“Growing Up, You Were Someone I Always Idolized”

From the moment I became proficient at basketball (age 11), fortune smiled on me time after time; culminating in one of my proudest accomplishments – a Division 1 College Basketball Scholarship.

Prior to my freshman year at the University of Vermont, I was usually the best player on the court, which came with many perks including but not limited to adoration, kindness, temptation and more attention that any young person needs or deserves. 

I was grateful for those years without peer pressure, although primarily because they allowed me the freedom to concentrate solely on my education and to become a great high school basketball player. I never took the celebrity and ‘star player’ status that seriously, and didn’t allow it to make me arrogant or change my values; something I must thank my parents (especially my mother) for the most as they were 100% focused on making sure their only son became a good man. 

During my comfortable teenage years, I remember numerous youth (boys and girls) coming up to me in a congratulatory way, to get an autograph or simply to say hello, yet I never got to know any of them in a meaningful way. My only focus was improving my game, being a good son/student and obtaining a college scholarship. I doubt that I was even capable of coming out of the ‘bubble of focus’ I created for myself.

At that time, I rarely thought about the impact my basketball success could be having on those watching and/or being inspired by my time on the court. I wish I had.  Early in 2016, I received these touching words from an alumnus of our High School – Central Dauphin East:
"WOW! I am impressed and love what you’re doing. I have to be honest with you. Growing up you were someone I always idolized. So you helped me strive to become a better player and in turn opened many doors for me in life. So I want to say thank you!"

Below are other parts of his message to me:

By playing ball I was fortunate to have coaches take an added interest in me as a person. Coach Lavelle was one of them. He was instrumental in molding me and seeing the potential in me. Not allowing me to be quiet and demanding more from me. I was saddened when I heard of his passing and even more so because I found out after it happened. I was unable to pay my respects to him.
I to someday want to be able to give back and I feel I am doing that by counseling students who have extra obstacles. I want to be a positive role model and hopefully have an impact on someone like coaches have had on me.
Steve is also one of them guys who took an interest in me and other kids around. We learned more than just basketball from him.

His message warmed my heart….and still does. I wish he would have conveyed his feelings when they first occurred, although I do realize that having the courage to do that to someone you idolize isn’t easy. I’m elated that he felt comfortable doing it last year.

I was thrilled to hear that two of my mentors and coaches (Steve Freeland and Paul Lavelle) had a positive impact on him as well. I wouldn’t be close to the man I am and the player I was without the wise guidance and love from Steve and Paul.

The lessons learned from this positive interaction are best described in what I would tell my 18 year old self today:

  • Don’t be so singularly focused on your goals/dreams that you lose sight of others around you and/or aren’t aware of the youth who interact with you. That focus allowed me to succeed at the highest high school level, but I could have been impacted even more positively as a more engaged 18 year old.
  • If you idolize someone, don’t be afraid to make it known to that person, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. There were people I looked up to also as a teenager, yet never told them about it. I got wiser in my older years and it served me well when I ended up standing next to a man who inspired me on the court – Magic Johnson. After meeting him in 2002, I let him know immediately how much he meant to me and we had a beautiful conversation.

The man who sent those aforementioned words is now in his 40’s and has made his own positive way in the world; currently working with youth and running his own business. Hearing briefly about his life has been encouraging.

I wrote to him with the hope of getting together when I make it back to the USA this year. I can’t wait to share a coffee and/or lunch and listen to his story more in depth.

We both share the belief that mentoring, inspiring or enhancing our youth must be high on the priority list. It’s been a mission of his with his day job and a passion of mine with my basketball program, which is going on year 13. 

Many young people fall through the cracks when they don’t have a positive influence in their life or a person that will tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to her. We all need to play a part in connecting the dots (youth to mentor or vise versa), in order to give our young people the best possible chance for a productive and meaningful life.

We were both fortunate to have the support we needed growing up. It’s now our job to make sure we can enhance the lives for as many youth as possible and show/give them the tools they will need to strive for their dreams.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede in action against Harrisburg High School - 1982

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