I was inspired this week by coach Dabo Swiney’s words offered during a press conference following his football team’s national championship game. (Yes, I’m a huge Clemson fan. You might remember that my son played football there.) He talked about how his hometown of Pelham, Ala., shaped him.
I grew up nearby in Loudon. If you don’t know Loudon, it is a town of about 5,000 and the county seat of Loudon County. I was shaped by growing up in a small town where I could leave the house in the morning on my bicycle with the simple instruction to be home by dinner. If I ever got out of line, somebody would tell Mama.
I was shaped by my parents. My dad was a little man with only a sixth grade education but who worked hard until his heart failed him. My mom was this really focused little lady who went to work in a factory when my dad couldn’t. Their work ethic shaped my career.
I was shaped by travel. We didn’t have much and we hardly ever stayed in a motel, picking friends or family to stay with, but I saw the St. Louis Arch being built and Niagara Falls and Daytona Beach while still a child.
I was shaped by my church. My earliest memories all seem to be about the First Baptist Church in Loudon. I thought it was this grand place yet now I find it quite small. Reverend Rainwater was this distinguished man who taught me that God is good. His wife was a school teacher who holds the distinction of being the only teacher to ever spank me. She thought I wasn’t hurrying into the bleachers in the gym quickly enough and gave me a swat on the butt. I must have been 8 or 9 at the time. Probably not a real spanking yet it has stayed with me.
I was shaped by Scouts. First by Cub Scouts and then later by Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts. Mrs. Patton was our Cub Scout leader. I remember her as a gracious lady, one who lived on the hill and whose husband wore a tie to work but who treated everyone the same. She gave me an example of dignity and equity.
Boy Scouts opened a lot of doors and gave me some memorable experiences. I had been to Boundary Waters Canoe Area twice by age 15 because of Scouts. I was exposed to good men and the outdoors because of Boy Scouts. I learned leadership skills because of Scouting. I was shaped by football. I was a high school sophomore, lacking self confidence and being a huge underachiever when I overheard the high school football coach tell a bystander that “he can be a good one if he will work at it.”
I learned that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard enough at it, you can achieve it. I was never told that I could do great things. Instead I was told “people like you don’t go to college.” My football coach gave me a very different message. He is still my hero today. I was shaped by my friends. I picked well. Ronnie McNabb was my best friend through most of our years growing up and was later my college roommate. Teddy Randolph was the third piece to our trio and a great guy. We were inseparable for years.
From them I learned to enjoy life. Maybe we did some things we would rather not be known but there is no doubt that all the time that we spent together helped me become the person that I am today. They stayed in our hometown and have built good, solid lives there. I moved away and it worked out pretty well for me, too.
I’ll never be a Maryville native but I love it here and consider myself as much a part of the fabric of this community as anybody who doesn’t have deep roots here. It has shaped me as an adult and given me opportunities I would never have had any place else. Thank you.