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Roger Barbee: Unrealized potential

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By Roger Barbee

In the Daily this week was an Associated Press story by Hank Kurz Jr. about the arrest of Michael Holmes. My guess is that this arrest of a 19-year-old in Blacksburg is newsworthy because young Mr. Holmes is also a rising star football player at Virginia Tech. According to the AP article, Holmes was arrested Sunday morning and is being charged with several offenses, one a possible felony. He has an attorney and has been automatically suspended from the football team (university policy) because of the potential felony charge.

I am not so old that I do not remember being 19. I remember some situations that I wish had never happened, and I remember some personal actions that were not the wisest. But most of all, I remember having adults in my life who would take me aside and tell me in kind words sprinkled with salt that I was acting foolishly and that such action in the future would not be tolerated. Said with love, the words carried a bite that helped change my ways. My wish for young Michael Holmes is that he has in his life an adult or adults as I did. The presence of an attorney sounds reasonable considering the potential charges, but I hope some adult in his family or a football coach steps up and guides him, and reads the article I read in Sunday's Washington Post telling the tale of an ex-NBA star.

Allen Iverson is 37 years old, being sued for divorce by the mother of his children, and, by his admission in divorce court, broke. Not too long ago, he was a star athlete at Bethel High School in Virginia before going to Georgetown University on a basketball scholarship. For two years he demonstrated how a 6-foot guard could pass, shoot, and dazzle opponents and his adoring fans. Then the lure of massive money swayed him to sign to play with an NBA team and a shoe company. He wanted to help his family, and he quickly showed that he could not only play on the court, but off it, too, by doing things the way he wanted.

Iverson walked to his own music and became well known for practicing with hangovers, skipping team functions, and ignoring the NBA dress code. He was a free spirit and fans followed his every move on and off the court. Like many professional athletes, he became a cult of sorts, but now the estimated $150 million earned is gone, and his friends worry that he can't find an anchor after such stardom. Sadly, the story of Allen Iverson and his potential is all too familiar.

All too often I hear people talking about a seventh- or eighth-grader and expressing amazement at his or her athletic skills. When I hear this idle chatter, I remind the speaker that the world is full of middle school and high school phemons. Such talk bothers me because I worry, is the youngster being taught the life-lessons that will be needed? Are the adult coaches so swayed by natural ability that they ignore fundamentals for living?

I don't know Iverson, but suspect that corners were smoothened for him along the way, that certain requirements were overlooked because of a big game coming up. How else would he have developed into a star who thought he did not have to follow the rules like his teammates? It seems, according to the article, he does not have the skills needed to face the mundane of ordinary life. What skills does he possess to earn a living because the court he now has to play on is the one of disciplined life? He is responsible for his choices, but I suspect others in his life share the responsibility, too. Which brings me back to Michael Holmes.

I hope adults in Holmes' life explain that he, as an athlete with great potential at a fine university, is held at a higher level than other students. Because of his given talents, more is expected of him. It should be explained to him, then required, that he be exemplary in word and deed by attending classes, taking care of his physical assets, and being a role model for youngsters. By being a good steward, he will prepare for life after the brief days of glory.



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