Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pep Talk: "Run To Daylight"

We dived into our first math tutoring session: “DeMaryius Thomas minus Peyton Manning?” The young man knew immediately that meant 88-18. “What about Knowshon  Moreno times Champ Bailey?” The fourth grader instantly wrote down 27 times 24. With a little help the Greenlee Elementary student figured out that problem, too.

Everybody seems to be a Denver Broncos’ fan these days. None more than a nine-year-old who is part of the Whiz Kids’ after-school mentoring program. Why not test his expertise with the players’ numbers and weave it into some equations to improve math skills like addition, multiplication and subtraction?

Denver’s west side reminds me a lot of south Texas almost 30 years ago. My first sports television job was in Harlingen, Texas. Located in the Rio Grande Valley about 40 miles northwest of Brownsville and the tip of the Lone Star State, it’s right along the Mexican/American border. At the time, the population was 95% Hispanic, half of which didn’t even speak English. It seemed more like northern Mexico than it did the southern United States.

Large families often headed by single mothers. Rampant poverty. Educational opportunities scarce. It’s what permeates the Mile High City’s near west side today. My mind often wanders back to a family of eight that was the focus of a “Christmas For The Needy” piece I did for KGBT-TV. A mom, dad and six kids living in a cardboard shack. No plumbing or electricity. The family drew water from a nearby well. Two king-sized beds dominated the structure. No one spoke English. My heart broke for the kids.

We know education is the best chance children have to escape poverty. Whiz Kids provides math and reading tutoring in a faith-based setting. A handsome young man with big chocolate chip eyes looked at me, ready to shift away. “Can we read a book?”

We tore into his selection about insects and science. We quickly grew bored with the text. I offered, “You want to read one of my books?” His eyes grew wide, “You write books?” I pulled Kids Teach The Darndest Things: Life Lessons From Our Little Ones from my satchel. “Yep.” He randomly picked Finish The Task.

Ironically, it was centered around the Denver Broncos and my daughter. It chronicled, many years ago, her involvement with the Junior Denver Broncos’ Cheerleaders. The group had performed with the adult cheerleaders before a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. We had sat in the stands afterward to watch some of the action.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos comfortably ahead of their divisional rival, I suggested to the precious princess, “Sweetie, let’s get out of here early and beat the traffic.” She looked at me, much like she does today as a budding young woman at 17, and countered, “Are you crazy?”

Apparently I am. “Dad, we can’t leave the game. The cheerleaders are still working.” We stayed to the bitter end. Later, while driving home with an exhausted child fast asleep in the back seat, the lesson hit home: Finish what we start.

My daughter long ago reminded me of this, and now a new buddy, about the same age as she was then, was reading, pretty darn well, the prose describing the moment and the message within it.

“Wow, that was a fun story. Do you have any other books?” I smiled and offered, “Yep.” As he gulped water and munched healthy snacks during a break in the action, Marco wondered, “What are they called?”

“Well, my second book is called Run to Daylight.” Those big brown eyes grew wider once again. “What’s it about?” I tossed his short-cropped, thick black hair and offered, “It’s about encouraging you to believe in yourself and chase dreams. Go for it. Ya know, run to daylight.” A slightly puzzled look crept across his face. It appeared he was preparing to respond when the silence was broken. “Time for club!”

Marco leaped from the chair and sprinted toward group activities that consume the final 30 minutes of our weekly 90 minutes together. While watching the energetic young guy disappear around the corner, the thought hit me: In pursuit of play, he was running to daylight. 

May a similar spirit pervade each area of his world. Yours too. This week embrace Shakespeare’s wise words stated long ago: “All glory comes from daring to begin.”

Get going. Run to daylight!

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