In the world of journalism, the most important rule in writing isn’t necessarily easy to follow, but it is simple: Show, don’t tell.
When I spoke to the fifth- and sixth-grade students of Towle School yesterday before we made the last 100 foul shots to the quarter-million mark, I tried to articulate why it was important to me to be back in my hometown of Newport for the milestone. I told them it was about the community spirit. I told them it was about the way people care about each other. I told them it was about how Newport, as much or more than any town I know, is truly a family.
I told them … and then they showed me.
With just 24 hours notice, and a great big assist from the wondrous recreation director PJ Lovely, the Towle School welcomed Hoops For Heroes in a way that brought home once again the answer to why we’re putting the ball in the basket. See that photo above, the one of a group of people gathered around a red, white and blue ball? Our collective thank you to our Veterans and military. That’s why.
Just a day before, I had called my friend and former schoolmate PJ and asked, half-groveling, if he thought I could come to town and find a hoop for the quarter-way point. He told me he’d check into it and call back in 15 minutes. He called back in five. We’d be at Towle School at 2 p.m., he said, and there might be a few kids to help with the rebounding. Perfect.
So Noah and I arrived at about 10 minutes of 2, and it wasn’t long before those “few” kids turned into a steady stream, piling in and sitting on the floor around the three-point line. Behind them, students and sixth-grade teacher Dan Cherry held a “HOOPS FOR HEROES 250,000” banner the kids had made. PJ then organized 20 of them to form a circle around the key that would rotate and bring in two new rebounders every 10 made shots.
They gave a little countdown, I fired up the first shot, and … CLUNK.
And … CLUNK
(That’s becoming a tradition.)
And … the third one was true.
On it went. They rebounded. They counted. They yelled. And after five minutes or so …
Two hundred fifty thousand down, seven hundred fifty thousand to go to 1 million made foul shots.
After enough high fives to leave my palms permanently pink, we all gathered around the foul line — around that red, white and blue ball — for a few team photos (Thank you, Josh Gibney of the Union Leader for providing that one above.). They asked me to run through the banner, and I happily obliged. And then Stephanie Gilson’s fifth-grade students lined up to say hello. One by one, they each gave me a high five and a dollar or two — twenty-six of the very best dollars I’ll ever pass along to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
Mrs. Gilson is the daughter of Pat Rude, a former teaching colleague and good friend of my dad’s in neighboring Sunapee. It was one of many wonderful hometown moments. Dan Cherry’s wife Sandy is a former schoolmate. Dr. Marilyn Brannigan, the Superintendent of Schools, now lives in the house I grew up in (and says I can use the old hoop any time). Mrs. Niboli, the co-principal of Towle, is the wife of my former middle school science teacher. Judy Ross, who worked at Towle when I was a student there and has since returned, is the sister of Chuck Goyette, my fifth-grade teacher.
And one of those 20 rebounders, the Halleck boy — the son of Glenn and nephew of Colleen — is bound to be the fastest kid in town if genetics has anything to do with it. Glenn, in his day, might have outrun a Daniel Bard fastball to the plate, and I’m guessing Colleen could outlast Forrest Gump in a run-til-you-drop, even today.
So we finished up with goodbyes in the main office, and on the way out with PJ and Noah, we were stopped on the front steps of the school by a few final high fives and then one last student, a girl. “I have something to give you,” she said, then reached for her wallet, from which she pulled two one-dollar bills and handed them to me. Make that twenty-eight of the very best dollars I’ll ever pass along to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
Thanks so much to everyone involved, particularly PJ Lovely, Kathy Niboli and Peggy McKenney for putting something special together on ridiculously short notice. The faculty and staff pulled it off, and the kids — oh, those kids — they showed me why we were exactly where we were supposed to be for No. 250,000 … in Newport.
I can’t wait to do it again.