The Last Champion

A couple of his classmates snickered when they heard Kyle say, “I’ll join.”

Then one of the girls said, “Coach couldn’t even get you to run a hundred steps last year during P.E.”

Kyle ignored the remark and the chuckling and kept his hand raised to make certain that the new Cross Country coach had seen him. The young man didn’t know it but he would be one of only four boys from his entire school to sign up for the sport.

The following day, the four boys walked across the street from their school to the park for the first day of practice. They were met there by the coach.

“I’m going to make things simple,” he said. “I expect you give one-hundred percent everyday at practice and I expect you to do your best at every meet.”

The coach paused, his hands firmly placed on his hips as he looked at each boy, then he added, “Any questions?”

After a few seconds he said, “Good! Now I need five laps as soon as we get warmed up.”

By the end of his second lap, the coach could tell that Kyle would require more time and effort to complete the assigned run. He could see that the young man was overweight and not used to the level of exercise required to run a three and a half mile race.

Still he had to admire the fact that the kid wasn’t complaining or giving up. It took him twice as long to finish the five miles as it did his other three team mates.

“I’m not very good at this,” he complained to the coach after he caught his breath. Then he added, “Maybe I should quit before I embarrass you or the other guys.”

The coach stepped up and looked the 15-year old in the face and asked, “Did you give it your all today?”

The teen sheepishly answered, “Yes.”

“Good! Then I’ll hear no more talk about quitting!” the coach barked at the startled runner.

The team worked out with one another for the next two-weeks. They ran not only in the park across from the school, but they also ran in the hills surrounding town, using old cattle trails for their workout paths.

At the first race, the competition was steep. Nearly 200 runners had arrived to run through the mountains over looking North Lake High School. The best place anyone from the team was 55th.

It was Kyle who did the worst though. He placed last in his division, even being out paced by the girls as they started half an hour after the boys took off in their race. I took the young man more than twice the time it took others in the race to complete the course.

The coach felt a knot in his stomach as he stood waiting for the last member of his team to cross the finish line. He also felt bad for the young man as he came around the corner and through the gate onto the football field all the while being passed by girls his own age.

Kyle refused to give up.

The next week the same thing happened, followed by the same occurrence the following week. Kyle refused to give up and by this time he had gained a small fan based, made up of runners from other area teams, who willingly cheered him on as he ran towards the finish line.

By the seventh and final week of the regular season, coaches were standing along the sidelines cheering Kyle as he dashed towards the finish line. Some had even started chanting his name, “Kyle, Kyle, Kyle…” until he finished.

One coach even went as far as to nickname him “Last Place Lane.” At first Kyles’s coach was angry at the idea of such a rotten thing to call a child, but Kyle smiled and said that he like being called that.

“Why?” the coach asked.

Kyle smiled and then explained, “It makes me feel like a champion simply for finishing, Dad.” Then the young man added, “Besides last place is a place. There are a couple of guys who dropped out in the middle of the race.”

I nodded my head in agreement with my son’s statement.

That’s when it occurred to me that Kyle had the right attitude about sports and sportsmanship. I also realized that while Kyle may have been the team’s worst runner, he was also the last champion.

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Lady Bird Johnson Grove

In 1969, a past, current and a future U.S. president walked through the redwoods in Orick, jus’ south of Del Norte. They were Lyndon Johnson, who a few months prior held the title, Richard Nixon who was president at the time, and California Governor Ronald Reagan, who would be elected president a little more than a decade later.

In October 1968, Johnson signed into law the act that established Redwood National Park, which preserved 58,000 acres in the care of the National Park Service. The following August, newly elected President Nixon, along with Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson and Reagan, dedicated the Lady Bird Johnson Grove nature trail in Johnson’s wife’s name.

The dedication ceremony was combined with a birthday party for Lyndon Johnson. About halfway along the trail through the grove, a plaque commemorates that ceremony.

During the ceremony, Nixon said, “To stand here in this grove of redwoods, to realize what a few moments of solitude in this magnificent place can mean, what it can mean to a man who is president, what it can mean to any man or any woman who needs time to get away from whatever may be the burdens of all our tasks, and then that renewal that comes from it — to stand here makes us realize the great service that a President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, rendered when he put so much emphasis on conservation; that these Congressmen and Senators and Governors have rendered by their support for conservation and that our very honored guest, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, has rendered in her work for beautification, and particularly her work with regard to this very grove in which we stand.”

“So today I sign this proclamation as President of the United States, but I sign it for all the people of California, for all the people of the United States, in admiration and respect for a great First Lady — Lady Bird Johnson.”

Lady Bird Johnson remarked, “You have given me a day to treasure always, and I am grateful. I am grateful, too, to another president who in his time, along, with many, many people, did what he could to insure that these trees would be here for all tomorrows.”

“Conservation is indeed a bipartisan business because all of us have the same stake in this magnificent continent. All of us have the same love for it and the same feeling that it is going to belong to our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren — I am coming to understand a lot better these days — the same opportunity to work in our time to see that it stays as glorious.”

Former President Johnson also spoke at the ceremony:”I would hope that future generations might look down the history of our past and look at the great conservation leaders and that some of my children and my grandchildren if I am fortunate, even myself, could read not only what both President Nixon and I read about the works of Theodore Roosevelt and his leadership in the field of conservation and Franklin D. Roosevelt and what he had done to conserve this nation,” he said, “but that we soon might have a book from the Richard M. Nixon Library that would join with the great names of Roosevelt, the great name of Richard Nixon; because if I am a prophet — one that can see the beauties that abound in this state where he grew up and where he enjoyed coming to the forests and building a fire and talking about the glories of this state — it could be well extended to the rest of the nation and the other states.”

Lady Bird Johnson passed away July 11th, 2007 at her home in Texas, surrounded by friends and family. She was 94-years-old.

New Year’s Day Blaze

It was the first day of the New Year and Mom and Dad were still in bed after celebrations the night before. My brother and I were trying to entertain ourselves and that’s how we ended up in trouble.

It was the far end of the field, across from the Morgan’s and behind Mrs. Teshudi’s home where the trouble began. Perhaps, maybe it was in our home as that’s where we found a book of matches.

Either way: trouble. The two of us went outside and found a spider web. We burnt it using a match and it was fun.

So we went looking for more webs in the yellowing grass throughout the neighborhood. After having torch a number of webs, we found ourselves in that field as previously mentioned.

However, the web be lit on fire turned into a small grass fire, which grew into a large fire. After trying to stomp the blaze out, we raced home to tell Dad, who was also the Fire Captain of the Yurok Volunteer Fire Department, about the grass fire.

Of course we didn’t mention the fact that we had started the thing. He scrambled down to the fire station at the head of Redwood Drive, pushing the siren and starting the large fire-truck on the way up the street.

By the time he pulled up to the blaze, it was burning the fence along Mrs. Teshudi’s property line and was racing west towards the Babbs’ home. It took fire crews about half an hour to put out the grass fire.

The gutter along the sidewalk was filled with dirty brown water and debris. One of the items of debris was a book of matches from the Air Force base’s NCO club, where my parents had been the night before.

As they washed by, I pointed them out to my mother. Busted!

By the time it was all done, both my brother and I had gotten a lecture from the Fire Chief Warren Hornsby, Sheriff Deputy Lloyd Seats and eventually a butt-whipping our father. We thought we’d never be able to sit down again.