By Tim Hayes
As one plows one’s way through the different phases of life, certain people take center stage and remain there, others capture the spotlight for a time then fade away, then there are the scores of peripheral players who come and go, some making a more memorable – although fleeting – mark than others.
One such person in my life was Buck Nelson*.
Buck seemed to live at the municipal park near the house where I grew up. An older gentleman – although I’m probably past the age now that he was then – Buck stood as the authority on all things sports that happened at that park. He coached the best of four Little League baseball teams each year, he also held the whistle for the Pee-Wee football team that represented our little borough, and everyone simply deferred to Buck on any decision or question regarding equipment, the use of fields for practice, anything.
Buck ran our town’s sports activities for young kids. Period.
Now, faithful readers of this blog can tell you that the sum total of my athletic prowess wouldn’t fill a half a thimble. But that didn’t mean I never hung around that park. Pick-up games happened all the time on those fields, and I’d bang around with my buddies, having fun, knowing that no one kept score in a book and no spectators sat in the stands.
When the game didn’t count, that’s when I felt comfortable playing. When it did, that’s when I felt comfortable watching or helping out. A simple rule that seemed to work pretty well.
So, in my usual role of observer and hanging-around guy, the continuous presence of Buck – even then, from an elementary-school kid’s perspective – always struck me as a little odd. Looking back now, many decades later, that sense of unease has only grown.
None of my friends ever told me about anything weird or strange or questionable going on regarding Buck, and certainly I never got close to that inner circle of juvenile jockdom where Buck took the lead. Chances are that nothing weird or strange or questionable ever happened to anybody, and I’m sure Buck’s gone on to his eternal reward – or punishment – by this time, anyway.
But isn’t it disquieting that such thoughts and suspicions have become almost the assumed truth any longer? That the news, nearly every day, features at least one story of a parent, or parent’s boyfriend, or teacher, or coach, or priest, or scoutmaster doing something so heinous and reprehensible to a child?
No doubt, the vast – vast – majority of adults who take on leadership roles involving children do so with a clean heart and a sense of honor and duty. And they should be thanked and respected, even as safeguards should remain in place and accountability must be insisted upon at all times.
There’s nothing in the world more valuable and precious than a child’s innocence. Once it has been damaged or shattered, it can never be restored. Anyone who does so deserves equally dreadful recompense.
So, did Buck Nelson behave responsibly all those years, with all those young boys, in that municipal park decades ago? Only he and his youthful charges will ever know. I certainly hope so, and have no evidence after all this time to seriously think otherwise.
But the fact that it still raises doubts in my mind may be the more troubling truth of it all.
* This is a fictitious name.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting