Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Prince and the Shoe

Campus Safety.

Its amazing how two words can trigger a flood of painful and promising memories.  After I finished college, I was broke, both figuratively and literally.  I needed a job and a plan and didn't feel capable of being a grown up.  I went back to what was safe for me...softball and school.  I became a graduate assistant for the team and took a job as a secretary in the Lee's Campus Safety office.

I logged parking tickets.
I assigned parking tags.
I made ID's for students and teachers.

Everyday I would look out the window of the 3rd floor of the admin building and stare at the fountain.  I would long for things to get easier and wonder when I would get one of those adult lives that seemed so perfect.   I couldn't imagine what that looked like for me.

I knew the fairy tale.  I knew the story of the Prince who rides in on a white horse and saves the princess from the evil stepmother.  The problem with that story is perspective.  My perspective.  In my world, things just didn't work out that way.  I was convinced I had something to do with it.

I went through the motions.


Everyday I could feel a piece of me chipping away.  I continued to look out the window but I knew it was a matter of time before the parts of me that believed in something better would no longer be there.

I guess I never believed in the fairy tale.  The idea of "Love at First Sight" was such a dreamy, fantastical thought.  The idea of being rescued seemed quite primitive.  I didn't want to be rescued.  I wanted to be joined.

Quite simply, the part of the fairy tale that I actually believed in was the shoe.  The prince placed the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot and it FIT.  I would find myself wondering how the story changed if the handsome guy with the cool ride presented a shoe that didn't fit the princess.  Is it still happily ever after with sore feet?

Enter Campus Safety.  
Enter the new, young assistant basketball coach.
Enter the policy that all new employees must get a staff ID.

It wasn't love at first sight, it actually took months for that, but instantly I knew he wasn't like anyone I had met before.  He was driven, confident (maybe cocky, at times), with a kindness in his eyes that made me feel safe.

Last night, Johnson Central High School recognized something in my husband that I've known for 15 years and inducted him into their Hall of Fame.  Below is the speech he wrote for the presentation:

