The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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In Loving Memory Of Matt McClure

I won’t pretend Matt McClure and I were best friends.  We were friends, yes–absolutely.  Good friends.  But I don’t know anyone who knew Matt who didn’t consider him a good friend.  The sad fact is, I haven’t personally spoken to Matt in years beyond a few social media messages.  That’s certainly not the action of a best friend.

Part of me feels like I have no business even writing this.  I’m not family.  I’m not a best friend.  But I believe that no one is ever truly gone as long as that person remains in our memories, and I want to tell you about Matt because I want you to remember him.  I want you to know Matt McClure because I don’t want Matt to be gone.

I’m writing this in order to process my grief.  I’m writing this to help my friends and fellow people from Beardstown process their grief.  I’m writing this because writing is something I do well, and I want to honor Matt the only way I know how.

We’re not going to grant Matt sainthood.  He was not a saint, but he was, without question, one of the bravest people that I’ve ever known.

I’m told Matt exceeded his life expectancy by quite a bit–some have said he wasn’t expected to make it out of childhood.  If you knew Matt, you’re not surprised.  He exceeded at everything he did–especially when it came to living.

Matt was a brilliant person.  His wit could run circles around everyone else in the room.  And while he had every right to be pissed off at the world, he instead chose to make us smile with a quick joke, an ornery grin, and maybe even a magic trick or two.  His charisma could dazzle you.

Like I said, I’m not going to make Matt a saint, but I never once heard him complain about, well, much of anything.  Again, he had every right to complain as much as he wanted.  No one would hold it against him had he complained.  But he didn’t–not that I ever heard.  He met life head on.  He didn’t feel sorry for himself.  He participated in life, even defined life at times.  Can we all say the same?

Matt loved sports.  Matt loved people.  Matt loved life.  That’s why Matt lived as long as he did.  It’s a fact that Matt McClure lived more in his 40 years than most people will in a lifetime.

I found out today that Matt died.

I guess that’s probably obvious by now.

I don’t know any of the specifics.

At first I thought it could be a practical joke.  He once tricked everyone into believing he got married (maybe it was engaged–I can’t remember).  He announced it on Facebook.  I knew his sense of humor, and I knew it was April 1st, so I called malarkey.  Matt loved a good prank.

You’ll have to forgive me–this all seems to be a jumble of thoughts and emotions.  I wanted to do a better job of this.

Know that Matt McClure endured obstacles on a daily basis that we could never imagine.  Those physical actions that we take for granted proved enormous hardship to him.  Yet the man overcame it all.  He was given a weak, frail body, but that didn’t stop him.  His sheer intellect made him more than a match against life.  His radiant personality could not be contained by corporeal limitations.  His enthusiasm for active engagement with the world surrounding him could be equaled by none other.

Matt McClure was no saint, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t a hero.

Never forget Matt McClure.  He earned your remembrance.

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From the Beardstown High School Class of 1995

My hometown of Beardstown has a tradition of holding a class reunion each summer at the high school.  We operate on five year increments, so this year welcomed the class of 1985, 1990, 1995, etc.  The alumni association holds a wonderful banquet at the school, and each graduating class submits a few words to be collected in the the program.  This year is my 20th anniversary, and I’m honored to have been chosen to write our class’ response.  While it’s written for those who have graduated from Beardstown High School, I think it applies to any and all high school graduates, both old and new alike …

One wouldn’t think much could change in 20 years, yet the world is a vastly different place than in 1995.  In those days watching a movie at home meant popping in a VHS tape.  Listening to music required a CD or cassette.  And if you wanted to connect with someone, you called them on the telephone or visited them in person.

Now here we are in 2015, and some could argue we are connected more than ever.  After all, thanks to social media, we regularly learn of our friends’ new career paths, see pictures of each other’s children, and share in the knowledge of nightly dinner choices.

Yet, oddly enough, even with the hourly deluge of updates and news, many feel separated by an impersonal gulf, a digital barricade that reduces us to no more than a thumbnail-sized persona upon mobile devices.  We have “friends,” but do we have friends?

Technologically speaking, 2015 surpasses 1995 in every conceivable way—pagers, anyone?  However, there’s something we excelled at in 1995, something no amount of tinkering can improve upon.  We were together.  We cruised the strip for hours, loitering in parking lots, and when we were run off, we simply regrouped somewhere else.  We went to each other’s homes.  We walked together just for something to do.  We shook hands using elaborate methods that surely rivaled the complexity of contemporary DNA sequencing.  We hugged.  In other words, we spent time together.  Not through some digitized ether, but rather, side-by-side, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand.

As we grow older, we realize that with age does indeed come wisdom.  (This may be the appropriate moment to pause and apologize to our parents and grandparents.)  Perhaps we are not any more academically intelligent than on Graduation Day, but all of us have endured 20 years’ of life, and with that has come victory and defeat, love and loss, life and death—all of which equates to experience, which, most would contend, is the bedrock of wisdom.  Humanity flourishes most when it bands together, when it decides a village can raise a child better than an individual, that honoring a neighbor also results in personal valor.  Unity propagates achievement.

This simple fact is why we must strive to reunite.  No matter the year of graduation, returning to our roots, coming back to each other, and reconnecting with those who grew up beside us—it revitalizes.  It keeps us humble.  It helps us remember not only where we’ve been, but also where we want to go.  It allows us the opportunity to reflect upon our own achievements, and also to celebrate our peers’ successes.

