In My Front Yard

Heroics on Our Front Lawn

Record-breaking catches and moves never before seen have happened in my front yard. I saw my oldest son make a catch that exceeded anything in all the considerable college and professional football I have watched. My youngest daughter played the best defensive basketball game I’ve ever seen anyone play, and it was a sixth-grade game. But it was pure and good and not for money, just for the joy of competition, the animal instinct to do it as well. It seemed as if she were fighting for life itself. My youngest son scored six touchdowns for Duval High School against arch-rival Hamlin when he was just a sophomore, and less than a thousand people saw it happen.

My point, besides bragging on my kids, is that you don’t have to pay to get into a big stadium or spend afternoons watching TV to observe heroics—they happen all around you. You can see greatness that the rest of the world never gets to see. You can marvel at athletes who never put on a team uniform and know that, if the world could just see them, they would get a Heisman award. People who play outdoor basketball see world-class performances every summer.

Levi Harless, a friend in Lincoln County, was a most gifted athlete. Watching his grace in a pickup basketball game was as much fun, especially if you were on his side, as ringside for an NBA game.

Every year we had one or two athletes at Duval High School who were sensational but never got to show their stuff before a crowd. Sometimes this was because of low grades and sometimes they just didn’t want to practice or they didn’t like a coach or they lived too far from the school. Some had jobs after school, or they preferred hunting deer and squirrel and rabbits and chasing coons at night with their dogs more than they loved organized sports. No matter how often they were told otherwise, a few lacked the confidence that they were good enough to be on the high school team. Many just didn’t want to be told what to do. It was said by coaches that they weren’t “coachable”, but they looked as free as birds leaping in the air during lunch hour in the gym and heading for the woods after school.

More than thirty years ago, I saw a fellow on one of those now-famous outdoor basketball courts in New York drive to the basket, do a one hundred and eighty degree spin in the air, and slam a reverse dunk. I had never seen a slam dunk before. It was my first and best.

 Musicians know they have heard or participated in some impromptu jam sessions that “passed all” as my friends in Nigeria would say. There were sessions that lifted spirits over the trees at three in the morning. And there have been spontaneous remarks made that are so funny or so profound that the author deserves to be featured in a book of quotations. About thirty years ago my neighbor Sam Adkins walked up as I was trying to get a complicated knot out of some toy my daughter wanted fixed. He watched me struggle with it and get impatient and frustrated. I handed the thing to him, and, within a minute or two, he had it figured out. I exclaimed “Sam how did you do that?” He replied, “I wasn’t working by the hour.”

Keep your eyes open, turn off the TV and listen and watch for those heroic moments–they happen often and don’t require Hollywood, NFL, or NBA stars. Your own friends and children are the stars.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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One Response to In My Front Yard

  1. What a wonderful post! Folks need to be reminded of this more often.

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