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Determination made career change pay off

April 01, 2006|By Dee Mayberry

What happens when a dream crashes and its pieces lie scattered about - never to be repaired?

A father sees a son walk away from the family farm. A promising romance falls apart. A talented athlete sustains a serious injury. Dreams cover things small and large - sometimes as lasting as news that a family will have no children, or as limited as a college rejection, or a job promotion denied. What seems permanent and unmanageable to one, may appear less important to another.

The response is highly iandividualized as are the decisions, the spirit that follows.

There is a story to be told about the dream of one little boy with loving parents of modest means who did not realize his long-held dream.

From early days he threw a football around with friends in the neighborhood. He and his dad watched pro games on television. Sometimes they could afford to go to one. For the boy, an early dream that took shape later turned into passionate desire.

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In street football and school games, he began to look pretty good. A persistent kid, he worked at it and by high school he looked very good. Mom and dad knew money was a hurdle. Pro players tend to come out of college teams. He worked at his studies. Moreover, he came from a family that valued education and admired educators.

Somehow, an expensive, high achieving school noticed him on the neighborhood ball field. The pricey school with the fine teachers and small classes could use a ball player able to meet their demanding academic standards. A scholarship, tied to grades and athletics, was offered.

The boy wanted to stay with his friends, and play on his local team, but parents prevailed and he showed up the first day at the school across town. Children of the limousine crowd didn't think too much of the new kid in his bargain basement bell bottom pants and his shaggy hair. Plainly he didn't fit in.

It's not easy for any teenager to be in situations so unfamiliar. It is never easy to be the minority, judged not by what you are but by what you have. The boy grew up understanding that extremely well.

In those years, however, the school headmaster found him to be a good student, an honest hardworking kid who could be trusted to give his best in exchange for what he got. To the big man - so knowledgeable about people - this boy plainly was more than just a plus for the football team.

His parents, still powerfully devoted to education, hoped for a college scholarship and cheered when he got one at a fine university. His arrangement there didn't cover everything and there were times when he sold peanuts in stadium stands to earn extra dollars.

In addition to academics, his college years provided the chance to play ball. That experience gave strength to a small boy's early dream. Maybe a pro scout would come along. Maybe, the dream of a career in professional football actually could come to be.

On his father's wall hangs a picture of the son the day he played with two broken wrists. That photo is proudly displayed because it shows the character and strength of a young man determined to give full value for the education he was receiving.

The dream was shattered one day on the field. Football is a tough, physical game. Career-ending injuries happen, even to pro players.

The student who played with two broken wrists could not continue with damage to his legs. His game days were over. Another might have slid into a lifetime of "what if ..." or "if only ..."

Instead the young man's faith kicked in. He gave thanks that he was not crippled. He could walk, talk, write and depend on his fine brain more than his strong body.

Remnants of a broken athletic dream were put aside. A different career path was selected and received the same dedication as the original. He chose a career of service.

He became a member of the Maryland General Assembly and was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was never defeated.

The young man, who early on understood what it is like to not fit in, identified with those lacking money and family connections, those who hold underdog positions and pull themselves up by spirit, will and determination has a name well-recognized by the people he serves. He is Robert L. Ehrlich, now governor of Maryland.

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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