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Tue, Aug. 20

Column: Howard brothers' special bond lasts a lifetime

Life without a close brother in age is something I can't imagine, because I have one. He's older by 17 months.

Yeah, I have a couple younger sisters and a younger brother by almost 11 years, but the relationship with my older brother has always had a very special bond.

Whatever Jeff did, I wanted to do. And most of the time that provided fortunate situations, but here and there I had trouble accepting that I never seemed to measure up - at least through our youth.

He was taller, faster, more coordinated, athletic, got better grades, had a large group of friends, was better looking, and all of those things made me look up to him in a manner that made me want to excel as well. But I just couldn't live up to the image he portrayed to me.

My parents tortured him when we were about 5 and 7 in age by telling Jeff if the older kids let him play in the neighborhood sports of pick-up baseball, basketball, football, or even tag - he had to make sure I was chosen as well.

Funny enough he never seemed to complain about that. He always chose me as part of his team and made me feel as if I were as valuable as the next guy - even if I wasn't.

In school we were only one grade apart, so I was known as Jeff's little brother.

He was the kid in elementary and then high school who was the best athlete in the big three, baseball, basketball and football. He was the kid who was on student council, president of the class, valedictorian - the 10th grader dating the hottest senior. He was the athlete/scholar who received offers from colleges all over the Midwest to go to their institutions.

As kids we played Little League together. He was the pitcher and I was the catcher. We also played YMCA football and Bitty League basketball just to name a few, and while he always shined I was not in the same league, nor was that going to suddenly happen - as much as I hoped it would.

My parents introduced us to the game of tennis in a series of 2-hour tennis clinics given by the local tennis association of volunteers when I was about 12 years-old.

And guess what happened? It seemed I could hold my own against Jeff. He couldn't stuff, out shoot or dribble past me in this game. He couldn't out throw, out run or out hit me on the court. His size, speed, endurance and smarts were only on par with me in this new game we were learning called tennis.

As Jeff became the teenage high school jock, I pulled back and took the game of tennis more seriously.

Within a couple years, I was one of the better teenage tennis players in the South-central Ohio district. I had my own measuring stick, my own sport.

It was funny and sometimes awkward to see and have Jeff be on the other side of the fence. He was certainly proud of me with my tennis accomplishments, but hated to have his younger brother better than him in a sport.

He graduated from high school and played baseball at Marietta College. I got into the tennis business and moved to Arizona at the age of 21.

Even today after being apart most of the last 36 years, Jeff and I have a special bond that can never be replaced in any way or by any buddy.

And only family members who have brothers or sisters in a similar capacity can understand what I really mean.

Jeff and I both helped shape our futures and who we have become by the rivalry and closeness of our youth. We aren't in the same category as twins, but there's no doubt we sound alike, laugh alike and good, bad or ugly have many similar thought patterns.

He'll soon be 59 and I'm 57, yet he'll always be the best big brother I could have ever hoped for.

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