A Village Hero

The idea just did not occur to me, the idea that my son would shoot a basketball. And that is why it takes a village. What didn’t occur to me occurred to someone else, in this case to someone you really want in your village, and we are so lucky to have Barry Vandiver in ours.

We worked on passing, Joey and me – put the ball in his lap, and encouraged him to push it, which he did. Not every time, but you could see him working it out. He hears, “push it, Joey, pass the ball.” His brain processes this and tries to signal his arms. After a bunch of tries, the message gets through, like restricted mail. And he shoves the ball. Nice pass.

We did this for about an hour while most of the other Heroes went through drills that Joey can’t participate in – yet. I’m through with absolutes. In fact, that should probably be the 11th Commandment – there are no absolutes. So, I won’t say he can’t participate. I’ll add the “yet,” because as we know, there are some things that just don’t occur on demand. And we’ve got Barry, so all bets are off.

Every Saturday, Barry and our various assistant coaches volunteer their time to ensure that a group of often marginalized kids (and young adults) experience the thrill and pleasure of playing sports. For many of these kids, there is elation in the simple act of shooting free throws. Between them, there is encouragement and sharing and cheering and unwavering support. These are mostly fearless young people who know, without a doubt, that they are the good guys. It’s a beautiful, real thing, a microcosm of how It could be.

So many of my peers, adults in various stages of advanced oxidation, live and act out of fear, clinging desperately to gray, familiar, faulty patterns of judgment. The ‘Different Others,’ regardless of what’s different about them, are offensive, to be avoided, overcome, removed, eliminated. Cut, don’t create. Hunker down, don’t extend. Remove, don’t sustain. Raze, don’t raise. It’s fear. You want compassion and empathy? Look somewhere else. Look in the YMCA gym on a Saturday morning.

You’ll see Cooper, Craig, Josiah, Mary, Tim, Robbie – Robbie who always says hello, who asks if you saw that shot, who always says see you later, because he really wants to see you later. You’ll see C.J. using her one strong arm to shoot free throws. And now, thanks to the compassion and empathy that inflates this place, that flows in spades through Barry Vandiver, Joey isn’t merely working on passing. He’s shooting baskets with is best pal Cooper.

Couple of weeks ago, while Joey and I were working on passing, Barry sidles up and says, “I’m gonna come up with something that lets Joey shoot baskets.” And I remember thinking, “catapult.” Spent a little time looking at different catapult designs in the ensuing week, but by the next Saturday, Barry had already built it. PVC pipe, a spring, a few pieces of hardware and a cord that Joey could pull (with help and encouragement, because again, it takes time for the message, “pull!”, goes from his brain to his arm). And now my son is sending basketballs flying at a kid-sized hoop.

Barry has been our friend since Joey started going to school with his son, Cooper, and they soon started playing Heroes sports together. Cooper, Joey and their pal Chris were the Three Amigos. They still are, but Chris is another school, now, so they can’t get in as much trouble together as they used to. So, it wasn’t a surprise when we showed up last Saturday and Barry showed us the basketball catapult (and yes, we will use it to toss snakes into the air), because Barry has done this before.

A few years back, he built a lift/transport device to move Chris around his elementary school classroom. He installed a device in a school commode for another student, so she would know when … uh … everything was coming out OK. He has made things most of us take for granted refreshingly accessible to young people that have few choices. Helping teachers move a growing child from one part of the classroom to another, helping a youngster take care of business in the bathroom, helping a little guy shoot basketballs, and Lord knows what else, because Barry doesn’t advertise.

He seems incapable of hearing the word, “can’t.” He figures what is needed to make something happen, then builds it. It’s because he’s a talented guy loaded with ingenuity, but mostly, I think, it’s because he has a tremendous heart. Bottom line, Barry Vandiver is a great father and family man, a guy who gives of his time and energy to serve on the local school board, a guy who has invested heart and soul in the wellbeing of these kids, the Heroes. Basically, he’s a guy who should be cloned. He’s the kind of dad that makes other dads want to do better, and another example of why my family feels ridiculously lucky to be living in this neighborhood of the world.

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2 thoughts on “A Village Hero

  1. Well Grillo, you again brought some tears of joy and pride in knowing there is still good welling.

  2. Basically one of the coolest people/events/things ever.

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