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STUDENTS TODAY ADMIRE ATHLETES FROM ALL AGES

L’Observateur / February 21, 1998

There is a stereotype that youngsters today are not concerned with history, that they only care about events affecting them now. Thatstereotype was recently debunked by students in the River Parishes.

L’Observateur recently held an essay contest for ninth- grade English students asking them to write about the person in history they most admired. One of the four categories was sports heroes. I was interested tosee what athletes the students were going to write about, thinking back to recent heroes like Julius Ervin and Dan Marino.

Instead we received stories about athletes from Lou Gehrig to Walter Payton. We had essays on legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi andthe “Big O,” Oscar Robertson.

The essays also did not focus solely on the so-called “big sports.” We hadessays on gymnastic’s Dominic Mocheanu and figure skating’s Kristi Yamaguchi, track’s Jesse Owens and soccer’s Pele. There were two storieson motor cross’s Jeremy McGrath, and one on four-wheeler Joey LeBouf.

Another myth that was laid to rest was that baseball is becoming the national past its time rather than the national pastime. We received 68essays. Of those, 30 were on baseball players. Babe Ruth led the way with10 essays, followed by Jackie Robinson with seven.

One of the things that surprised me was the number of essays (five) done on Hank Aaron. Not much has been done on Aaron in the media lately, and heretired from the game over two decades ago. And while he played, Aaronwas known as one of the most reserved ballplayers. Just goes to show thatactions speak louder than words and that Aaron’s actions have covered the ages.

Another surprise athlete was Lou Gehrig, who played before many of the students’ parents were born. Yet, there were five essays recounting thecourageous play of the “Iron Horse,” another athlete who still influences youngsters decades after he has passed away.

It can be said Jackie Robinson saved the sport again last year when baseball dedicated the 1997 season in his honor. The 50th anniversary ofhis breaking the color line shed a positive light on the game at a time that it has been under a dark shadow.

Basketball players were next with 18 essays. Surprisingly, the playerwritten about the most was not Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but Pete Maravich. The former LSU and New Orleans Jazz great is still influencingLouisiana fans a decade after his tragic death.

The athletes the students chose were indeed heroes of their sport. Almostall have had to overcome some form of adversity to make it to the upper levels of their sport. Each has influenced their sport in some way. Andeach has shown that their actions and their words have had an influence on at least one young fan. They are indeed to be admired.

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