First of all I would like to thank Aimee, Noel and the committee for all of their hard work in putting this event together.  I would also like to congratulate the other 9 members of the HOF Class of 2014, many of which I have fond memories of.  I am truly humbled and honored to be joining my dad in the Johnson Central High School Hall of Fame.
 I have a few special guests that I would like to recognize and thank for being here on this special occasion. My parents, Robert and Lillian, my brother Adam and his wife Erin, my uncle Roger and aunt Diane, my good friend and radio sidekick Michael Lawson, and last but certainly not least my wife Autumn, son Tate and daughter Lily. 
The old African proverb states that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Tonight I stand before you as a child of the village known as Johnson Central High School.  As I look across this room, I see a lot of villagers.  You see, my relationship with this high school goes way beyond the four years that I spent here as a student . My relationship with this high school dates back to the day I was born in 1974. With both parents working here, my formative years were spent running these halls and interacting with two decades worth of students, many of whom are in attendance tonight and are already in this HOF. There probably isn’t a place that I spent more time as a child than in that gym across the hall. No group of people had a bigger influence on a 9 year old boy, than the 1984 15th Region Championship Basketball Team.  Being the son of their principal who was always tagging along, it would’ve been easy for them to get tired of me and push me aside. Instead, they accepted me as a little brother and made me feel like a member of the team. Guys like Harry Meek, Les Trimble, Mike and Mo Hall, and Roger Fairchild, who I am a proud to join as a member of this HOF, taught me the importance of being a role model to those who look up to you. As long as I live I will never forget that night at Virgie when Harry Meek hit the shot at the buzzer to beat Magoffin County and send Johnson Central to the Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena!  I also will never forget dad picking me up by the arm and spanking my rear end because I was so excited I took off running onto the court to join the celebration. I can honestly say this team and group of guys made me dream of some day wearing the black and gold and being a Johnson Central Golden Eagle.
The four years that I spent as a student here were four of the best years of my life. I made many lifelong friends and had some of the best teachers that I had in my academic career that spans thru two post graduate degrees. Folks like Brenda Pennington, Patty Setser, and Shirley Chaffin, whom I playfully nicknamed “The Triumvirate”, were as tough and as good as they come. Throw in Cathy Gullet and I couldn’t imagine a better English Department anywhere. A funny story about the late Shirley Chaffin that many in the audience can probably relate to ……When I see Red, the first thing that comes to mind is surprisingly not Louisville or even Indiana….its Shirley Chaffin’s red pin and the damage it could do to an English paper. That sweet woman had to keep Bic in business for forty plus years. True story, as a freshman at Morehead we had to do an end of term paper in freshman English. When I got the assignment, my initial thought was I had just done a term paper six months ago for the toughest most thorough teacher I had ever known. Surely, if it was worthy of a 92 with Shirley it would be good enough for Mrs. Lemaster.  So, I pulled out the old paper and the only thing I changed was the date on the cover page. I got a 98, six points higher than with Mrs. Chaffin.
Some of the fonder memories of my childhood were traveling around the state of Kentucky with my dad and his FFA boys. Dad, along with Clarence Meek, Leon Burchett, TJ Cochran, and Roger Mollette built one of the best FFA programs in the state.  It was an honor to be a 4 year member of the FFA program that my dad helped build. Many of the leadership skills that have helped me have a successful career were learned and developed in the FFA Program here at Johnson Central. Being Chapter President for three years and winning the first two individual state championships in the programs history are things that I am proud of to this day.
As most of you would expect, one of the things that I am most proud of is fulfilling my childhood dream of playing basketball at Johnson Central. My senior season of 1991-92 was a special year. After losing several seniors from a top ten team in the state my junior year, not much was expected from the team.  We only had two seniors, myself and Tim Delong –the best 6’0 Center I ever saw, and we became affectionately known as the Cardiac Kids for our flare for late game come from behind wins. One that I will never forget is the first game against our arch rival Paintsville that year.  Paintsville was predicted to be one of the best teams in the 15th Region and contend for the region title. No one gave us a chance against the Tigers, and we found ourselves down by 8 points midway through the fourth quarter. As we did many times that season, we mounted a furious comeback and I was able to cap the comeback with a three pointer at the buzzer to beat our rivals, 81-80. We made a similar comeback to beat them later in the year across the creek at Paintsville. They were so upset that they had lost two close ones against us, that they agreed to a third regular season game on a night that we both were off, thinking that surely a third time would be the charm. No such luck, we beat them again, something that I couldn’t be more proud of. We finished the season by winning the 57th District Regular Season Championship over Sheldon Clark and would’ve been the #1 seed going into the District Tournament if it were seeded like it is today, but back then you drew your first round opponent and unfortunately for us we drew the Sheldon Clark team that finished second behind us in the regular season and was one of the best teams in the 15th Region. We went into the post season on a roll and were considered the dark horse team to win the 15th Region Title by the Lexington Herald Leader. That dream came to an end in Magoffin Co as Sheldon Clark beat us in the first round of the district tournament.  My senior season allowed me to realize another childhood dream by getting the opportunity to play college basketball at Morehead State University.
I had five great years of college that prepared me and propelled me into a career. I split those five years between Morehead and Milligan College.  Some highlights of my college career were getting to play against Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and winning a conference championship and playing in the NAIA National Tournament at Milligan for the first time in school history in any sport. Playing basketball in college opened the door to my first career as a college basketball coach. I was blessed with the opportunity to coach and recruit for eight years at almost every level of college basketball from JUCO to NAIA to NCAA Division I. The leadership and relationship skills that I learned at Johnson Central prepared me to travel all over the world and recruit talented basketball players from all walks of life.
Over the past few minutes I have talked about many of my accomplishments. None of these things would have been possible without the support of my parents. As I mentioned earlier, they both worked at this high school and I am so thankful that they included me in their careers as opposed to leaving me at daycare. I would like to recognize and thank my mom for all of her sacrifice over the years so that I never missed a practice, a game, or an opportunity to get better. I would like to thank my dad for always knowing the right buttons to push to motivate me to be the best that I could be both academically and athletically.  Excellence was the standard in the O’Bryan household. It’s amazing how life brings you full circle.
Fast forward to today, I find myself married to a wonderful woman who just happens to be a high school principal with a nine year old little boy and an 8 year old little girl. Every day I spend with them makes me feel like I am looking through the rear view mirror into my childhood. Cleveland High School is the village that we live in today.  This past fall was a flashback to 1984 as I watched my children become a part of our State Semi-Final Football Team, Lily as a cheerleader and Tate as a ball boy and spirit leader.  Our All State QB Austin Herink is Tate’s version of Harry Meek. When we lost one game short of the state championship I watched a disappointed nine year old boy walk out on the field to console and congratulate his heroes, and I couldn’t help but think back to 1984 when another 9 year old boy did the same thing in Rupp Arena.  I thank God each day that my children are being raised in a village very similar to the one that raised me.
It's our story.  It hasn't always been easy and the "adult life" isn't all its cracked up to be.  One thing I know.  He still has kindness in his eyes that makes me feel safe. 

