Posted tagged ‘Ironton’

My Varsity “I” Jacket

December 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 29, 2018

                               

I had saved my money up, mowing lawns all summer for people like Mrs. Unrue at the end of Thomas Street. She paid well…$4.00 for mowing and trimming! With her weekly payment and the money from a couple of other “cheaper” customers I finally had enough. The Varsity “I” Jacket was ordered from Bob Lynn’s Sporting Goods. In the summer of 1970 it cost me just a hair under $30!

I had earned it- that is, earned the right to have it- by lettering in track the previous sophomore season for Ironton High School, the pride of Ironton, Ohio. My 5’6”  (if I stretched out when being measured) and a hundred pound body had run a lot of laps around ovals during that season. I had expected to be a sprinter, but at our first meet at Fairland High School, Coach Bill Trent had said, “Hey! Does anyone want to run in the two mile. We need another varsity runner!”

All I heard were the words “need another varsity runner!” I didn’t even know how many laps two miles would be. I soon discovered it was eight! Eight…that’s about seven more than I wanted to do!

The day was rainy and the wind was blowing…and I never took my black sweats off even during the race! Lo, and behold! I finished 4th…out of 5! Someone else from Fairland with less desire than me trudged even slower than my feet! But I had gotten 4th in a triangular meet, and that meant 1 point for the Flighting Tigers and, more importantly, one point towards earning my varsity letter. As I remember it, a runner needed to average a point each meet and there were about ten meets that season.

By the end of that track season I had dropped my two mile time from “just behind the sloth” to 10:56, finished 5th in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League meet at Ohio University…and had earned my varsity letter! 

When my orange jacket with dingy white sleeves came in at the beginning of September I looked at the calendar to figure out what coming event I needed to wear it to. That next Friday night was the first home football game at Ironton’s Tank Memorial Stadium. It was 80 degrees humid and, but I wore my jacket. The growling tiger head on the back of it was cool, but the capital “I” on the front meant that I was one of the athletic elite!

Perspiration flowed down my face that night, but I sensed that several young ladies were looking at me with new eyes and considering my potential. I felt sticky inside the heavy garment but kept wearing it. If I took it off I might appear to, once again, be one of the commoners. I hadn’t been mowing Mrs. Unrue’s lawn for the last four months for my status to be taken off so quickly!

I toughed it out!

I still have that jacket! It hangs in the closet of our guest bedroom, impressing no one and being worn by…no one! I tried it on a while ago. It didn’t fit! The sleeves stop about three inches above my wrists like they’re afraid of going further. The snaps in the front keep their distance from one another.

In  1970 I really had to still grow into it. In 2018 I’ve long since grown out of it. So now it hangs in the closet, befriending other garments from the past, like a nostalgic museum of a long gone era.

Talking Soccer With American Football Dads

September 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 9, 2017

                      

Even though I’ve coached middle school football for thirteen years my family is a soccer family. I’m a soccer dad. All three of our kids played soccer through high school- our son was a part of one undefeated state championship team and a member of the state runner-up team the year before that. Our two son-in-laws play soccer. Their wives (our daughters) still play on indoor teams and an occasional outdoor team. Our two oldest grandchildren play soccer. I took up the game later on and played in an “older than dirt” league for men. I coached two of my kids’ teams when they were younger.

So, as you can tell, we’re a soccer family!

With the growing concerns about concussions in football I’m seeing more kids start with soccer and stay with soccer. In our nine year old grandson’s soccer program the boys aren’t allowed to do headers yet. That doesn’t become legal for another year.

What amuses me are the number of football dads who now frequent soccer fields but don’t quite understand the game yet. They bring football terminology and football philosophy to another sport that is more about finesse than brutal power, more about speed and touch than holding a block and running over someone.

And a lot of the dads are having a hard time making that transition from what was to what is! My high school in Ironton, Ohio was, and is, a football town. Kids start playing just after they’re conceived. Our high school teams became dominant in the 70’s and 80’s. Ironton High School still does not have a soccer team. You have to enroll your child as a student at Ironton St. Joseph if you want him to kick a round ball.

