Youth Sports at its BEST…an Inspiration for us ALL!!!

This piece will be an emotional one for me to write. Not because of anything that happened to me, nor because I am about to retire from a career that spans 34+ years (and I will greatly miss the kids I have worked with and colleagues I call my family away from home), but because of the inspiring stories I am about to relay to you.

They represent the epitome or essence of what one CAN accomplish…if one is so willing!!! A WIN not only on the outside (from a outsider’s point of view), but one on the inside for the participants as they build foundations for themselves that all parents, teachers and coaches could only hope to get out of others under their direction.

You want to KNOW what it’s all about…this sports and youth sports thing consistently portrayed as…well, maybe not so positive in the media; that is…based on the actions of some. Bear with me for a moment and I will reveal a couple high school athletes who, from my perspective, have learned the answer to that previous question.

My career (the one I spoke of earlier that spans 34+ year, with 17 of those years in coaching) is teaching physical education. Yes…physical education, not “gym,” as so many refer to it.

A field requiring the ability to inspire others, in my case high school students, and to create an environment where these same students will physically push themselves, at times, beyond their normal comfort level in order to reap the future rewards that a well-conditioned body can bring to them. My class is not recess…it is, whether through game activity or fitness-based workouts, an opportunity for students to become better…both physically and mentally.

This is not an easy task for many a student as they, at times, fail to see the importance of strong effort in this area as being valuable to their future. Moving at a snail’s pace during a jog is a common tactic used to minimize effort…as is doing pushups on one’s knees and crunches using only one’s neck muscles (like a bobble head on the dashboard of a car) rather than their abdominals as expected.

All that is needed…is a little bit more effort (sometimes a lot more) and a willingness to accept better out of themselves…not less. If only they had a crystal ball and could immediately see what giving more, their best, would bring back to them in return.

And that brings me full circle…back to those two inspirational stories I alluded to earlier.

First is the story of Josh Ruchotzke…Farmington Central High School’s starting second baseman (around a .300 hitter for his team) and one of the better hitters in his area.

Now I know what you’re thinking…big deal, I know kids that start on high school baseball teams and have batting averages even better. Well…if that is your first thought then my next comment to you is you’d better sit-down…’cuz those pieces I just mentioned don’t even scratch the surface of Josh’s story. You see…Josh has had four amputations and two hip replacements!


Yes…you heard that right. Doctors “took both legs below the knee, all of his left hand but the pad, all his fingers on the right but three finger nubs, and all of his right thumb but the last half inch.”  All caused by a
streptococci bacteria that almost killed him when he was 13 years old.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly did a great piece on him last week, titled “Undaunted,” and has a similar video piece. Don’t miss either piece as they are both well worth a look:

Makes you wonder why it’s so hard for students to run that lap in gym class, right? However, I am nowhere near done as I add another reason why many are capable of more…if they only reached inside themselves a little deeper.

Out of Emory Rains High School (Emory, Texas) comes pole-vaulter Charlotte Brown. Now…you know that this young lady (a mere 15 years old who this past weekend placed 8th in the 3A Texas State Track Championships), has more to her story than just being one of the best in the state at such a young age.

Oh sure…being 15 and pole vaulting against athletes 2 years your senior is quite a feat…is it not? I mean not many are competitive enough in any event, or in any sport, to challenge opponents that much older than they. A heck of a lot of maturing occurs in those 2 years at that age. But…as I inferred…there is more to her story, just like there was to Josh Ruchotzke’s story than what I first alluded to.

You see…Charlotte is, well…legally BLIND!!!

Yep, her visual ability, as described by her, is like looking through a “coffee stir.” Think about that…better yet…try it. Take a coffee stir and look through it. Now imagine that that pin dot of light (and mind you what Charlotte sees is blurry) is all you can see out of your eyes.

Take it a giant leap forward. Ok, a Grand Canyon type leap, and think about pole vaulting with that minimal visual acuity. Running down a long runway with a big, long fiberglass/composite type pole, having to place the end of that pole (while sprinting full out) precisely in a box sunken at the end of that runway, bend that pole and lean back so your feet are pointed to the sky launching yourself in the air over 10 feet above the ground and over a horizontal bar, controlling your body like a gymnast, flipping yourself over the top of that bar, and over 10 feet down onto a mat that you likely can’t even see is there. And then add to that that you are competing against athletes 2 years older, and you have developed into one of the best in the State.

Yea right [back to a student in my class]…you can’t jog a little over 100 yards because it’s too hard…really!!!

Charlotte’s story was so inspirational it made national news, as highlighted here at and in the YouTube video above.

It’s a story, as is Josh Ruchotzke’s, that demonstrates to all of us (no matter your age or background) what any person is truly capable of…that is…if they are willing to push themselves outside their normal comfort zone. They show us through action what strong inner will and determination can bring to anyone…no matter what their circumstance.

Difficult situations and adverse conditions are what build strong foundations (the “right stuff”) on the inside, make us who we are, and help give us the ability to succeed – reach excellence – in anything we do. And both Josh Ruchotzke and Charlotte Brown…they are both made of the right stuff as their successes set role model examples for all lucky enough to have heard their story.

And guess what, those high school [physical education] students who consistently give minimal effort, the ones who haven’t yet seemed to grasp what Josh and Charlotte seem to understand better than most everyone, they must continue to be pushed. Why??? Because that “lap” they think they can’t run, well…both you and I know that THEY CAN!!!

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