Adulthood has taught us that we are in this thing called “life” together.  We must remain connected.  And if we’ve disconnected, now is the time to reconnect.

To the class of 2015, we implore you to always stay in touch, to gain wisdom through living well, and to come back home.

Always come back home.

Life Imitates Art

Note: Originally Published 10-1-06

This is kind of old news, but, heck, you might just enjoy it anyway…

A few weeks ago I returned to my hometown of Beardstown, IL.  The Beardstown Houston Memorial Public Library found it in their hearts to invite me along with several other local authors to take part in a short talk and book signing, and I could not have been more excited to touch base with old friends and promote my latest short story collection, The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

The signing was to be held on Sunday, September 17th, and so my lovely wife and I drove down to B-town Saturday afternoon so we could visit with my parents and try out the new Mexican restaurant.  (New to my wife and me, at least.  Pretty good food, by the way.) 

After dinner we returned to Mom and Dad’s house and were discussing what I should talk about during my allotted time the following day.  Many, many ideas were being thrown out faster than a cat with its tail on fire when my wife, let’s just call her Kristen (because it’s her name), asked us what was the day’s date.

“September 16th,” we answered.

At that moment Kristen reminded me that one of my stories took place on a critical date-you guessed it-September 16th!

I freaked out.

Now, you’re saying to yourself, “So what?  It’s just a happy coincidence, like when you make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets before you do laundry and find a twenty dollar bill.”

I would agree with you normally, as we’re both fairly agreeable people, but you need to know a bit more information before you dismiss that date so readily.

You see, growing up, there existed many a legend in my hometown of Beardstown.  One such legend claimed that if you went out to a certain cemetery at a certain time of night, there stood an old Civil War statue what would wave its arms and its eyes would glow red.  Me being the brave soul that I am never tempted fate as I’m fairly certain seeing something like that would turn my thick and lustrous dark brown hair stark white. 

However, those small town myths stuck to me and when I began writing the short story entitled “The Legend of Josiah Mibb,” found in my latest short story collection The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II, that supposed Civil War statue served as the basis of my disturbing tale.  

I can feel your curiosity through my keyboard, so let me give you the gist of “The Legend of Josiah Mibb.”  In it, a small town has been dishonored for over a century because their soldiers who took part in the Civil War revolted against their commanding officer, Josiah Mibb, doing horrible, terrible things to him.  The town was so ashamed, they erected a statue in Mibb’s honor, but it did little to ease their humiliation.  It did nothing to settle Mibb’s anger, either, as once a year, even to this very day, the statue of Josiah Mibb comes to life and if you’re caught near it, you will soon find yourself dismembered, just as he was by the mutinous soldiers. 

A young man and his wife return to town to visit the his parents, and when his wife learns of this tale and that the very date the statue was due to come to life was on the very day they were visiting, well, her inquisitiveness could not be satisfied unless she tempted fate and visited the statue.

As all husbands must, her husband gave in against his better judgment and they found themselves confronted with the statue at the very time it was to come to life.  What happens next, you ask?  Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find the answer to that, my friends, but let me tell you this: The legend of Josiah Mibb is not all that it seems, as our young husband and wife discover.

But, back to the original purpose of this growing-by-the-second-entry, the date in which the statue of Josiah Mibb was to come to life proved to be the exact date Kristen and I sat in my parents’ house-September 16th!  And, much like the wife in my short story, Kristen insisted we try to find the real Civil War statue my story was based upon.

I reluctantly gave in, and so, faster than you can say, “Boy, maybe we shouldn’t tempt a possibly haunted statue,” Kristen, Mom, Dad, even Carlee: The Foley Mascot, and I loaded into the Rendezvous.

Keep in mind that I didn’t even know the location of this statue!  I thought it was in one, but my mom thought it was in another, so we went with what Mom thought.  We drove across town and got on Chandlerville Road, pulled into the cemetery just outside of town, and, within no time at all, there we saw it!

We parked in front of it and my wife and I both experienced an extremely surreal moment.  The dang thing looked exactly as we had imagined it!  Weird, weird, weird, WEIRD!  The statue was surrounded by many Civil War era headstones and, upon closely inspecting each and every one of them, I was greatly relieved to find not one had a name in common with any characters from my story.  My wife, on the other hand, was just a tad disappointed that the coincidences had apparently ceased.

Thank the stars the statue’s eyes didn’t start glowing red like in my story.  I would’ve thrown in the towel had that happened, for sure.

Henry’s Market Book Signing, August of 2007

Beardstown Houston Memorial Library sponsored a book signing at Henry’s Market in Beardstown, IL.  Henry’s Market has a lovely ambiance and wonderful food and drink selections.  If you haven’t been there, pay them a visit!  Make sure you drop by the Beardstown Houston Memorial Library as well!

All Photographs Copyright © Kristen Foley 2007  All Rights Reserved

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Beardstown Houston Memorial Library Book Signing, September of 2006

The following pictures are from a local authors event at the Beardstown Houston Memorial Libraryin Beardstown, IL.  If you live in the area, you should really drop by and pay them a visit.  These pictures were taken by my incredible wife, Kristen.

All Photographs Copyright © Kristen Foley 2006  All Rights Reserved

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Library Sign

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The Authors

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With Mom and Dad

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Souls Triumphant, On the Shelves

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Signing Books for Generous Friends

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At the Podium