But Ironton is the exception, the one who has been slow coming to the dance! They have been resistant to the transition from what was to what is. To change would mean learning a whole new sports language.

Football dads still bring the mindset that any kick or punt needs to be launched into space, the longer the better! You’ll hear a football dad yelling “Kick it! Kick it!”, and then shouting in celebration when the soccer ball is booted down the field…even though it’s kicked to someone from the other team. With football dads distance is over-valued.

Ironton usually used a tight offensive formation. Power football over the guards. Soccer is about spacing and anticipation, weird concepts for an Ohio culture that grew up with the Woody Hayes’ philosophy of “three yards and a cloud of dust”!

At our six year old granddaughter’s soccer game this morning I heard a couple of dads talking about game situations. One had been a soccer dad for about a year and the other was making his rookie dad debut at a soccer field. Several times I heard the soccer dad begin a statement with the words “That means…”, and then explain the unfamiliar concepts to this new parent in a foreign land.

To be fair, Americans football is still more ingrained in our culture than soccer. No one gets together at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fantasy Soccer Draft Night, but BWW sells a lot of wings to people who gather there for Fantasy Football Draft Night. In fact, they even have a draft kit for each fantasy league commissioner. Yesterday at the middle school where I coach it was “Favorite Team Day”. Students could wear the hat or jersey of their favorite team. I think I saw about…two soccer jerseys, both of teams in the English Premier League, and about a gazillion professional football jerseys!

Football is ingrained in us and, therefore, I expect to hear more statements at the soccer fields in the coming week like “That was out of the end zone!” and “Why aren’t they huddling?”

You’ve just got to be patient sometimes and bring some football dads along slowly.

Give Them More Recess!

May 14, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 13, 2016

                                 

In recent weeks I’ve been substitute teaching in several elementary classrooms. I’ve observed tendencies and oddities that make me ponder the methods of educating kids. Last week I had a kindergarten class where multiple boys fell out of their seats numerous times during the day, but not a single girl took a spill. Why would that be?

One of my former college classmates, Cyndi Faur, had given me an idea that I had put into practice that hit upon the epidemic of chair-clumsy boys. It concerned recess. She suggested that I write the word “R-E-C-E-S-S” on the board and tell them that if their actions and focus were excellent that each of the letters would mean an extra two minutes of recess. Inappropriate behavior took letters off the board.

I tried that a couple of times, and then I switched to writing a letter on the board every fifteen minutes when there was good behavior and focused work.

If you want to help elementary kids stay focused give them the possibility of more recess. This past week I was back in the same building where I had subbed for first grade a couple of weeks ago. A few of the students saw me and ran up to give me hugs. “Mr. Wolfe!” they shouted as they saw me on the playground. They remembered me, not for my math prowess, but rather for the fact that I gave them a few extra minutes of recess.

“Recess” means “retreat” or “withdraw”. Growing up, youth retreats were the ultimate. Going away for a weekend with our youth group, retreating from the busyness of Ironton, Ohio for two days…those experiences were the mountaintops of my high school years! Retreats readied us for the weeks of school, the struggles of being teenagers in the midst of a world that was sending us all kinds of mixed messages.

Kids need retreats! They need breaks from the classroom. They need five extra minutes of getting that energy out. Five extra minutes of being let loose from the bridle of the daily phonogram lesson.

And here’s the thing! It doesn’t stop with elementary school students. All of us need more recesses…a few more minutes to retreat…even to let loose.

God created us that way. All work and no play makes Billy a very somber boy! All work and no retreat gives us a grayness that hangs over us like a Charlie Brown rain cloud.

I saw a picture of a church that has a kid’s play area in the sanctuary. I’ve got to think a little more about that one…like will we have to keep the adult kids out of there?… but perhaps churches should think about adult play areas, places of recess. Those youth retreats I referenced…some of the best times during those weekends revolved around just being together for a few moments of laughter and conversation. We draw close to God as faith journeyers as we walk through crises together, but also as we laugh, talk, learn, and play together. Shallow relationships focus on one aspect, instead of all the parts of the journey.

