We were all raised as Tigers. More specifically, Massillon Tigers. In the sixties and seventies, in our city, it seemed that everyone had some affinity toward the local high school football team. While in reality we were the "Massillon Washington High School Tigers", the city as a whole had pretty much kicked our venerable first president to the curb and affectionately embraced the football team as only the "Massillon Tigers". I learned at a very early age that the football legacy mattered dearly in my hometown. And my brothers embraced that legacy.
They had the goods - the skills needed for gridiron success. In fact, they were all around athletes. While I trudged along unremarkably in sandlot sports, my brothers consistently took their athletic exploits to new levels, leaving me and my meager skills behind. And while the pressure to live up to their standards was tremendous I found that it was self-imposed. Because my brothers saw me simply as their little brother. It seemed to me that they felt that it was their job to take me under their wing, protect me, teach me, and bring me along at my speed. And to them, it didn't matter that my speed would never be their speed; they recognized things about me that would eventually allow me to find my way in life. Of course I was blinded by this as a child, because then, only one thing mattered to me - how I, too, could become a Massillon Tiger.
But I realized when I struck out far too often, or lost nearly every race I participated in, that I wasn't going to be part of the line of sports succession in my family. And much to mother's chagrin, active participation in organized sports, in the Heath family, ended with my brothers.
I enjoyed watching them play. It was remarkable to see the power of my oldest brother, Andre as he made his way down the field, seemingly pummeling everyone in his way. And my older brother Antonio, to me, was as swift and elusive as a gazelle. They played all sports, effortlessly. It came natural to the both of them. Sitting in those stands and watching them do what they did – no matter the sport – was such a source of pride for me. And even though the elders always asked when I was going to make my mark on the gridiron, the hardwood, or the diamond, it didn't seem to matter as much to me. Because you see, my brothers got me to realize that we all have our own special talents and gifts. And in time, I would be able to embrace mine. And they were right.
And so eventually my desire to join them on the field faded. What joy I got from sports, I received in ancillary participation – student manager or trainer – or vicariously from my brothers' exploits. I was never jealous of them. I didn't ask God why they were given the talent and I was left out. In fact, I easily and joyfully basked in the celebrity that came along with having two brothers on the varsity football team. Because while I would never score the winning touchdown, hit a walk-off homerun, or score the winning shot at the buzzer, I had two older brothers. And they, were Massillon Tigers.