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Thu, Sept. 19

Column: Parents as mentors, guiding light

As I sit with my mother in the hospice unit of the hospital during the final days of her life, surrounded by family, including my 86-year-old father who was married to her 58 years, there are many tears, some laughter and much time to reflect on a lifetime of memories.

As kids, we grew up with the firm, yet loving hands. We learned about boundaries, manners, expectations, dreams and opportunities.

When we'd fall, they were there to pick us up, brush us off, wipe the dirt and tears away and get us back out to try again.

When we'd fail, they were there to bring us back around. They helped us to learn right from wrong, to take the high road, be optimistic and to show that as long as we'd learned by our mistakes, we could be better people for it.

We learned to live life fully, work hard, play hard, try to see the big picture and surround yourself with the people who matter.

My father, who caught the tail end of World War II and then the Korean War, played football at Ohio State for Paul Brown, then Penn State, decided to become a teacher and coach. He later became an athletic director and high school principal.

Our mother was a homemaker and nurturer.

This was a fairly typical middle 1950's, 60's and early 70's family.

It was a great life as kids and we had the world to conquer.

Roaming the countryside, hiking and biking, playing baseball, football and basketball. We swam, roller and ice-skated, participated in Boy Scouts. We made a few bucks mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow and delivering newspapers.

Sports played a major part in our lives and our parents signed us up for each seasonal sport to be played. They got us to practices while sometimes coached, but always watched our games.

There weren't as many choices as today, but we didn't know we were missing. So it didn't matter.

At 13, my brother Jeff and I got the chance to learn the game of tennis from a group of better players from our local tennis association on the public courts. Jeff was already one of the best athletes in the city in baseball, basketball and football.

I found a sport I excelled in as well.

Our high school athletic director let me start a tennis team at our school when I was in the 10th grade. We called all the other local schools, set a schedule, silk-screened our own team T-Shirts in art class, and car-pooled to our matches. It was pretty cool being the player-coach, even though our struggled.

That would probably not be allowed to happen today. It's too risky. There's no budget and no qualified coach. I miss the simplicity of what life used to be in many ways.

The Donahue family let me tag along to tennis tournaments with their daughter Teresa. It gave me a chance to compete in tennis outside our small city and showed me the other kids my age who'd had county club backgrounds in many ways didn't have anything over my own drive and ambition. They certainly had nicer clothes, racquets and a bit more refinement, but that's where it stopped.

My grandmother Helen financed six weeks of Saturday clinics in Columbus at the only indoor facility in the State of Ohio.

That showed me I could hang with some of the best in my age group. My parents sacrificed their time to drive me the 40 miles each way That wasn't so easy with four other kids to attend to.

I've made a decent profession from what my folks and mentors encouraged and helped nurture and I know first hand what giving opportunities, a pat on the back and a few special words can do for people of all ages.

Author's Note: My mother just passed away and I'll miss her tremendously. She was our unsung hero, a friend to all, and my father's rock. She asked me to say thanks to all of you for the love you've parlayed back to her through me, and I thank you as well.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or

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