Co-ops create confusion for newbies, but consistency for competitors and fans

May 22—DICKINSON — High school co-ops have been a necessity in the Roughrider State for longer than most can remember, but the impact on athletics is immeasurable. Consider all the kids who wouldn't have been able to play various sports if not for their existence. It would be a tragedy had nobody arrived at the measure and creation of them.

There's a guy I grew up with who was a four-sport letterman in basketball, football, baseball and track. He was a superstar in three of the four. While basketball didn't necessarily suit his temperament and style, he was able to touch the rim with his elbow despite being only six feet tall. In football, he was offered a scholarship to a school in Arkansas on the strength of his stats at running back and the severity of the hits he distributed at linebacker. A family friend told me once that this guy used to aim for a spot roughly two inches behind the individual he was clobbering, so-as to leave a lasting impression on the poor soul and make them afraid to come through the line in his vicinity again.

He was so good at track and baseball his school let him participate in both sports, simultaneously, and overlap them. This is rare because it engenders animosity among teammates who resent the lack of practice in one or the other, but the overall recognition of his athletic prowess and efforts on the field (or the track) ensured his teammates' silence. Additionally, he was a humble and hard-working teammate, winning him the respect of many.

In track, he was an all-state high-scorer, excelling during an era when you only could compete in three track events and one field event. To practice the long-jump, he would set up a low-hurdle to ensure he got enough lift to go with the length. His 110m high-hurdle time was a school record for many years. He could throw a baseball the length of a football field as a freshman and he hit for power and average while being scouted by three different baseball teams during his prep years — Pittsburgh, the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati, I heard — and this is the spot where the story takes a turn ...

His senior year, when he was in the middle of being looked over by these professional teams, his school in Richmond, Ohio, had to eliminate the baseball team due to not having enough players. He graduated with roughly 64 people, so fielding a full baseball team just became too big a challenge. He continued playing American Legion ball, but it wasn't the same and he didn't get nearly as much attention because he was mildly out of practice due to the discontinuation of the varsity baseball program.

Then, while he could have tried to go to college in Arkansas, he begged off and enlisted in the U.S. Navy because he told me he wasn't that great a student and the Vietnam War was just getting started. He wanted to serve his country but felt it wiser to go to Vietnam by ship rather than onshore and couldn't ensure he would be deferred in the event his grades slipped.

The reason I know all this is because that person was my Dad, and while some of that information is unverifiable — and mildly Paul-Bunyanesque to an outside ear — I'm pretty sure it's all as close to the truth as memory permits.

I consider that Dickinson Trinity and Richardton-Taylor HS — among many others — being able to share the diamond as part of Dickinson Midgets baseball and softball programs to be a perpetual gift to those students, if for no other reason than it allows them to stay busy in honorable pursuits (idle hands being the devil's plaything, after all). But even more so, it encourages them to maybe rise to a level they wouldn't attain if their school was unable to host one athletic program or another. It pleases me to know that Dickinson High School means both, even if it's not mentioned on the marquee.

I know perception is 9/10ths of reality in much the same way possession is 9/10ths of the law. Many people get irritated this time of year when it seems we are giving short-shrift to the Titans. But we hope you know the two are a combined unit and the implication is there and known to us.

What's even better is that these young men and women can enjoy being teammates after growing up together in these various programs and sports. No matter which co-op we might mention, that is the byproduct. We are most-focused on the athletes themselves and how the pursuit of greatness ultimately molds them into better citizens.

Gaylon Wm. Parker's columns are published every Monday. The opinions therein are his own.