It Is Good To Once Again Be Among Friends

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They can never take this from you, Mark. Never. You’ll always be a champion.”

It’s true what they say about time. Twenty years comes and goes in the blink of an eye. I could barely believe it when I got an invitation to return to my old high school for the twentieth anniversary of my state championship-winning football team. In the above picture, you’ll see nearly all of the young men and women who were seniors on that team and cheerleading squad, all of whom have gone on to have successful careers and families. Twenty years? How is that even possible?

Once I received the invitation, though, I never once doubted whether or not I would go. I wasn’t a star player, by any means. Just look at me, for God’s sake (I’m third from the right in the above picture—green shirt, green shoes). I’m not a large man. In fact, one of my colleagues at work told me that she didn’t really believe I had played high school football until she saw the pictures from the reunion on Facebook.

But there’s a certain bond that’s created when  you go through what we went through as a group. Mrs. Bark says it would make a great movie script, and I think it would except that it’s too damned perfect. The collective power of every screenwriter at Disney couldn’t come up a story that was as sappy and saccharine sweet as what actually happened to us. Let me give you the breakdown:

  • Rough-and-tumble kids from the wrong side of the track (or in this case, river) are sent to a brand-new high school that the community essentially built to keep the rich families from sending their kids to private school
  • We had to practice at the middle school for the entire summer because our locker rooms weren’t finished
  • We didn’t even have our own stadium, so we had to play at the rich kids’ stadium—and they wouldn’t even let us use their locker room on gameday—making every single game a road game
  • Our starting quarterback was a sophomore who had never taken a snap at the varsity level
  • We didn’t even have enough kids for backups at every position, so nearly everybody played both ways
  • Everybody, that is, except for me—the 5’8″, 145 lb wide receiver who the coach laughed at and said, “Baruth, who are you gonna tackle?”—and the center, because we literally had nobody else who could play center so we couldn’t risk him getting hurt
  • Despite all this, we ended up getting to 8-0, only to lose to the meanest, dirtiest team in Ohio (their coach once gave a seminar on how to talk trash at a coaches’ conference) on a dropped touchdown pass
  • But we resiliently bounced back and made it all the way to the state title game at legendary Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, where we played against an inner-city team that didn’t even have matching uniforms for their football team OR their marching band
  • But we were down 14-6 until our star player returned a punt eighty yards all the way to the one yard line, and punched it in on the next play
  • Then, a freshman wide receiver ran a trick play reverse (he was only 5’3″ so the defense couldn’t see him) on the two-point conversion to tie the game and send it to overtime
  • Finally, our star player rumbled in for a touchdown to take the lead in overtime, followed by an interception on the next possession for A DRAMATIC OVERTIME WIN
  • We became the first high school in Ohio history to win a large school football title in our first year of existence

Seriously. If you saw that movie, would you believe it? If Disney did it, they’d have to put in some sort of race element, because our team had about three black players and forty white ones, so there’d be some Remember the Titans bullshit about us overcoming our prejudices to become friends. In reality, nobody gave a damn about race. We were all brothers.

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If you followed the NFL in the last several years, you might recognize the man in the middle, Nick, as a running back with the Carolina Panthers for the better part of a decade. He basically put our team on his shoulders and rushed for over 2500 yards and 30 touchdowns with an offensive line that averaged around 210 pounds. We grew up as neighbors in Riverside Green in houses that now seem impossibly small. The things we did together…I won’t ever be telling my children those stories. It’s a miracle that we survived.

The other young man in that photo, Rolland, was blisteringly fast. Due to his diminutive size, Rolland didn’t get much interest from college scouts as a junior until he went to OSU Football Camp and ran a 4.31 electronic 40 yard dash. I believe they offered him a scholarship nearly immediately. RoRo now works with young people in Florida, and is the father of a wonderful family.

I haven’t kept in touch with everybody as much as I would have liked over the years. A lot of people still live in the Central Ohio area, but I moved away relatively soon after college. But you would have thought that we had all seen each other every day for the last two decades by the way we immediately reconnected upon seeing each other. Sure, we might be a few pounds heavier and a few steps slower, but we are still brothers.

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The photo above shows me with our coach, Bryan Deal, who just retired from coaching football after 32 years. Outside of my own parents, he’s probably most responsible for making me into the man I am today. Coach always talked about character and the importance of believing in ourselves. He somehow tricked me into believing that I was good enough to be the starting wide receiver for a state champion team.

The current coach, who was a position coach when I was a player twenty years ago, invited all of the former players into the locker room before the game. He then asked Coach Deal to speak to the current team before kickoff, and he said something that stuck out to me. “Every single one of the men you see around you in this room (meaning the former players) would give anything to play just one more snap. Just one more. The bond they formed twenty years ago is something that can never be broken. When you work and fight together like these men did, you’ll create something that’s lifelong just like they did.” Then he smiled. “Now go kick their asses!”

