When growing up becomes a spectator sport

Somewhere along the way, my kids grew up — and I missed it.

The same children I spent countless hours watching watching learn how to to throw a ball through a hoop or kick a ball into the back of the net have grown up, gotten married and had kids of their own. They have gone to college, graduated and become doctors, attorneys and leaders in our community.

Obviously, I am not talking about the two children I have at home — although I am beginning to realize that in the blink of an eye, the preceding paragraph will apply to them, too.

I suppose if you stay in one place for more than two decades, it’s bound to happen. While you stay put, time marches on endlessly. Change swirls all around you. One day you are writing stories about the kids on a football team — the next thing you know, you are writing stories about their kids playing on the football team.

In a few months, I’ll celebrate my 22nd anniversary here at the Troy Daily News. In my time here, I’ve written about literally thousands of athletes who have come through the various high school athletic programs in Miami County. When I arrived here, I was just 23 years old — truthfully, just a kid myself. I wasn’t too far removed from the same challenges and triumphs the kids I was writing about were soon going to face.

Maybe that’s why I had an immediate bond with most of them.

In short order, I grew to love those kids and — well before I began raising children of my own — and considered them like my own children. I was fortunate enough to be there for their athletic endeavors. At the time, they probably considered winning the big game against a rival the greatest victory of their young lives — and thought losing a tournament game was the greatest heartache they’ve ever faced.

Now that they’ve had a chance to live life a little — and face true joy and pain — they are starting to realize how insignificant those high school games truly were. Some of them have already been married and divorced. Some of them have held their dream job — and some of them know the fear and desperation that comes along with losing that same job. Some of them have stared down into the face of a newborn child and known, at that moment, how perfect life could be. Some of them already have lost the one person in life who means the most to them.

While they’ve rushed headlong into adulthood, however, I’ve stayed behind, sitting in a pressbox or behind a keyboard, writing about the next generation of athletes. If watching athletes I love grow up and move away is one of the hardest parts of this job, one of the best parts is there’s always a new crop coming in on their heels. The kids I cover never seem to age, because there are always new ones to replace those that have graduated. While they keep getting younger, I continue to age. The kids I interview used to call me “Fong.” The kids I interview today always seem to call me “Mr. Fong.”

My job has afforded me the opportunity to cover athletes at every level — from high school to college to professional. I have interviewed everyone from Peyton Manning to Joe Morgan to Deion Sanders. If a superstar has come through Ohio in the past two decades, there’s a better chance I’ve had the opportunity to speak with them.

None of those have ever been my favorite interviews.

Sure, it’s exciting to talk to a national hero — but to be quite honest, I don’t much remember the details from any of them. I knew, deep down, they were just as interested in talking to me as any other of the hundreds of sports writers they’ve had to talk to throughout their stories careers. The sound bites were crisp and the cliches bountiful. They talked to me because they had to, not because they wanted to.

The high school athletes I’ve grown up with let me into their lives. I took them to pro wrestling events. They called on me when they were struggling with their personal lives. When things were going well, they wanted me to tell their story. When they were battling terminal illness, they still wanted me to tell their story. They invited me to their graduations and weddings. Unfortunately, I’ve been to a handful of their funeral services.

And now, when I stop to take the time and look around, the “kids” I used to cover — my kids — aren’t children any longer. They’ve traded in their cleats for wingtips and high heels and their football and basketball jerseys for suits and ties and dresses. They are shopping alongside me in the grocery store and we are there at the same time picking up our children from school.

All part of life’s cycle, I suppose. I truly am happy to see so many of the kids I used to cover succeeding in so many ways.

Every now and then, though, I wish they’d stop … if only to allow an old man to catch his breath.

Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at dfong@aimmediamidwest.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong