as this 15-year-old taught me all about re­siliency and al­low­ing neg­a­tive life oc­cur­rences pro­vide you with fuel to push for­ward faster and harder.

Let me go on record by say­ing, I don’t think I could do what this young man did at the age he did it.

About two months ago, right as Beam was get­ting ready for the soc­cer ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time — trav­el­ing to play abroad in Ger­many — he was also get­ting ready to lose his dad. Three days be­fore his plane was to leave, Jor­dan’s dad Shane passed away to brain can­cer.

But if you read my feature story on him, you’ll see Jor­dan’s re­sponse to this per­sonal tragedy. He said it fu­eled him. It ig­nited his pas­sion to pur­sue his soc­cer dreams even more, be­cause he felt as if some­how, some way, reach­ing for his goals would only serve to ce­ment the im­por­tance of his dad’s legacy in his life.

So now here’s where I get a lit­tle trans­par­ent with you.

This past week wasn’t the eas­i­est week for me be­cause of a dif­fi­cult jour­ney I’m walk­ing through with my own dad’s ill­ness. My fa­ther is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. Those of you who have had to suf­fer through watch­ing that cruel dis­ease slowly eat away at your loved one’s psy­che know that watch­ing the dis­ease is bad enough.

But for me, it was dou­bly tough be­cause my par­ents still live in my home­town of Omaha, Neb., which is 1,000 miles away — which means I’m not able to be by their side as I’d de­sire. And to be hon­est, some­times that jour­ney makes me sad enough to ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle emo­tional paral­y­sis. Some­times it’s hard to get go­ing when I feel help­less to help my dad.

But when I talked with Jor­dan, I was im­pressed, and then in­spired, by how the com­plete phys­i­cal loss of his fa­ther seemed to do ex­actly the op­po­site. It pushed him harder. He had no time to stop and feel bad and be par­a­lyzed with grief, be­cause his con­tin­u­ance was, in essence, the pre­ferred way to keep his fa­ther’s spirit alive.

And I rea­soned within my­self: If it’s good enough for a 15-year old soc­cer player, it should be good enough for a 37-year old sports­writer.

Once again sports — and Jor­dan — re­minded me that life isn’t about try­ing to avoid dif­fi­cul­ties. Life isn’t about sidestep­ping ev­ery hard­ship. Some­times — of­ten times — life is about meet­ing the tough times with squared shoul­ders and a head held high, and find­ing a way to dig deep and progress through it.

And it’s funny, ev­ery adult I’ve spo­ken to over the last two weeks who knows this young man has said some of the same things. They say they are the blessed ones to have him in their lives. I imag­ine they’ve also prob­a­bly learned a lit­tle some­thing from watch­ing this young man’s jour­ney.

It just never ceases to amaze me how sports can pick the darnedest times to re­mind me that sports is more than just a game — es­pe­cially at the am­a­teur level. Part of the thrill of my days as a com­mu­nity sports jour­nal­ist goes so far be­yond sim­ply re­port­ing scores and stats. It’s wak­ing up each day and try­ing to fig­ure out where I’ll find the next Jor­dan Beam-like stu­dent ath­lete.

Thanks to Jor­dan, my days since our in­ter­view have been a bit lighter. My push a lit­tle more solid. My re­solve a lit­tle more sure. He re­minded me that dif­fi­cult mo­ments don’t have to de­fine us neg­a­tively. In fact, they can shape the way we de­fine our­selves for the rest of life in a pos­i­tive sense if we al­low it.

Jor­dan and his en­tire fam­ily have al­lowed it. May Jor­dan and the rest of the Beams con­tinue to set that ex­am­ple for all of us, no mat­ter what life throws our way.

GABRIEL STOVALL SPORTS EDITOR

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