It was Dustin Rayno Day at Sutton Central School today. Dustin, that dude to your left in that photo above, has been as dedicated a supporter of Hoops For Heroes as we’ve had, and you see that chart up there on the SCS multi-purpose room wall? Believe it or not, there are 1 million tiny little squares in that chart, one for each shot we’re planning to make, and Dustin has filled out most of them as we’ve gone along.
The last time we were at Sutton Central — professional home to one Linda Messer, my momma — it was two days before Christmas 2009, and there wasn’t a whole lot of red on the chart, as you can see in that photo to the right.
There’s been some pretty substantial progress since then, and thanks to Dustin for keeping track of the number, and keeping up with ink duty.
Thanks, too, to principal Steve Potoczak for today’s invitation, to do-everything office manager Becca Rowe for the all-around assistance, and to librarian Karena Sturgis to saving the day by providing two Flip cameras after I realized I was without a memory card for the video recorder. Duh.
But most especially, props to Dustin, who stood by my side and “sweated like a hog,” as he said, for a couple of hours worth of handoffs while his schoolmates took turns rebounding.
In a K-5 school of fewer than 100 kids, it was easy for everyone to get a turn in the multi-purpose room (one of those purposes being basketball), starting with the fifth-graders and working our way down. In each case, I had a few minutes with the kids to tell them about what we’re doing before we got to shooting.
Most importantly, I wanted to share with them my belief that our appreciation for military service should be worthy of the sacrifice being made by thousands of men and women in uniform every single day, and my hope that they will think often of Veterans, and of our service men and women, rather than reserve gratitude for days that it’s expected of us.
If I were asked to write an essay explaining what I mean by that, here’s what I’d write:
Another Memorial Day has come and gone. For many of us, that included a long weekend, a cookout, the local holiday parade, a makeshift slip-and-slide in the backyard, time with family. For my family, it also included a Sunday graduation party at a restaurant on Lake Winnisquam, where we congratulated our buddy Brett for recently earning his Tilton School diploma, on his way to Elmira College.
He was a little boy yesterday, wasn’t he? Now he’s about 6-foot-4 and solid as concrete blocks, heading off to college to play lacrosse and study criminal justice. And a great, great kid.
We were on the back deck eating our early dinner at a picnic table when The Beautiful Heth and I met a couple whose son is a buddy of Brett’s. I was sitting next to the dad, and it wasn’t long before I learned he is a Veteran of Operation Desert Shield, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury before being nursed back to health at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
“I know there have been some bad things written about Walter Reed,” he said. “But they gave me my life.”
It’s been more than 20 years since Desert Shield, but Memorial Day is still bittersweet. “Twelve members of my unit were killed,” he said. “This is a hard time of year.”
Once again, I am struck by the fact that I understand Memorial Day in two dimensions — through news reports, written words, second-hand information — while so many others tragically know it in three. I think of our Tennessee friend Gary Flanagan, whose nephew Sgt. Dennis James Flanagan was killed during his second tour in Iraq on January 20, 2006. I think of the emails from this project’s supporters, telling us of loved ones who have paid that price. I think of the more than 6,000 United States families who have been delivered the worst possible news since this country’s fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
And among those families, of course, I think of the Decoteaus of Waterville Valley, whose son, Army Specialist Marc Decoteau, was killed in Afghanistan on January 29, 2010. It was less than a month after he had been killed that we met Marc’s family and shot in his memory, and these are the words his dad sent me that night:
Our son served bravely and honorably, however, he isn’t unique among the men and women of our military. Many others in uniform right now would exchange places with him without hesitation. Not because they want to die, but if they could protect their fellow soldiers or defend our country even at the cost of their life they would do so. Thank you for making Marc a part of your tribute — but let him be a representative for his fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
For me, and maybe for you, Memorial Day comes around once a year. For those families, and for those brothers and sisters in arms, it’s May 30, 2011, it’s today, it’s next Thursday, it’s two months from Sunday, it’s five years from today. For them, it’s every day.
Please remember that.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.