Growing up in Waldo, I had an affinity with sports….particularly football. I loved to watch our high school football team play and, as a kid, dreamed of playing for my small hometown team! The fun, the pageantry, and the camaraderie were all mesmerizing to me. I just knew that when I got to high school, I had to be out there on the gridiron playing football for my hometown school!While I was yet in elementary school, the County School Board decided to take the 9th thru 12th grades away from Waldo and consolidate them with the high school in Gainesville, and my hope of playing for my hometown team was quashed. I had wanted to play on a team with my Waldo friends but now found this dream was not to be!
Even so, my hometown friends and I kept playing sandlot football all the while knowing that we wouldn't get to play high school football for Waldo High.
The consolidation of high schools concerned my mother. There was now overcrowding in Gainesville High School so she enrolled me at P.K. Yonge School in Gainesville, where the size of each class was limited. There, I became interested in the P.K. football team and attended a game or two here and there. And even though my dream of playing football with my friends for Waldo High was gone, I started dreaming a new dream; playing football with my new friends at P.K. Yonge. When I entered the eighth grade I joined the junior high football team.
At the beginning of my junior year at P.K., my world changed drastically when my Dad died of a massive heart attack and things financially tightened for our family. Mother was unable to operate the truck stop by herself, so she closed it down and took a job in a clothing factory to provide for our family. Unfortunately, her work schedule did not line up with my football practices. Simply put, she could not provide transportation home for me from practices and often she wasn't able to attend my games. This meant that I had to usually find my own transportation in order to play football.
Because of this, I often found myself hitchhiking the 15 miles home. Many times after practices I wouldn't get home until after 9 or 10 o'clock and after games, it could be as late as 11:30pm or midnight. As November closed in and the cold winds blew, it could get quite chilly if not outright cold standing out there on the road hitchhiking! Also, I came to learn that when you stick your thumb out to hitch a ride, there was just no telling who would stop. On more than one occasion, I had to conjure up a quick story as I turned down their offer. When it didn't feel right, I passed on the ride, even though I was really, really, really wanted to get on home as soon as possible. But Waldo Wisdom reminded me that the best way to get out of something bad is not to get into something bad in the first place.
As an alternative, there was a Greyhound bus that went from Gainesville to Jacksonville that passed right through Waldo. I often didn't have the money to use this mode of transportation and our practices were seldom over in time to catch the bus even if I did have the money. As much as I loved the game, I occasionally entertained the idea of quitting the team because it was so hard to get home after practice. The late games were especially taxing as I stood along the road late at night, cold and hitching for a ride.
But, I loved the game; I loved it immensely. I knew that if I quit, I would miss being on the team and everything that football it meant to me. So, I made the decision to continue on.
As luck would have it, I was able to solve my transportation dilemma. Since I worked in the school lunchroom to pay for my lunch, I had the privilege of going to the front of the chow line, thus getting my plate of food served immediately. As football season progressed, one of my classmates sat down beside me and said, "I'll give you 35 cents for your two rolls." I immediately thought, "With that 35 cents I will have enough to cover the cost of the Greyhound bus fare!" So I quickly said "OK!" I continued to sell my lunch rolls through my senior year. This extra 35 cents a day gave me enough money for the bus and also a little money that I could periodically send to my sister who was in North Carolina attending college on an extremely limited budget.
At our night games, I soon learned to barter with one of my friends to take me home. If I had a little money, I'd pay for gas. But more often, using my skills as a fast talker, I would line up some girls for us all to hang out with after the games and that usually would garner me a ride home!
In my early elementary school years, my dream was to play football with my buddies for the Waldo High School Blue Devils and to have my parents and friends cheering for me along on the sidelines. When that dream was not longer feasible, I modified that dream because I loved the game of football. This taught me a valuable piece of Waldo Wisdom. When your dream gets tackled, get up, dust yourself off, and find another way to make the core of that dream come true.
The core of my dream was playing high school football. Would I have liked to have played for my hometown school at Waldo with my longtime friends and where my parents could easily watch me play? Very much so! Did I my Waldo buddies as teammates? For sure. But I did get to play high school football. And, I learned much from playing the sport; teamwork, tenacity, the benefits of hard work and commitment to a cause. The camaraderie that we developed forged a lifelong bond which we still have to this very day.
I'm thankful it all unfolded the way it did as it helped mold me into the person I am today. All for the love of football!
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