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The Scout Never Called: Growing Up in Competitive Sports

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 24, 2024 3:02 am

The Scout Never Called: Growing Up in Competitive Sports

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 24, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Roger Rench shares with us some memories of his time playing various competitive sports throughout his life that are sure to put a smile on your face.

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Take it away, Roger. I think it was around fifth or sixth grade when my interest in sports began and that interest would grow into a lifelong love. Before that, I was a chubby, clumsy kid, not very fast or strong.

And in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, I shot up six inches to six feet tall, thinned out and got pretty strong and coordinated. I went to Grace Lutheran School and we had a great sports program and a network of Lutheran schools in Kansas City and eastern Kansas. I played flag football and basketball and I was the star center on our team.

I also liked baseball. In the summer after seventh grade, my mom signed me up for Little League. At our first practice, I didn't recognize a single face. Not only was I the new kid, but the rest of them had played together for years.

The coaches had coached them since they were little. I was a rookie on a team of experienced stars. The next summer, I played in a different league on a team with friends from my school and I had the opportunity to shine as one of our two starting pitchers. I had never pitched before, but I had this wicked curveball that couldn't be hit. It moved about a foot and as the batters would see it coming at them, they'd back up off the plate, afraid to get hit.

Then it would curve back over the plate, often for a strike. And I got dozens of strikeouts that summer and it felt great to be a star again and be able to show what I could do. In ninth grade, things changed as I went to public school for the first time. I went from a small private school with about eight kids in my class to West Junior High, where I had hundreds of classmates. And when it came to sports, I was in the big leagues now with a lot more competition and bigger, faster and stronger athletes.

First came football. I wasn't very fast, but I could catch anything thrown near me. I was tall at six foot two, so they put me at tight end. I was also the punter and could kick at a good 40 yards pretty consistently. And I have two standout memories from that season. The first happened at practice one day and I must have dropped a pass, flubbed a punt or did something else to upset the coach, because we had this drill where one guy would line up against two other guys and try to fight his way through. Coach called my name and then he called the names of the two biggest and meanest guys on our team to double team me. Charles was the toughest guy on our team and could knock the snot out of people.

And James was our biggest, heaviest guy. And I knew I was going to get killed. So I did what any scared, skinny string bean would do in that situation and got creative. When we lined up and coach blew the whistle, I dove straight down to the ground in the space between them and tried to crawl through. Now, when we did this drill, the whole team was watching. And boy, did I earn the comedy laughs for my efforts.

The coach even enjoyed the entertainment. But unfortunately, he made me do it again and face my fear. And this time, Charles and James were licking their chops to get to me. I prepared for launch and sure enough, when they hit me, I went flying in the air about 10 yards straight back. I think I still have a bruise of my behind today from that hit.

But, you know, I have to thank my coach because I figured if I could survive that hit from those two monsters, I didn't have to be afraid of anything on the field. My other memory was in a game where we were playing a team that was beating us bad. We were backed up to our own 10 yard line and it was fourth down. Time to punt.

Again, for about the sixth or seventh time that game. So I came out to punt and I'm standing right on the end zone line. James was lined up behind the line of scrimmage to block anyone who would try to get through and block the punt. They hiked me the ball. And as I stepped forward to kick it, James is backing up and I kicked the ball right into his backside.

It bounces back into the end zone and the other team recovers it for a touchdown. Despite that moment, I really enjoyed my first season of tackle football and it prepared me for the basketball season where I tried out, made the team and played with some of my football teammates. My basketball experience was quite different. We had 11 guys on the team and they were all good.

I was the 11th guy, the odd man out. So at practice, where we went five on five, I didn't even get enough court time to learn the plays. We were good and won the city championship. So I did get to play in a few games where we had a big lead. But every day I mostly just sat there watching at practice. I felt left out and I didn't think the coach liked me. In the middle of the season, I made one of the worst decisions of my life. I quit. I didn't go to practice and I didn't go talk to the coach.

I just didn't show up. I let my teammates down. I let my coach down and I let myself down. Quitting like that felt horrible.

Way worse than any feeling of being left out. But I did it and I learned from it. I made a decision later never to quit anything just because it wasn't going my way.

That decision has served me well. In high school, I expanded my sports repertoire. I played football for a couple of years, and that led to testing out another sport. The first day of football practice, our coach made us run a full mile in the high heat and humidity.

It was about 100 degrees. By the end of the first lap, several of our speedy players passed me and were way ahead. But as the run went on, I passed them all back and ended up finishing first, about a half lap ahead of the next guy. That raised some eyebrows among my teammates and also my coaches.

And one of them said to me, that's impressive. You should try out for the cross-country team. So the next school year, I did just that. I ran well and made varsity. But in practice, after we'd go out and run several miles, which I loved, our coach made us go over to the track and run quarter and half miles, several of them again and again. And I hated it. I couldn't see any point to it since we're running a three mile race in competition.

I completely lost interest. And before the season started, I talked to the coach and told him thanks, but no thanks. However, I loved long distance running and kept doing it each day on my own.

And 44 years later, I'm still doing it every day. In 1980, I went to St. John's College in Winfield, Kansas, a small school with only about 300 students. At St. John's, I played baseball my junior year. We only had one catcher. So in practice, I started warming up our pitchers and ended up becoming our backup.

My shining moment came when we traveled to Atchison, Kansas, for a weekend baseball tournament hosted by Benedictine College. The first night our starting catcher went out and had a little too much fun missing the curfew. So our coach sat him on the bench for the next game. And guess who got the start at catcher?

I didn't expect that and was a little nervous, but I was also excited. Now, that game was against the host team Benedictine. And on their team were a few of my teammates from that first Little League team I played on in Kansas City.

Also in the audience that day was a pro scout checking out the small college talent. So the game started and it was pretty close. I didn't do anything spectacular, but did my job OK until about the fourth inning when the ball was popped up. Now, you know how when a ball is popped up, the catcher will throw off his face mask, look up to try to find the ball and then run over to catch it? Well, I threw off my mask and then with my other hand, I threw off my catcher's mitt, too. A few seconds later, the razzing started first from a few of my friends on the other team who knew my name and were shouting it out of their dugout along with their jokes. Then one of my own teammates brought down the house when he shouted for everyone to hear, Hey, Raj, next time throw the shin guards. Both dugouts erupted in laughter. It was embarrassing, but I had to laugh, too. So slowly picked up my face mask and my glove, looked over at their dugout and then ours, then bowed before my audience.

Some of them even stood and cheered. Needless to say, I never got a call from that pro scout. Despite blowing my opportunity to get called up for spring training, sports and athletics have always been a big part of my life. Along with running, I bike ride every day and lift weights two or three times a week. I always wanted to stay in shape to keep up with my kids. And I played all kinds of games and sports with them growing up.

And now it's my grandkids turn. In my lifetime, I've played many sports and games. I've experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, along with a few humorous and embarrassing moments. Sports has helped me make friends, learn teamwork and kept me in good physical shape. I'll keep running and playing as best as I can for as long as I can. And if I die doing it, it will be with a big smile on my face. And a great job on the production by Madison and a special thanks to Roger Wrench for reminding us why we play sports. And it's for the fun.

It's for the bonding. In high school, I was a captain of my basketball team. We had a good team and I wasn't paying attention. We won the tip. I got the ball, raced for an easy layup in the other guy's basket. Two points for the other team.

Wrong Way Habib was my name for the next two years. Roger Wrench's story, here on Our American Stories. Why?

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