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On consecutive weekends, Elizabethtown has played host to major events that celebrate youthful athletic accomplishments.
First, the celebration of yesteryear’s achievements featured some premiere basketball players. The Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame conducted its first induction ceremony for 16 of its 100-member centennial class before a packed house at the Historic State Theater.
Seven days later, the Elizabethtown Sports Park opened with its state-of-the-art facilities for baseball, softball, football, soccer and even lacrosse. It’s an investment of more than $28 million on a tract of nearly 160 acres.
Stories shared at the first event illustrate the potential of the second one.
During videotaped conversations played on the massive screen, Cliff Hagan, Clem Haskins, Wah Wah Jones, Wes Unselad, Rex Chapman, Richie Farmer, Geri Grigsby, Jim McDaniels and the other legends described discovering a interest and developing skills through hours of sacrifice and struggle.
For some of the future stars, the direction was set from the outset. The opportunity to be around the game came naturally to kids born into basketball families such as Chapman and Grigsby, who are children of coaches.
For others, the opportunity for success could have been missed.
Ralph Beard’s biography focused on an impoverished upbringing in Louisville. It’s the story of a single mom leaving family in rural Breckinridge County for the promise of work in the city. Her grueling hours of toil provided the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Her struggle and the nearby school gave her son a chance to discover basketball.
Unseld described being cut from a middle school team. A caring adult who saw potential in the boy literally opened a door to the future for him. In a time when many public facilities were not open to blacks, Unseld’s first fan saw to it that the boy could practice daily at a YMCA gym.
Haskins came from a big family that cherished hard work over education. His older brothers had left school after only a couple years to join their father in the fields as tenant farmers. He was headed in the same direction but a teacher intervened and convinced his family to let Clem stay in school.
On the backside of a successful life, it’s easy to identify those turning points. But who can see roads never traveled?
How many classmates of Chapman, Grigsby, Beard, Unseld and Haskins never discovered their special skill?
Perhaps more importantly, we need to ask how many kids today are looking for their opportunity?
Caring parents, capable volunteers and encouraging neighbors will flock to the Elizabethtown Sports Park in the weeks, years and decades to come. Some potential Hall-of-Fame paths could begin on West Park Road.
But Hall of Fame opportunities also are born in elementary classrooms, in dance studios and at piano recitals. Some develop at unlikely times while tending the garden, preparing dinner or waiting for fish to bite.
How many great artists just need the encouragement of being displayed in the refrigerator-door gallery? How many future business leaders are born playing Monopoly in the family room? How many future journalists are listening now to a family storyteller under a shade tree in front of Grandpa’s house?
Give a kid a chance today: Offer a little encouragement, some direction and fuel their hope. You just might become part of their Hall of Fame induction story.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or firstname.lastname@example.org.