Friday, December 08, 2006

A night for heroes

It was a night for heroes. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about it.

The annual Halls B&P Christmas banquet is one of those things you complain about having to go to, then when you get there, you love it. That was indeed the case tonight.

Start with the speaker. John Ward is just what St. Mary's guy Jerry Askew says he is -- a living legend. Volunteer football and basketball just hasn't been the same since the venerable play-by-play announcer hung his microphone up for good in 1999.

I used to sit on the sideline at the old Brickey Elementary School and "call" basketball games during Mike Ogan's gym class. Every basket was a "bottom." During football, every touchdown meant you had to say "Give Him Six!"

Ward is a class act, no doubt about it. His word pictures brought the gridiron and hardwood Volunteers to life for two generations of Tennessee fans. Hearing that voice again was something else.

But wait. It gets better.

The B&P always picks a Halls Man and Woman of the Year. We've had some good ones down through the years, people who literally built the community into what it has become. But this year's recipients are that rare, precious commodity --- fine human beings.

Donnie Ellis and I once spent an evening going through old Shoppers in his basement. He was Sandra Clark's first Shopper guy. He did a little of everything, but his heart bled Big Red football. He covered the Red Devils for 25 years --- stopping ironically enough the year before Halls won the state championship in 1986.

I've driven with him to upper East Tennessee to tag those No Ugly Trees, I've sang Southern Gospel music with him, even got to sit in his cool Red Hummer when he first bought it. Donnie's a good one. I'll be forever thankful we became pals.

And, gosh, what to say about Millie Norris.

I told this tonight at the banquet: I'll never forget the first time I met Millie. She came up to me at a Halls High banquet a decade ago.

"I just gotta get my picture taken with Elvis," she said, making references to my then occasional appearances as The King around Halls.

In the proceeding 10 years, I have never once seen Millie without a smile on her face. She's one of those gentle souls we all wish we could be --- you always leave her presence feelin' good, and consider yourself blessed just to know her. If anybody ever deserved to be Halls Woman of the Year, it's Millie.

When you're a kid, you admire the big league ballplayers, the talented performers, all those great actors you see on TV and in the movies. But they aren't really heroes.

That word should be reserved for the people who get up early on Saturday to pick up trash. They are the volunteers who sit with the elderly or take meals to those who can't do for themselves. You can find them in every community, although they don't usually draw attention to themselves. We've got two good ones here in Halls.

And, boy, you gotta use the word hero when you talk about them, now.

Cause they are. Yes, indeed, they are.

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