Which brings me back to the quote at the top of this page. There was one man who couldn’t make it to the reunion, a man who was my position coach that year, Jim Caldwell. Coach Caldwell is now retired from his real job as a finance guy. He used to show up to practice from a long day of work in a suit and tie, and quickly change into coaching clothes. He didn’t get paid a dime as a volunteer coach, but he was deeply invested in us as young men.

I was a wide receiver on a team that ran the Wing-T offense. If you know anything about football, you know that meant that I didn’t touch the ball very often. My main responsibility was to run down the field and block the safeties so that our running backs could spring those long touchdown runs. But Coach Caldwell never let me forget how important I was to the team’s success, even though I only caught one touchdown pass all year. He always stopped the game film to celebrate a key block that I made. Even if nobody else in the stadium noticed, he made sure to let me know that he did.

So it was on December 1st, 1995, at the fifty-yard-line of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, Ohio, after the celebration was nearly over, when Coach Caldwell found me and embraced me. He whispered to me the following words:

They can never take this from you, Mark. Never. You’ll always be a champion.”

Twenty years later, among a group of lifelong friends—wait, strike that, family—I found out that he was right.

26 Replies to “It Is Good To Once Again Be Among Friends”

  1. Snavehtrebor

    Nice story. Hope Nick Goings is doing well. I remember he had a few concussions towards the end of his career.

    Reply
  2. -Nate-Nate

    _THIS_ is why I support out Foster boys interest in playing High School Football ~ I never liked Sports but they teach so much to young men when the coaches are good .

    _every_ team member is important , not just on the playing field .

    -Nate

    Reply
    • Bark M Post author

      I went to hear Gene Stallings, the former Alabama coach, speak once. He said that he insisted that the boys his daughter dated played sports, because he felt that was one of the few places left in modern society where a young man could acquire some character.

      Reply
  3. Gert Frobe's Body Double

    How many people show up to watch a state football championship in Ohio?

    The scale of high school and college football in the US is incredible to me as a Canadian. Hockey is not even close.

    Reply
    • Bark M Post author

      I want to say that we had around 15,000 in attendance. Our biggest game of the year was closer to 30,000, however. The fire marshals shut down the stadium.

      Reply
  4. DeadWeight

    WTF.

    I came here to read Jack’s musings on Porsche, Cadillac, Vipers, the occasional marketing rant, and get a syrupy & narcissistic facebook like “look at my glory days! I was awesome!” style post whoring from Bark.

    Fuck this noise.

    Reply
      • DeadWeight

        I played three sports in high school and one in college.

        I have a B.A. from an excellent university & Ph.D. from another very good one.

        I work at the 2nd largest U.S. based REIT in an executive level position, with an offer to lead a splinter group to be based out of Washington State.

        I’ve had many sexual escapades in my glory days, and could, as one of 7 billion citizens of the globe, blog about my personal stats, as you do, on the (false) premise that anyone cares.

        More objective writings from Bark about anything but Bark’s personal minutia, conquests, amateur jazz hobby, other narcissistic ramblings (save that shit for your facebook circle).

        Do as your big brother does, and write about things much larger than yourself.

        Reply
        • DeadWeight

          Said another way, at least try to tie your facebook-esque self-centric musings into a larger issue, whether this is TTAC or not.

          Reply
          • Bark M Post author

            Well, you may not have cared much for it, but it led to the third highest traffic day of the month. Nearly forty people liked it enough to share it on your favorite social media site, Facebook, which is more than any TTAC post was shared yesterday. Apparently, more than a few people out there in social media land felt it was relevant to them and their personal experiences.

            Regardless of any of that— seeing as how this is my personal blog (well, half mine, anyway), I will continue to post about whatever the heck I feel like posting about. If you have a personal blog, by all means, go ahead and write about whatever you like. I promise, I won’t hold it against you.

            BTW, was your Masters degree from a not-so-excellent school?

          • jz78817

            More importantly, I can’t see how this has anything to do with Cadillac, Johan De Nyssche, and Melody Lee.

          • DeadWeight

            Got you to bite, Bark.

            Consider it “constructive trolling.”

            I recall that you once wrote a fictional piece about a narcissistic do-nothing on TTAC, whereby people missed that it was fiction, and lobbed grenades at you for the very, elemental sake of it all.

            Don’t ebb even remotely close to “that guy.”

            And yes, my Ph.D. was earned at a less prestigious university (Loyola) than my B.A., if U.S. News & World Reports has any credibility/relevance (not that I think that it actually does).

