By Marty Farmer
The obvious choice for this week's column would seem to be more high school football, right? After all, the OPRF football team battled Glenbard West down to the wire, Friday night, at a packed Oak Park Stadium before succumbing 20-14 to last year's Class 7A state champs. For good measure, the Fenwick football team currently owns an impressive 6-0 record after Saturday's 40-7 demolition of Gordon Tech at Lane Tech Stadium.
However, to call in a mixed sports metaphor out of the sports writing bullpen, I'm going to throw a curveball, topically, that would make even Los Angeles Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw envious.
Besides, something tells me our local preps football squads have major headlines on layaway as both the Huskies and Friars could legitimately make a deep run into the state playoffs.
Instead, I'm going to tell you about the most unique athlete I've every met. His name is simply Ed. Ed hails originally from Manila in the Philippines. Incidentally, I know neither his last name nor a tidbit of personal information other than he's a tinkerer. He likes to work on his car, do yard work and assemble things. He's a process-over-results guy.
I met him one day at the tennis courts at Keystone Park in River Forest. Talk about serendipity! Fast forward six months, and we've surfaced as steady tennis practice partners, hitting the hard courts three times a week. He's 65 (looks 50), and at 5-7, maybe 145 pounds, hardly cuts an imposing figure on a tennis court. His youthful, retro-cool tennis gear, including Billabong and Ocean Pacific T-shirts, complemented by a backwards baseball hat accessory makes my friend appear more old-soul surfer than modern-day baseliner.
To get the perfunctory scouting report out of the way, Ed is a talented player. His forehand and backhand are equally efficient and consistent, with a touch of artistry. He plays coloring-book tennis — all his shots invariably stay inside the lines.
The essence of Ed's tennis, however, is delightfully rooted in a non-competitive approach. Let me amend that characterization; he's actually ultra-competitive but only in the noble pursuit of chasing down fun and maximum self-improvement as a tennis player. We played a match only once and frankly it felt awkward and inappropriate. Our workouts are collaborative not combative.
His refreshing view toward tennis has altered, or at the very least provided me a poignant reminder about what matters most in terms of sports, not to mention life.
Ed has reminded me through the tacit lesson of countless tennis balls hit ritually back and forth, that healthy, fundamental competition resides within. Trite as it sounds, internal competition is about being the best (insert your name) you can be, whether it's in your local softball beer league, at the office or when you're spending time with your kids. Equally important, Ed often serves up conversations during our water breaks about the importance of enjoying life since our time on this earth is fleeting and a non-guaranteed contract. We laugh a lot, too.
Much of our shared good humor stems from our third-party tennis friend, Carl. He's an 83-year-old Oak Park resident with both an "I still got it" forehand and personality. Carl recently purchased a video camera to film our rallies, in slow motion no less. Ed fondly refers to these clips as America's funniest home videos. The real punch line among us, however, is that when Carl purchased the video camera online, the enclosed instructions were Japanese.
As for Ed, I couldn't help but think of him while listening to OPRF football coach John Hoerster console his players after their gut-wrenching loss to Glenbard West over the weekend. Hoerster preached to his players, who were literally stained with blood, sweat and tears, the importance of staying enthusiastic, working hard, supporting each other and getting better every day. Process over results, journey over destination. I think that's what guys like Ed and John Hoerster are all about.
Don't get me wrong — whether its sports or virtually any aspect of life, I believe competition against others is natural, beneficial and revealing. Right or wrong, we live in a scoreboard society accentuated by a Nike-centric "Just Do It" mentality. That said, since I'm assuming none of us or our kids are exactly Peyton Manning, Rafael Nadal or Derrick Rose athletically, our sports endeavors are not done for a living but rather for self-development and enjoyment within the framework of a team.
My recent interactions with articulate and gracious OPRF football players like Jamal Baggett, Xavier Rowe, Andre Lee, Simmie Cobbs and Lloyd Yates have resonated with me much deeper than their impressive play on the football field. I think Ed would like those guys.
Ed and I recently had a discussion about another classy athlete, the legendary tennis pro Roger Federer. I expressed concern about my all-time favorite athlete's struggles this past year on the ATP tour.
Ed replied, "Federer has a great life on and off the court. He has won everything playing a sport he loves, but nothing lasts forever."
Perhaps, that's all the more reason to enjoy the game while we can — win or lose.