I was having lunch with my friends David and Chris not too long ago, when the subject of sports came up.
Although both David and Chris prefer to watch American football and professional basketball, they are also avid fans of other team and individual sports as well.
During the course of our discussion, we all lamented that although there are some very talented players today, there do not seem to be any real sports heroes among the players like there were when we were kids.
Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times... but David, Chris and I grew nostalgic as we talked of own childhood heroes. These were players that we admired and idolized as bigger-than-life stars.
Player names like Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson, Kenny Stabler, and Rick Barry were bandied about as reminisced of yesteryear.
These were great hall-of-fame players with unique playing style that young boys emulated... like Willie May’s basket catches on pop-fly balls or Rick Barry’s two-handed "granny-style" free throws.
The players then, didn’t seem to play for the money... they seemed to play for the sheer love of the game.
The lack of any real free-agency meant that players stayed on your home team forever. They didn’t travel from team to team like mercenaries they are today. One day you love them because they play for your team and the next day you hate them because they play for the rival team.
Chris asked David who his childhood hero was, and he replied, "Willie Mays".
Then David in turn asked Chris who he admired the most, and he replied, "Joe Nameth".
Then they both turned to me and asked for my childhood hero...
I thought about it for a few moments and replied, "Fred Rogers".
"Who’s that... what team did he play for??", they both said almost in unison...
"He didn’t play for any team... in fact... he wasn’t even an athlete", I said, "Maybe you know him better as Mr. Rogers"...
They both started snickering, "No really... who was your hero?"
"I’m being serious... Mr. Rogers had more of an effect on my life than any adult other than my parents and close family"...
They both looked at me in sheer and utter amazement...
Fred Rogers was born in 1928 in Latrobe, PA. He attended Dartmouth University for a couple of years before transferring to Rollins College in FL to study music composition. It was at Rollins College that he met his future wife Sara Byrd.
Fred and Sara were married in 1952 and had two sons, James and John.
In 1963, Mr. Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological College and became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church.
In 1954, Fred began working as a puppeteer on a local children’s show called Children’s Corner at Pittsburgh public television station, WQED.
Ten years later, in 1964, he moved himself and his family to Canada to begin production of a new children’s show called "Mister Rogers". The show ran for three seasons, before Mr. Rogers bought the rights for the production and moved back to Pittsburgh and WQED.
In February of 1968, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was launched as a local children’s program. One year later it moved to PBS and was syndicated throughout the entire PBS network.
In August of 2001, Mister Rogers hung up his trademark sweater for the last time.
The program aired 895 episodes over a span of 33 years, winning four Emmy’s for children’s programming along the way. Fred Rogers was presented with a lifetime achievement Emmy in 1997 and a Peabody Award in 1987 for his work spanning four decades.
Mister Rogers spoke to children in a calm and gentle voice. He was a child’s adult friend who challenged them to be curious, prompted them to proudly exhibit their creativity, and opened the doors to scientific discovery.
He also explained to kids in a kind voice that it was perfectly okay and normal to sometimes have feelings of fear, jealousy, anger, and resentment.
Fred Rogers was an American icon of compassion, patience, morality.
He was a writer, musician, composer, author, and educator.
He held himself and others to high standards and never compromised his convictions.
Mister Roger’s understood that he was indeed a role model and lived a life that was moral, just, and of impeachable character.
Not only was he a friend and educator of children, he was also a friend and educator of parents, writing some 34 books about parenting and the world in which we all inhabit.
I didn’t come to really fully appreciate the incredible talents of Fred Rogers until I was in college.
For two years while in college, I worked at the San Diego PBS affiliate, KPBS. My job was in Master Control, which meant that it was my responsibility to actually put the shows on air either from tape or live off the satellites.
Each work day, I had the opportunity to revisit with my friend Mister Rogers now watching him through the eyes of a young adult rather than as a child.
Each day his message to his audience, old or young, was clear and loud... you are indeed special... because there is no one in the world just like you.
Beginning in 1983 and each year until his death in 2003, I sent Fred Rogers a birthday card each March 20th because he had touched my life in so many ways and helped me to become the person I am today.
On several occasions Fred Rogers took the time to personally write back with a thank you card to tell me that he appreciated the birthday wishes...
I suspect that Fred Rogers couldn’t hit a curveball, dunk a basketball, or throw a touchdown pass... but that’s okay...
Instead he was a mild-mannered man looking each day to improve a certain part of the world around him.
He inspired others to overcome their fears and led others to believe in themselves in order to achieve their own definition of success.
Mister Rogers doesn’t necessarily fit the description of our modern-day hero... but if the tennis shoe fits...
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