          • Disinterested-Observer

            deadweight is welcome to eat a whole bag of dicks, it is your blog. That being said, I do find a 38 year old man talking about high school to be pathetic. Maybe it’s just because of Rothlisberger or Sandusky, but the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear “State Champion” is “rapist”

        • jz78817

          Oh yeah? Well listen here, Sonny Jim!

          I belong to a secret organization, or cult, if you will, of superheroes. Only I don’t have any superpowers per se other than the device I built in my garage which allows me to travel back through time every night in order to fight mutant monsters in an alternate, parallel dimension which is different yet eerily similar to our own. These jaunts, for which I am paid quite handsomely ($32.50 per hour, if you must know) keep me up till well over 1 AM on most weeknights. 11PM bedtime you say? Superheroes don’t even know what bedtime is.

          I also volunteer to bake cookies for the PTA, which generally keeps me occupied for two hours and thirty minutes most Friday nights, while I gather and bake the ingredients. I’ve got some adorable scones that I baked myself this morning. You can eat one, but only if you can prove to me that you’re hardcore.

          In what little spare time I have, I coach youth Little League Rollerball. You want to talk about athletics? When I was in school, Rollerball practice took two hours each night with one hour just to put our armor on. After the season was over, the surviving competitors would engage in ruthless binge drinking exercises that enabled us to cull many of our weak and injured from the herd in order to prepare for the following season.

          Also, I’m Batman.

          Reply
  5. VolandoBajo

    Well, Bark, even though I still think your perspective on styles of men’s business suits suffers from a too narrow perspective, I enjoy the rambling narratives about all and sundry. It would not surprise me if Deadweight leveled the same criticisms against Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck.
    ective, and much of it was thinly disguised personal ramblings, so until such time as I hear you claim you are an author on the verge of a literary breakthrough similar to Salinger’s debut, and until I see evidence of Deadweight’s qualifications as a literary critic, I’m not going to let my enjoyment of a great examination of the role that sports can play in a young man’s life be ruined just because someone out of nowhere wants to read something else.

    Let him get off his ass and his keyboard and go out and buy a magazine of his choosing, and save the potshots for those who were paid in part by his hard earned money. If he doesn’t like what he reads here, I’m sure you and Jack would be happy to give his money back to him.

    A similar story, triggered by your comment that race was not an issue to the players on the team…I grew up in a small trendy tourist town on the West Coast of FL, where as recently as the late Fifties a KKK sign stood on a wall of civic organization plaques t the edge of town. To add a bitter irony to it, the local “colored housing” was adjacent to that signboard.

    And of course, even though it was post-Brown vs.Board of Education, the local HS’s were totally segregated.
    re
    One Friday night, our basketball team was playing out of town, and we got the bright idea to go over to the black HS, named Booker,,or something like that.

    At the halftime, a few young black guys came over to see what brought us over there, and after they found out it was a combination of boredom, since our team was out of town, curiosity, because we were probably the first white guys to ever set foot in their gym, and lastly, we came because we wanted to see some basketball.

    The net result is that we all exchanged names, and were on a friendly, though not really close, basis.

    Fast forward to the next summer. Two local beaches.

    The more touristy one never gets any blacks on it. But the older, more local one gets whites only on the right and the

    Reply
    • VolandoBajo

      Dammit, either I’m tired or the KB on this machine is hosed.

      Anyway another continuation…

      The local whites get the right, center and near left of the second, more local beach.

      At the far left side, some young black guys are playing tackle on the sand, with no pads.
      .
      We go down to have a look, five or six of us.

      Some of the black guys turn out to be some of the guys we met at the few basketball games we had attended several months earlier. So we get invited to play with them.

      At first it is the six or so of us, against an equal number of them, the black students. Nobody gets bent out of shape, if anything, we are all being careful not to flex too much, so nobody will start trying to break bad.

      Then after a couple of games, th

      Then after aoupc

      Reply
  6. davefla

    Congratulations, Bark. Thanks again for the absolutely great free “ice cream.” Since I stopped before a PhD (wouldn’t have been from Loyola, either!] could interfere with my common sense, I think I’ll refrain from bitching about the flavor on offer today.

    Also, I am so going to steal the idea that my daughter should date someone who understands teamwork and sacrifice…

    Reply
  7. Aleksey

    I loved this story, Bark. Keep em coming. Your and your brother’s writing is original and refreshing. I couldn’t agree more regarding sports and is importance in shaping the values and character of our youth.

    Reply
  8. ChopSui

    Didn’t Jack write an article this summer on TTAC about driving your dad’s new BMW when he was in college or something? Just how rough and tumble were the Baruths? You sure you weren’t one of the families they were trying to keep from going to private school?

    Reply
    • Bark M Post author

      Divorced families often have complicated economics. I’m not one to either overstate or understate my background. I lived in a two bedroom townhouse on the wrong side of the river. My mom drove a Topaz.

      Reply

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