The Difference of Friends

When I was moving into eighth grade…we were moving! My family had been living in Williamstown, West Virginia for several years, but my dad, who worked for the Social Security Administration, received a promotion and we made a move to Zanesville, Ohio.

The middle school years are awkward enough, but when you are the new kid at a school (South Zanesville Junior High) where almost everyone already knows one another it makes it even more uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that I was the shortest kid (4 feet 8 inches) in the whole eighth grade, and maybe even in seventh grade, I felt invisible one moment and thought everyone was staring at the new kid in the next.

I went out for football and looked like someone’s little brother who had wandered onto the field. I remember one practice where Randy McDaniels, our 6’1″ running back took a pitch and was running to the outside. I tried to tackle him and I bounced off of him like he was a windshield and I was the bug.

Terry Kopchak was a lineman on that team and he took me under his massive wing. He was kind and smart. Although he’d never brag about it, Terry was a straight ‘A’ student, one of those kids who worked hard and always seemed to do what was right. He ended up being a teacher, a principal, and then a school superintendent. Instead of seeing me as someone who got obliterated by Randy McDaniels, he saw me as someone who needed a friend.

The eighth and ninth grade years are hard enough. In fact, as I look back on those days I view them as years of personal insignificance. They were a time where I felt I had no value, I didn’t ‘t matter.

Terry Kopchak and another classmate named Mike Bowman told me I mattered. After a football season where my stat sheet registered zero tackles, zero receptions, and, as I look back on it, I think my uniform number was zero, basketball season came. The three of us were teammates on the school team, and the main player was the same guy who had trampled me during football season. Mike, Terry, and I were players who had support roles. We supported one another on the bench and encouraged each other in the minutes of playing time we’d receive. (By the way, Mike Bowman was also a straight ‘A’ student! If I ever received an ‘A’, it was in physical education.)

When I look back on it, now 55 years in the rearview mirror, I am increasingly thankful for these two friends who mad such an impact. After my ninth grade year, my dad received another promotion and we moved from Zanesville to the river town of Ironton, where two other guys (Dave Hughes and Mike Fairchild) took up where terry and Mike left off. I wonder where I would have been without those guys. Their handprints were upon my life.

In recent days, Terry has had some health struggles. He’s had to go through dialysis and physical therapy, battled through Covid illness even though he had received the first three vaccinations, and has gone through a long recovery. One of the results of friendship is a heart swell of empathy, compassion, and love for an old buddy, even though we haven’t crossed paths for decades.

A ripple effect of having friends like Terry and Mike can be seen in the first three books of my RED HOT novel series. One of the main characters, a short bespectacled kid named Ethan Thomas, needed a friend, just like I did. A new boy named Randy moved across the street from him and became that friend who believed in him.

You see, everyone needs a friend…or two, because a friend can let you know that you matter even when you’re filled with doubts that you do.

Thanks, Terry…Mike…Mike…and Dave!

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