Friday, July 27, 2012

Paterno, Who?

I'm sure many of you have been following the debacle at Penn State.  I don't think I have anything interesting to add to the debate, except a few thoughts about my dad.  What, you may be asking, could my father possibly have in common with Penn State?

Nothing.  Except that I offer him up as a contrast to Joe Paterno.  Why?

My dad and ole' Joe may have had a lot in common.  Depression era values.  Grass roots upbringing.  A love a sports.  A desire to instill an "old fashioned" set of values into generations of young men.  A love a sportsmanship and fair play.  Working hard to win.

The differences between the two, at least in my mind are glaring.

My dad was born into a hardworking depression era family who, at least to my mind, valued family and work ethic.  He worked hard, enrolled in the Navy, served in the Korean War and returned home to marry my mom and became an active dad to 4 children.  Along the way he graduated from Montana State University, with no debt, largely because my mom worked as a waitress to put him through college.  After graduation he got a job, bought a house, raised a family, and along the way became a very active member of the American Legion.

For over 45 years my dad has been the volunteer coordinator of the American Legion baseball program in Helena, Montana.  45 years of ensuring that a program will continue into the future.  45 years of weeknight meetings and weekend ballgames, with no pay - just for the love of the sport, and a desire to help young men become men of substance.  Men who would stand up for fair play and be good sports.

45 years of cleaning bathrooms at the stadium, serving up popcorn at the concession stand, manning the ticket gate and negotiating with the city to make sure the ball field was in tip top shape for the season's games. 45 years of cleaning up graffitti and shagging foal balls.

45 years of meetings and phone calls to ensure that the money would be there for future generations of baseball players.  45 years of seeing young men play ball for the team, then return to coach the team.  45 years of watching the boys play ball, graduate and return to the community to become businessmen and husbands and dads.  45 years of working . . . not for a statue in front of the stadium, not for accolades, not for praise or for money.  45 years for the love of the game.  45 years of winning seasons and losing seasons. 45 years of game in the rain and in the blazing sun.  No one was keeping a record of wins vs losses, because it was more important to play the game.

A few years ago, an American Legion tournament was named in honor of my dad, the Cloninger Classic.  After he retires, I hope the tournament will carry on, not only to honor my dad, but to recognize all of those folks who volunteer countless hours to ensure that sports are a safe haven for young men and women.

Ole' Joe can't hold a candle to my dad.  

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