The small church in the small rural community that I travel to two Sundays a month to speak concludes each service with about 30 minutes of cake and coffee. Since there’s only about 20 people it is informal, punctuated with laughter, and blessed with awesome cakes from a lady named Betty (Crocker). In many ways it is the recess from the week for the farmers and hard-working people of that congregation. No one leaves right the benediction. Everyone stays. Everyone recesses.

There’s something sacred about that.

Back to school! I was the sub for a third grade class this week. They earned extra time at both recesses, but what may have stuck in the minds of several of the boys was the fact that I joined in with them each recess with the games of “Four Square.” Some of them looked at me differently after recess…like “Wow! Even teachers like recess!”

Yes, most of us do! And not just because I knew we had to do science when we got back to class!

The Saints Who Go Before Us

April 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                            April 22, 2015

                                         

We have been blessed in so many ways and by so many people…and so often we don’t immediately recognize it.

Today it hit me…in an unusual way!

Today is the 96th birthday of a woman who I always saw as being a person of compassion, gentleness, and faith. Her name is Ruth Kennedy.

Now…you need to understand something! I haven’t seen Ruth in close to twenty years. I was taken back by the fact that she has a Facebook page…and is now one of my Facebook friends, although in my birthday greeting to you today I couldn’t bring myself to calling her Ruth. She has always been Mrs. Kennedy to me!

Her oldest daughter, Cindy, was a good friend of mine in high school, and several of us hung out quite often at the Kennedy mansion in Ironton, Ohio, between the flood wall and North Second Street. The Wolfe’s and Kennedy’s were  a part of the same church, and our youth group as close-knit.

Mrs. Kennedy would welcome us into her home, and then…this is important!…give us space! She would go to another part of the house and let our group of friends laugh and converse together.

She was faithful! She would sit with her husband Jim on the Vernon Street side of the sanctuary each Sunday for worship at First Baptist Church. Ruth was not a hit-and-miss attender. She was consistent and friendly and warm.

And now years later it hits me how blessed I was to have her in my life during those high school and college years.

We talk about the saints that go before us, but sometimes we are blind to the saints that are with us! And then years later…in an unexpected Facebook post you catch sight of how special someone in your past was to you.

Mrs. Kennedy was just one of many saints who affirmed my call to ministry in 1979 when I was ordained. I can see some of the other faces…Pastor Gale Baldridge, Pastor Jerry Heslinga, Bill and Sue Ball, Paul Hughes, Glenn Fairchild, Ralph and Phyllis Carrico, Ramona McCollister, Dale Clark, Betty Douglas, Rev. Earl Dale…the list could stretch on to the horizon! Some have gone on to Glory…some were like “church moms” to me…and some were encouragers. All had a part in shaping me and causing me to press on!

Happy birthday, Ruth…I mean, Mrs. Kennedy!

Missing A Sixty Gathering

September 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 22, 2014

                                              

I graduated from Ironton High School in 1972. For those who are math-challenged that means I received my diploma 42 years ago. It also means that most of the people in my high school class hit the “6-0” sometime during this year.

This past weekend people from my “Class of ’72” had a 60th Birthday Bash in Ironton.

I couldn’t go! I had a team of three year olds I needed to coach in soccer…otherwise known as “herd ball.”

But I did see pictures from the birthday bash that several of my Facebook friends posted. Here’s the hard part! When you don’t see people for decades you tend to ask the same question over and over again: Who is that?

Sixty looks different than eighteen! My frame of reference with Ironton High School is still with an eighteen lens. But things happen! Hair turns grey…or white…or disappears! Waistlines expand, people get shorter, more bent over. Wisdom has its price tag…support bras, support leg stockings, back support wraps. Aging is not easy.

