Thursday, October 5, 2017

A tribute to my first Hall of Famer

I remember the first time I saw Jere White: the Myth, the Legend, the Zeus-like Superstar Athlete.
For years as kids we used to play neighborhood pick-up tackle football games on Eric Annis’ lawn off Morton Avenue in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. It didn’t dawn on us that it was really creepy playing football right next to the embalming room of a funeral home. It only mattered that the lawn was the largest makeshift football field in town, and Eric already had the largest dog in town, a great dane that I swear must have been operated by remote control.
Jere was larger than life to me. I had heard about him for years but he lived on the Dover side of town, which seemed as far away as California or World Peace. And then one day he showed up unannounced at Eric Annis Field to play and I was in total awe. I remember being scared to tackle Jere because I had built him up in my mind over years of silly childhood imagination to be a demigod, quite capable of charging through me like a lightning bolt or leaping over me like Pegasus carrying pigskin. He was a chiseled statue in the making.
I never imagined at that time that Jere would one day become “Whitey,” my classmate, my teammate, and one of my best friends for life. He became my Ferris Buehler hero.
This weekend Whitey is being inducted into the Foxcroft Academy Athletic Hall of Fame. I am happy and proud of him for this. Although I regrettably am unable to be there for his honor, I am honored to have played football and basketball and baseball alongside him, not to mention being his buddy and co-pilot in the rusted, beat-up blue car we called “The Bomb” that he used to drive to school. It had a corroded hole on the passenger side floor that I figured I could use to power the car in Fred Flintstone fashion in the event we ran out of gas. I was Whitey’s Barney Rubble.
In baseball, Whitey was our catcher who was always in control. He was serious as a clutch-hitter, but I remember the fun he had behind the plate. How he would get into his crouch then spin his arms like a paddle wheel, a signal to me at second base that it was time to smile and play the game with joy.
In basketball, Whitey was what I always envisioned a point guard to be. He was a take-charge guy who could muscle-up and drive to the basket and score at will whenever he wanted to.
In football, Jere was our Joe Namath. He had Broadway Joe’s poster on his bedroom wall and when we as a team started wearing white cleats like Joe Willie our senior year it seemed like destiny. Those were the best years even though we didn’t have the best teams.
I remember the night we ran countless wind sprints all the way to the other side of the practice field in the dark to pick leaves as punishment after Whitey expressed our team’s frustration and lipped off at our legendary team trainer Lap Lary. It was the worst practice of our lives, but strangely it brought us closer together as a team and as naturists I suppose.
I was the starting safety and back-up quarterback behind Whitey. The highlight of my career was catching an arching perfectly-thrown 70-yard touchdown pass from Whitey in my first start at wide receiver on the very first play of the game in the final home game of our football careers – a 60-0 win over Greenville. I did my Elmo Wright high-kicking TD celebration in the end zone which I now regret. Shorthanded and low on morale, the game turned out to be Greenville’s final high school football game.
The next week, playing our first ever game under the lights in Bangor against John Bapst, our crack coaching staff decided to run the identical play for the first play of the game again to stun John Bapst as we did Greenville. I ran my precise double-move route downfield and looked back for the ball. Whitey already was flat on his back as John Bapst defense wisely anticipated the play, blitzed and sacked him.
So much for smart coaching and the element of surprise.

Yet my most vivid memory of Whitey came in a home game earlier that season against stinkin’ Lincoln. We were tired and irritated and struggling on defense and Whitey, our co-captain, suddenly stepped in, faced us, raised his voice and delivered a quick fire-and-brimstone speech that instantly refreshed our spirits and raised our intensity. We loudly clapped our hands and broke the huddle united as rejuvenated and fired up as I ever remember being in my life.
That spoke volumes to the leadership capabilities that Whitey possessed. He didn’t say much – like Joe Montana – but when he did it was instant inspiration.
It’s also a vivid example of how much my teammates and I looked up to Whitey. Since that day on Eric Annis’ field, I have idolized Whitey and, to be honest, some 50 years later I still do. And I’m still scared to tackle him.
So, speaking for the FA Class of 1972, I would like to congratulate Jere on his honor. He is our classmate, our teammate, our friend, and now our Hall of Famer.