A few things that are on my mind as February fades away…
With regular seasons winding down and March only hours away as this is being written, college roundball fans are beginning to eagerly anticipate conference tournaments and, hopefully, invitations being extended to their favorite team to participate in “The Big Dance,” the NCAA’s “March Madness” countdown to naming a National Collegiate Basketball Champion.
But that doesn’t come until April. Much more important trophies were handed out a few nights ago when the First United Methodist Church Basketball League held their annual Awards Banquet.
At a time when young people are exposed to so much conflict and violence in a world of turmoil, it’s efforts such as this that offer our kids fun opportunities they otherwise simply wouldn’t have, chances to enjoy experiences that they would otherwise never get to savor. And given that it is a church sponsored league, the kids – and adults – are encouraged to conduct themselves in a Christian manner, with prayers said before every game and many coaches having their own team prayers before and after games. That’s an excellent environment for our children to be taught the values – and importance – of traits such as character and good sportsmanship and having a sense of fair play, as well as an appreciation for the rules of a game, and the discipline and self-control to deal with the inevitable failures that are a part of any sport.
And it is indeed a popular activity for area youth as this year the league had over 180 kids – an increasing number of which are being beneficially drawn from outside of Marlboro County – between the age of five and fifteen participating, and 21 teams competed in over 100 games between January and late February in two divisions for girls and three for boys. And all of this is orchestrated and pulled off through the assistance of volunteers under the direction of “commissioner” Ricky Sheets. Sheets, who began his affiliation with the league as a coach, inherited the top position when his neighbor, Bob Schaefer, moved in 2000, seven years after Schaefer and FUMC Minister John Culp and Arthur Hamer first formed the league, which is now in its 24th year. The league operates with the aforementioned volunteers, plus one paid referee and the financial aid of a small registration fee for players and door donations to aid in covering the cost of jerseys, trophies, the referee, supplies, and the awards banquet.
But the FUMC program, which plays three games a night, four nights a week, from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. and also operates a snack bar, is a full time job, thankfully staffed by in large part by longtime volunteers, many absolutely dedicated to the effort on kids behalf, some even without children of their own participating and others being charter volunteers since the program first got underway. Still others have moved on from coaching to working as scorekeepers or referees, or gone from refereeing to other responsibilities. Likewise with the canteen staff, which draws primarily from church members who take a night and serve the league thru volunteer kitchen duty, or perhaps even prepare a special dish to offer for sale. Anything to help. And as Sheets will gladly admit, “Once they commit, I won’t let them retire.”
It was heart-warming to see those happy young folks and their parents interacting in the sanctuary at First United Methodist and celebrating at their awards banquet Monday night. You can’t have “community” without first having “unity,” and I personally thank all those special people – the coaches, referees, scorekeepers, clock operators, canteen workers, the staff of First United Methodist Church, and – most importantly – the parents that cared enough to invest a few dollars and their TIME and enroll their kid, or kids, into this league and carry them to practices and games and cheer their heroics and lift their fallen spirits when the ball didn’t bounce their way.
You know that little trophy they received Monday night? Trust me, it will be precious one day. Treasure it.
And speaking of unity, I’m reminded of Emanuel Cleaver’s simple yet great quote that, “There is more power in unity than division.” And one of the greatest unifiers on the planet is knowledge. Plain and simple information, hopefully of a solidly factual nature. And one place you can – and should – be getting it on a frequent basis is Representative Pat Henegan’s State Capital Report, printed regularly within the pages of the Herald-Advocate. An informed public is beyond essential to ensuring “good” government, it is absolutely critical. As Thomas Jefferson said: “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” If we’re unaware of the matters being legislated then we’re actually failing to uphold our end of the citizenry deal, and in no position to properly judge who is best suited to represent us. I thank Representative Henegan for her comprehensive recap; it’s especially important to know what’s going on in Columbia, especially with regard to education. Issues such as a change to the possible appointment of the Superintendent of Education rather than election by the voters, which could well be on the 2018 ballot, are not to be taken lightly, and efforts to reauthorize and strengthen important programs such as the First Steps To School Readiness program, a bill Henegan co-sponsored, bear watching to ensure they do not encounter resistance as they are extremely important to rural counties such as Marlboro, which are enduring socio-economic hardships.
Representative Henegan also passed along a bit of information dear to my own heart last week by informing that the SC House had adopted and passed H 3665, the “Flounder Bill,” on to the Senate, which would reduce the number of flounder caught per day and per boat and also raise the minimum length from 14 to 15 inches, thereby increasing the of-late dwindling flounder population by allowing more females to move off-shore and spawn. As an avid flounder fisherman, I’m most pleased by this and hope for quick passage by the Senate. And on that note, having noticed that Rep. Henegan commented, “…I have caught only two fish in my life…”, I hereby state that I’d be honored to see you catch your third one. Give me a call and I’ll put you on ’em.
And something else I’d like to see is more recognition for our hometown heroes, those folks who reached for the stars – and grabbed one. Although it may be a degree or two removed due to time or generations, folks with family connections to lil ol’ Marlboro County have done OK for themselves of late. First, Aziz Ansari, who grew up locally, has enjoyed an increasingly successful comedy career and was given the prime slot as the host of NBC’s first “Saturday Night Live” after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Then, just this past Sunday night, Ezra Edelman, son of Bennettsville native and internationally known children activist Marian Wright Edelman, was awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his film, “OJ: Made In America” at the 89th annual Academy Awards ceremony. And later this month, the library that bears Edelman’s mother’s name will host a book signing for Marlboro County native, Debbie McKiver, who will be meeting patrons and signing copies of her new book “Surviving A Toxic Career” on March 11 from 10 am until 1 pm.
All it takes is a little ambition to change your life; these folks prove it.
Lastly, an interesting little development played out in February on social media, on Facebook to be precise. A local businessman offered to give away a free heating and A/C unit to someone on February 29th , more specifically to whomever entered a drawing by best describing how badly they needed it. A quick check of the calendar, of course, would reveal that February has no 29th. So we all had a good laugh. But as the month progressed, he was more and more drawn to follow thru on what was initially intended to be a joke. Earlier this week he did follow thru on what was no longer a joke but instead a mission and gave a unit away to the person he felt was most deserving. The harsh reality of fairness to others in similar businesses dictates that I not mention his name or business here – and I’d imagine that matters less to no one more than him – but that’s irrelevant anyway. Because this wasn’t done to promote a business, but, instead, to advance a sincere belief in giving, to display a heart geared toward helping, to encourage an attitude of caring for others, and to lead by Christian example.
In a world rocked by chaos, that’s something all of us could stand to do a little more of.