On the day of our wedding, he ironically gave me a pendant that said "To My Missing Piece."  How about that?  Fairy tales do come true.  Its just in my fairy tale, its all about the shoe.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Spaghetti Arms

It was the first time I had ever had a boy over for dinner.  I was in 5th grade and my mom had made spaghetti.  In my 11 year old mind, it felt long overdue.  I thought his mullet and leather jacket were dreamy.

~I pause here to say that my son is in 4th grade.  Any mother who is reading this, should take a big gasp of a breath.  The thought of a girl being "dreamy" to my son is not just terrifying, its gut-wrenching and all-around impossible to think about~

OK.  Back to dinner.  My parents had some adult friends over.  As I set the dining room table and counted the plates, I started to panic.  Each plate represented a person, and none of those people included me or my dreamy boy that was coming to dinner.  I knew the answer before I even asked, "Mom, where are WE sitting?"

He arrived and we sat in the living room while my two crazy brothers ran around jumping from cushion to cushion on the couch.  He pretended to be amused, but he was thinking the same thing I was.  "Man, I wish they would calm down or go outside and play in the snow."  No such luck.

And then it was dinner time.  I tried to prepare him for the crazy he was about to experience as we walked past the "adult table" and into the kitchen.  There they sat at the kitchen table, Monster #1 & Monster #2.  He nervously laughed as he sat down while they clanked their forks on the table, a symbol that someone, somewhere had better be bringing them food soon.

It only went downhill from there.  They talked about their poop, they blew bubbles in their milk, they laid spaghetti noodles across his arm.  None of this comes close to comparing to the holy terror of embarrassment that followed with four simple words.  "Are you her boyfriend?"

I could tell you story after story of my ill-behaved, crazy brothers.  Stories about self-inflicted BB gun wounds, baby oil slip and slides in the hallway, mattress fires, and other down-right scary nonsense that should have caused them to be in juvenile court.  They were doozies straight out of the Herdman family.  If you don't know the Herdmans, google them and you'll read about the craziest, misbehaving family you've ever heard of that somehow sabotages a Christmas pageant and helps the world see Christmas through their eyes.  These boys were nuts.

I am the oldest child and have two younger brothers.  I am 5 1/2 years older than Tony and 7 years older than Rusty.  When I left for college, they were 11 and 12.  I wrote over Thanksgiving about Tony here.  He was the leader of the Monster Twins and quite inventive.  He would build and concoct lots of trouble for the two of them to get into.

