Column: Summer sports campers, always meet your heroes

Published 10:02 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

As the saying goes, “never meet your heroes.”

As summer sports camp season ramps up around Shelby County, many local kids are doing just that as they learn sports skills from the area’s high school stars.

A common theme throughout the camps I’ve covered over the last few weeks is that the most important part of the week is seeing the players become friends with the kids attending.

“To say that you’re going to teach a kid to play baseball in three days is silly,” Thompson baseball coach Frankie Perez said during Thompson Baseball Camp. “It’s not realistic. It’s about creating connections and creating memories.”

Many other coaches echoed that thought, and honestly, they’re right.

I participated in sports camps as a kid while my parents and I tried to find a sport I enjoyed and was good at. I don’t remember much of them other than that it was a fun way to get out of the house and try something new.

However, I vividly remember what it was like to look up to high school athletes as a kid.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to my first high school football game at SouthLake Christian, my alma mater in Charlotte, and sat in a lawn chair in the corner of the end zone. Early in the game, star receiver Demetri Allison caught a touchdown close to where I was sitting, and I idolized him from then until he graduated.

While other kids were wandering around the stadium with friends or throwing a football around, I sat in the stands invested in every game. I knew so many players’ names from those teams while I was in middle school, and they seemed larger than life to me. Their success was my success, and every tough loss hit me hard too.

I even remember a few years later when I saw Allison in the stands when he came back a couple of years after he graduated and played at Elon. Unfortunately, what I remember most is seeing the news of his death on an ESPN bottom line, and the assembly that followed that morning.

I also have plenty of other positive stories of meeting high school athletes when I was younger. A football player named Blake Queen helped run our P.E. class when I was in eighth grade, and when he complemented my hustle, it made my week. I knew Sam Hartman from when he was at my school before he played quarterback at Wake Forest and Notre Dame. The list goes on.

I saw those athletes as my heroes. Even though they went to the same school as me, they were larger than life, and I would’ve done anything just to talk to them and hear them say my name. It’s not a stretch to say they are the reason I fell in love with high school sports and are why I’m here today.

As I grew up, the idea that people my age can be seen as heroes to little kids seemed wild. How could I be a hero when I’m just an ordinary student?

I would see kids in the stands at SouthLake’s basketball games look at my teammates the same way I looked at those football players. It was even crazier to see my brothers play for SouthLake’s basketball and football teams after I graduated and for kids to look up to them.

Even when I was at Samford, there were times when my sports media classmates were the same people I cheered for every weekend at games, even as I watched college athletes on TV that were the same age and being covered like superstars.

For every high school athlete reading this, know that no matter what sport you play or how good you are, there are people looking up to you. While that comes with a great responsibility to be a role model, there’s an easy way to start.

You can make a kid’s day by getting to know them while building a relationship with them, just like you would for any of your friends. Take advantage of these camps to do so. It can do wonders for their self-confidence and also inspire them to stick with sports and take the field one day for your team. You can impact the community by simply being your friendly, amazing self.

And for the kids reading this, the saying is wrong. Always meet your heroes. You might find that they are just like you.