At about age five, I fell and broke my collar bone. That’s how they discovered I had very poor eyesight. I mean really poor—20/200!
Remember, this was a time when babies and toddlers did not have every inch of their bodies examined and evaluated by parents or the family doctor. Today, they would have discovered my poor vision much sooner.
My parents took me to some strange guy two subway rides away who thought he could help me with eye exercises. Didn’t work! I was then fitted with geeky glasses and soldiered on. Of course, I proceeded to break at least one pair every year, to the escalating frustration of my parents.
Growing up in that era in one of the five boroughs of New York, about 30 minutes by subway from Manhattan, there weren’t any after-school community programs to organize and schedule activities for kids. There was no Little League or Pop Warner, no Boys & Girls Clubs or YMCAs. We, the kids, had to organize whatever sports or activities we wanted to do.
So, somewhere around age 12, my group—we weren’t a gang!—decided we wanted to play organized baseball. We tired of the hastily-arranged pickup games that always seem to be a few players short. Because my eyesight meant I could hardly see the baseball when it was hit, I became the “manager.” We recruited enough for a team, and then cleaned a vacant weed-and-rock-strewn lot and ran raffles to buy equipment and uniforms. We were the Spades. Couldn’t we have been the Kings or the Chiefs? Anything a little more macho than the Spades!
We won some, lost some, and had a great time all spring and early summer for a few years. With this success fresh on our resume, we decided to expand and start a football program.
There was a group of older guys who had carved out another better vacant lot and even had some makeshift bleachers for spectators. Since they were the Dukes, with their blessing we became the Junior Dukes.
We rented a garage across the street to use as a locker room; and between some hand-me-down equipment from the Dukes, and raising money of our own, we got ourselves jerseys, and were ready to roll.
As with the Spades, I was the manager and in charge of all the non-playing activities. On a few occasions, when too few players showed up for a game, I was recruited. I played on the line as a guard. On offense, I just had to block the guy in front of me—that was okay without my glasses. On defense, it was hard for me to discern who had the ball and who to try to tackle.
I’ll never forget on one series of plays they told me to play in the backfield. Okay, I thought, I’ll just try to block anyone coming into the backfield.
Then the quarterback called a pass play and told me I was to be the receiver. I said, “What, are you crazy? I can’t see a thing!”
He was insistent, and there wasn’t timer to argue. The play went off and I was saved from embarrassment when the defensive back batted the ball down before it got to me. I was glad he could see it. At that point, I was delighted to go back to being the manager.
Looking back, I can see this was the beginning of learning and developing organizational skills. If it hadn’t been for my poor eyesight, I would have been at best a mediocre player. It was never my dream or plan to get into association and event management; but, looking back, I can see those early boyhood experiences helped pave the way.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. In my case, adversity was as well.
How did you get your start?