Reflections Back on Early Years

I live in a small town where the main source of activity and jobs is a local state university.  The university just started classes this week for the fall semester which got me to thinking about my time going through school and the friends I had.

I grew up in a small farming village of about 400 people in rural Nebraska.  Our lives more or less revolved around the changing seasons, crop prices, church activities, and the local school.  Since my town was so small, we actually shared a school with another town about ten miles northwest of us.  The school was a big part of our town’s life.  It didn’t matter if it was Friday Night football, competitive speech meets, the prom, academic bowls, etc., the town supported all of our activities.  I never thought much of it while growing up in the late 1990s, but then most kids don’t think much of their hometowns when their 16 or 17 and are looking to venture out and see what is out there in the world.

I wasn’t Mr. Popular in my high school, but I was far from anonyomous too.  I like to think that most of us in my high school who were involved in some kind of extracirricular activitity (which was probably 85% of our student body in my small school) were somehow embraced and noticed by the people in our town one way or another.  Years ago when I went through (I’m not sure how it is now), our school was more academically inclined then some because we had some really amazing teachers, so there was no embarassment in being in the band or the school play or speech teams.  Though we also had some decent sports teams as our football team did make state finals one year in the mid 1990s. 

Even though we didn’t have many advanced placement classes or any accelerated programs, we still recieved a good well-rounded education at our school.  Sure it may not produce any Rhodes Scholars or Ivy Leaguers or may not make the list of Top 100 High Schools in America.  Sure I had my difficulties because of the beginnings of my mental illness problems, especially late in my academic career.  But I won’t trade my four years of classes, friends, experiences, activities, and times I spent at Anselmo-Merna High School in Merna, Nebraska for anything.

The Story of Two Brothers and What Is Still Good About American College

I’m going to be treading off the beaten path again.  This time this blog will be telling the story of two brothers I’ve known from my parents’ church their entire lives.  They’re quite a bit younger than me, but I’ve gotten to know these two pretty well as their parents are family friends of ours and that home community is one of those places that tight knit enough that everyone knows everyone.  I’m very reluctant to share their names as they really don’t like to brag about their accomplishments, but many people I grew up with are the exact same way.  It probably goes with the farming/ranching orientation of my entire home state.

After finishing their high school careers with about every athletic honor, social honor, and I think many of the academic honors their small high school could offer, these two enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  From there they got on the track and field team, with both of them training for multiple events for the Husker track and field team.

These two put in full time classes, long hours of training, as well as the required studying for classes.  I don’t know the exact dollar amount of their scholarships (of if they even qualify for track scholarships as they have been in the program for only one year), but from what I understand, I was getting more on an academic scholarship to a small, private college than most T&F athletes do.  I received $5,000 a year and all I had to do was keep a 3.5 GPA after four semesters.  Well, I couldn’t keep that even though I wasn’t doing a time consuming sport or activity like band or student council or student journalism, etc.  Getting back to these two young men, both of them made the Dean’s List their freshmen year.  One of them even had a perfect 4.0, which I can never claim.  To help pay for college, these two are doing farm work this summer.

These two have been excellent athletes since they were toddlers running wild on the church front lawn every Sunday.  They won state championships in their individual sports as well as football.  Yet they are more than just athletes.  They are also dedicated students.  They have always been active in the church and lived Christian principles to the best of their abilities.  They are hard workers as they’ve grown up on a farm and doing farm work since they were children.  In short, these two brothers are what’s good about a lot of things.

In the last couple weeks alone, we college sports fans have seen a star quarterback get suspended for academic misjudgment from Notre Dame.  We’ve seen, from the same University of Nebraska these two brothers attend and compete for, a football player get arrested for assault.  We’ve seen the p.r. nightmare that has become Rutgers’ athletic department administration.  We’ve just seen the University President at Ohio State carelessly spouting off at a fundraiser.  Now we’re seeing the family of the late former Penn State coach suing the NCAA.  I could go on about conference realignments, tv revenues, money hungry college presidents, athletes cheating in school, the pro leagues using colleges as de facto minor leagues, massively paid coaches, etc. But those stories have been told time and time again to where we think that is all there is to tell about the story of athletics at American colleges.

For every major bad story involving the odd mixture of academia, athletics, money, media, government, and the law, there are other stories that easily get ignored.  Those are the stories of the young men and women who compete/participate/work/study in the athletics, student activities and organizations, jobs, and schools we too often sell out as being corrupt, wastes of time and money, demeaning and low paying, and failing in comparison to our foreign counterparts.  In short, we refuse to see what’s good anymore.

In closing in this story about these two brothers, I think I will mention them by name.  While there are many young men and women like these two at every university in America, their stories never get heard because names never get put to them.  These two are Jed and Guy Fenske; scholars, athletes, model workers, and morally upstanding citizens.