I miss a lot of my high school classmates…Dave Hughes…Margaret Whaley…Mike Fairchild…Tommy “TD” Douglas…Jim Payne…Susan Heald…Greg Harding. The memories come back of Carl Pyle singing “Climb Every Mountain” at graduation, Sunday night youth gatherings at First Baptist, Junior Prom with Mary Cronacher, setting the school record for the mile run (which lasted for one..maybe two years) in a race in Charleston…and only finishing fifth! Getting ribbed for not getting my driver’s license until I graduated (Jeff Waddell kept asking me how the stereo system was on my bicycle!), Smitty’s for unhealthy lunches, the protest of some of the African-American students, during which they got on the school P.A. system.

Good times!

I’m assuming that most of us in my class have grown out of high school. We’ve matured, gone on to raise families, become overbearing parents just like ours were, and now grandparents who carry around thousands of pictures of our grandkids…and maybe one each of our originals! We’ve gone our different ways and now we look back on what was and miss the Friday nights, the possible teen romances, and the laughter of crazy adolescence.

Sixty is a new phase of life that came along whether we were ready for it or not.

I have to admit something. In some ways it’s hard for me to go back to my old high school. For one thing, they tore down my school and built a new building on the spot, with the exception of the nostalgic front entrance columns that they kept standing. But it’s also hard for me to go back because I’ve moved away and moved on. Life is better in many ways, harder in others, but most of all, completely different. I’ve been a pastor for thirty-five years, married the same number and only once, father of three, grandfather of two and a half (3 next March). Most of my life these days is focused on a completely different set of priorities than I had at IHS.

I miss my old classmates, and I’m okay with that.

Behavior Modification or Transformation

April 20, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 20, 2012

 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

 

When I was in first grade I pulled a chair out from the boy who was sitting in front of me in Reading. It was hilarious to me…for a moment! Then my teacher grabbed me off of my chair, stood me up, and shook me! Not something teachers, who want to stay employed, do today, but effective. Never again did I think about pulling the chair our from under an unsuspecting student, although I wanted to on numerous occasions.

My behavior was modified. The laughter of a student sprawled on the classroom floor was soon erased by a bespectacled  instructor peering down at my puny little body. I learned to not do things that upset my teacher…when she was around.

It was not a transformation experience. It was a modification moment. The first of many in my first grade year. (Another was throwing wet paper towels in the restroom at boys who were using the urinals! In case you’ve never done that…don’t! It resulted in my first opportunity to see the inside of the principal’s office!)

In our faith journey with Jesus we talk about having a transformation experience, coming to that point when we realize that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ. We talk about asking him to be our Lord and Savior. It is a Damascus Road experience, a kairos moment> At that moment we know things will never be as they were again. It’s a new way.

Yesterday I was riding with my sister to Ironton, Ohio, where she teaches a Thursday afternoon class at the college. As we traveled along the usual route traffic was backed-up because of some work that the road construction crew was doing on the hillside removing some huge boulders that were putting vehicles in peril. My sister turned around, headed back the other direction, and suddenly turned left. We headed down a narrow road that had more curves in it than a Sandy Koufax Dodgers’ game in the Sixties. We actually went through a place called Possum Holler. It was like riding a roller coaster on asphalt.

But somehow we came out on a road that led into Coal Grove, Ohio, that then led to Ironton. The usual way led to danger. We had to change our way. It was the Ohio version of someone saying “We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!”

Spiritual transformation is God grabbing hold of our hearts and then we realize we must change our way. It’s taking us through “Possum Holler”, because, otherwise, there is no reason why we would want to go there.

Behavior modification is changing my ways. Spiritual transformation is changing my way. Modification is realizing that the principal’s office is not where I want to visit very often, so I’m going to be a good boy, or maybe a better boy. Transformation is realizing that my life has purpose and the principal’s office is a dangling boulder that does not need to be a part of it.

In our faith walk there is a subtle difference between conforming to a church’s culture and being transformed by the Spirit. The first can mask itself as the second. The first changes the exterior, the second is an internal working that changes me externally. The first is my pulling the chair out from under my classmate, realizing that will get me into hot water, so I never do it again…but I’d still like to!

Conforming or being transformed…changing my ways or finding the Way.