Rusty, was a tad bit more strategic.  He was the baby and as cute as a button with a headful of curly red hair.  He played the young and innocent card long after his innocence had left.  Tony would create these crazy adventures, like convincing people to tip them for carrying their pumpkins, and then Rusty would go in the pumpkin field, bat those long eyelashes, and make a ton of money.  When they got caught, it would always be Tony's fault for thinking of it, while Rusty stood over in the corner with a pocketful of cash.

You can imagine, as an 18 year old, the idea of leaving these pre-teen devils and moving away to college, couldn't happen fast enough.  I was over their antics and wanted to get as far away from their path of destruction that I could.  I thought the feeling was mutual.

And then the letters started.  I would walk to my post office box on campus and would find the sweetest letter from Rusty.  He would tell me all about church, his science fair project, and basketball.  It was like I watched them grow up on paper.  I often imagine what it would be like to go to college 800 miles away from your family with Facebook and twitter.  There were so many days when a little post-it note sized card from my brother would make me feel like a million bucks.  I envy those that can be immediately connected now.  I craved that twenty years ago.

Its something that unexplainable, and I thank God regularly for it.  Despite many years of torment and even more years living 800 miles away, Rusty and I managed to have such a special bond.  We are extremely alike and world's apart, all at the same time.  Over the years, I have been thankful for the relationship I have with him and how close he is with Robbie, but there is nothing that brings me more joy than my son's pure adoration for his Uncle Bobo.

Tate is blessed with an amazing father, two grandfathers, and three uncles.  All of them have played a major role in who he is becoming, but as Tate gets older, he reminds me more and more of my baby brother.

And a whole lot of silly.

And when the two of them are together, its really kind of eery.  They act EXACTLY alike.

We walked into the game last night, and some man that none of us knew asked if that was Russ' nephew.  His influence oozes out of Tate and it makes me smile.

I was teary last night as the pre-game started.  I watched Tate beam with pride as he looked down on his uncle on the court.  I can only hope that Tate becomes the kind of man whose family feels as lucky and loved as we do.  Even if Lily has to endure some torment of her own.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I'm staring at the wall.  Today I watched as oil slowly poured through a funnel.  I feel like that.  I have a lot of words, but they aren't exiting as quickly as I'd like.  I guess that's why I've been drawn to several Facebook/Twitter statuses lately focused on one word for 2014.

It's an interesting concept.  Choose one word and live it.  Sounds easy enough.

Living the word seems quite simple.  It's choosing the word that's the tough part.  Maybe its a commitment issue.  I mean, once you choose the word, you're in.  It's kind of like accepting the proposal for marriage.  If I say this is the one, then it means its the one.

What if I change my mind?  What if my word doesn't get me the desired results?  What if my word is just too dang hard?  

I don't have the answers to those questions.  All that I know is I'd like to start a new year with crisp focus.  I think having a word might help.

So I debate.  Should I choose a word that focuses on my spirit?  Maybe my word could be about my relationships.  A better word might focus on work or home.


There are so many to choose from, but getting overwhelmed with my selection kind of defeats the purpose.  I think my word might have something to do with all of those.  A word that allows me to love and appreciate all of the working parts that make me, me.

to emphasize, represent, or preserve in a more or less permanent form

That's it!  If there is anything I need more than anything, its more focus on the moments or the things that make my heart pitter-patter.  Even more, though, I need not only focus on them, but I must remember.

There are days when I hear a lot of bad things.  There are days when people treat me badly.  There are days when my heart barely pits, let alone pitter-patters.

It is those days that I need to be reminded.  I need to go back to those moments or things that brought me so much joy.

So that's my word.  I plan to capture.

Capture words.
Capture songs.
Capture pictures.

I want to remember that feeling for the rest of my life.

Happy 2014!

P.S. Today I captured the picture at the top of my post.  I took down all of my Christmas decorations except for my winter-themed hearth.  My dear friend, Michelle, gave me a pillow on it that she made with the word, grace.  It almost became my word for the year, but I did a last minute switch for the word that's been on my mind lately.  Nonetheless, I love the decorations on the hearth and think this pillow fits it perfectly!