I first came to the Kansas City area in August, 1980. I came to go to college, but more importantly, at least to me, to play football at Mid America Nazarene College (that was the name at the time, but has now grown up into a university) in Olathe, Kansas. The first guy I met was Tim Robbins, a defensive lineman from California. Tim was to become a good friend, with whom I would work for several years at a local juvenile detention. I fancied myself a somewhat mature freshman, as I had finished high school in 1979 in Longmont, Colorado while living with family friends, since my parents had moved to Indiana. The summer after graduation, I traveled to Europe with a choir and concert band. We were 6 tour-buses filled with high school and college students from across the United States. It was a month-long trip to 7 different cities, filled with adventure, history, and beauty; with few chaperons. Lots of fun and no jail-time. After the trip, I came to Indiana to live with my parents and work for a year to pay for my trip.
After attending an Indiana high school football game, I decided to return to my first love: football. I began the process of looking for a college. I was a player looking for a game. My search wasn’t primarily about education, or a scholarship… I just wanted to put on the pads again. Mid America wasn’t originally on my list, because I didn’t know the school was beginning a program. Through a circuitous route which passed through KC, lead to Dodge City, Kansas, then back to KC/Olathe, and to Indiana again; I learned of the new program, participated in spring, “players only” drills, and decided that God wanted me back in Kansas. (I have since questioned that assessment several times. At that moment, it seemed right.)
So, as I began to unload my belongings from my parents’ car, with Tim’s help, and carried them up the walk to Snowbarger 104, I believed myself ready to begin the next step into adulthood.
Wow… that seems like a lifetime ago…
Looking back, I am reminded that from the beginning, I didn’t seem to fit. Actually, that was one of the things Tim and I had in common. He was a California beach guy, used to hanging out in board shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. We were BOTH in for a lot of surprises. In particular, I found that I had to prove myself. In football, this wasn’t particularly difficult, although I was suprised by this fact, and besides, all jocks are used to having to prove themselves to their teammates. I came in as a non-scholarship walk-on. The program was new, and we were mostly freshmen and sophmores. Only three upper-classmen in the group, and two of the three were kickers. The week before the other students moved in, the team was busy running, fighting, and bleeding together; so when everybody else came for the fall semester; we kind of felt they were trespassing. The bond of two-a-days cemented our claim on the campus as ours… at least for one year. At the time, small college football was rife with players leaving after one semester. People left, sometimes without telling anybody…
“Have you seen…?”
“Daaaang…. that didn’t take long…”
“That’s ok. If he didn’t want to be here, then we don’t need him.”
While I never considered leaving MNU, it was more because of my teammates than anything else. The day before registration, the head coach approached my locker to tell me that I had earned a scholarship due to my play. I was both surprised and filled with a sense of accomplishment. Not because of the amount of the scholarship (only $500, half the amount the school was allowed to give by the NAIA at the time). Mostly, the scholarship affirmed that I was accepted and good enough to play college football.
However, the next day at registration, I came face-to-face with a feeling of dissonance that I was a square peg, trying to ram myself into a round hole. My educational plan was to major in Church Music, with the intention of eventually becoming a Minister of Music for a church somewhere. The problem was… I was a football player. To me, these two identities made perfect sense. I had always loved both music and sports, and excelled in both. The academic adviser to which I had been assigned, however, didn’t see the fit. When he learned I planned on pursuing both in college, his words smacked me in the face with my first taste of social dissonance:
Adviser: “I see you are playing football…”
Adviser: “I don’t want to dissuade you… (dissonance)… but it has been my experience that music and football are two mistresses that don’t like each other very much. I suspect you will eventually drop one of them in favor of the other…”
Me: (Outwardly) … well… I want to try both. (Inwardly) It ain’t gonna be football…! I choose football…”
What I WISH I would’ve said?
His words to me communicated that I didn’t fit…”You gotta be one or the other: musicial/creative or jock.”
The truth? I was and am both. 50-year-old me knows that. I am comfortable with that. Maybe even a little proud of that!
To be fair, the adviser tried to help me adjust to the structured world of music theory, while also acknowledging and allowing me opportunities to use my natural, music gifts. Yet his first words stick in my memory as a first challenge to an identity, as yet unformed. When I took my first Music Theory class and Beginning Class Piano, I looked for any reason to leave my original plan. Football gave me that reason. I dislocated a finger playing in a junior varsity game, and quickly dropped the piano class. I then began looking for a different major.
I have always regretted that decision…