In more than 60 years of writing for newspapers and magazines, I have never been a sports writer. One reason is that I never participated in sports.
I ran really hard but never got far. That’s because I was kind of fat. In the interest of truthfulness, I was really fat.
Worse, I was short, even by childhood standards. That more or less left out basketball even though the ball didn’t have far to travel to constitute a dribble. Besides, if I got as good at it as I dreamed of becoming, hanging my jersey in the rafters would have been a problem—it would have covered all the other jerseys.
It hadn’t occurred to me that my weight could be a sports asset, but it didn’t escape the grade school coach. He thought I should be an offensive tackle on the football team. He may have thought that if I just sat down at the line of scrimmage, I would keep at least two opposing players away from the quarterback. I declined.
So, I was a sports watcher rather than a player. That is, until my second year of college.
I was a sophomore at what was then Emporia State Teachers College. I had managed a year at Baker University without taking physical education because the gymnasium had burned down.
Unfortunately for me, the gym at Emporia was in good shape.
I had the brilliant idea that if I just didn’t sign up, I might evade the dreaded physical education class which included unsavory tasks like climbing ropes with your bare hands. I didn’t want to climb any ropes, even with gloves on.
I got through the first semester and part way into the second before the coach caught up with me.
He called me into his office and said, “I see you aren’t signed up for phys ed. Why is that?”
I said it must have slipped my mind and that maybe we could do something next semester. I could have said the gym had burned down, but that would have been at a different college.
He said: “You’re going to do something THIS semester. The only thing open is tennis, and I have already signed you up for it. You can report to Mr. LeMond tomorrow morning.”
Mr. LeMond was Jean LeMond, about 25 years old then and an accomplished tennis player from France. He had been playing the game since he was a little boy, and his motto was that if you were going to play tennis, you should work at it diligently until you were as good as you could be.
I thought I was already as good as I could be.
I had lost a good deal of weight by then, but my attitude hadn’t changed much. Jean smashed sizzling serves at me and I had to swat at them to protect myself. Eventually, I began to like tennis a little and now and then played it with a friend or two.
I usually lost, but I was actually running around a tennis court swatting at those little green balls and at a mosquito or two at night under the lights.
I never attained much tennis expertise but the effort changed my life. I have finally written a sports story.
Contact Ted Blankenship at