By Jeff Gilliland – firstname.lastname@example.org
Around two weeks ago I received a call from one of my old high school teammates. The long and short of the reason for the call was that Steve Jones, a member of the Hillsboro High School class of 1980, is not doing real well and he had requested that some of his former teammates gather at Big Ernie’s Pizza in Hillsboro so he could visit with them.
From what I gathered, Steve is in the midst of a third bout with cancer and was preparing for a stem cell operation.
Steve lives in Indiana now and evidently had not seen many of his old high school buddies for a long time. So, some of those buddies decided to see what they could throw together for him.
The big night unfolded last Saturday.
I’m not sure what I expected to find when a cousin drove us out to Big Ernie’s last weekend. What I found was reassurance of why it’s so special to grow up in a small town like in Hillsboro, and how sports teaches lessons and forms bonds that live on long after the playing days are over.
Maybe, though, bond is not the right word. No, it’s more than that. What I saw pouring from big old football players, many of Steve’s former coaches, his family, and lots of others, was nothing short of love. I saw it in hugs, I saw it in smiles and laughter, and I saw it in tears.
I saw it in Steve’s face as he talked about to the two well-built, good-looking sons that escorted him to the gathering. I heard it in the words of coaches as they spoke of Steve’s determination as a player. I saw it in the face a friend who had to step outside for a bit so he could dry his eyes.
I heard it in the voice of the cousin who drove me to the gathering when he talked about his days in shop class with Steve. I felt it as I watched people glance through scrapbooks, remembering times of old.
Steve was a grade behind me in school and, truth be told, we were never really that close. I knew he went off to college to play football, and had a good bit of success, but after that I lost track of him.
Steve comes from a time when Hillsboro football teams were different than they are these days. There were lots of big fellas, well put together, and they were talented. Steve was a lineman on a team that went 8-2 their senior year. That might not sound all that outstanding to some, but when you consider that they played against the likes of Art Schlichter, Glen Cobb, Scott Grooms, Gary Williams and many others – well, if you know anything about local high school football, then you know what I mean.
But that’s not what this column is about. I am certain that if Steve Jones played on a team that was 5-5 or 2-8 or 0-10, the feeling in that room Saturday night would have been the same.
What this column is about is this: A guy going through a hard time sent out a call, and it was answered. It was answered by people far and near, by people young and old, by people who knew Steve Jones well and people who did not know him so well.
Why? Because Steve Jones was a teammate, because he is a friend, because that feeling of camaraderie never really leaves old warriors. And most of all because he is a good man.
I don’t know why it is that a good guy like Steve gets cancer, or why others with bad habits do not.
But I know he’s taking it head-on like the football player he was, that he has a unique humbleness about the situation, and that there are a lot of people in his corner.
Steve, we’re all pulling and praying for you. And if the love of a bunch of old Hillsboro Indians has anything to do with it, we will see you again.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.