Good Sport: Jeff Laughlin

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Jeff Laughlin, who will be covering sports for Triad City Beat, makes his intro. Still waiting on that head shot, Jeff….

A Life In (and Out of) Sports. By Jeff Laughlin

My sporting life ended. And then, years later, it began anew.

A few years ago, my mother found the time capsule I made in the fourth grade — a project from Mrs. Young’s class at Roger R. Bell Elementary School in Havelock. I felt the proverbial embarrassment of riches at the trove of artifacts therein and, well, actual embarrassment at the things I wanted out of life at 9-years old.

Basically, the whole list boiled down to me playing for the Boston Celtics. While most kids in my class wanted to be an astronaut, fireman or cop, I held fast to my belief that a shaky ball-handler with no premier defensive skill would be of such use to the Celtics that he could change the makeup of the NBA.

I still have that dream. Only now, I know it won’t come true.

Now I fill my days watching and writing about sports, imagining impossible game-winners and post-game press conferences before witnessing them.

Oh, the clichés I have collected.

At least at 9 I knew how to make my dreams come true. I wrote down “Hard work, preservance [sic] and dedication,” following the “What will it take to achieve your dream?” question. I think I copied the phrase from a Larry Bird poster on my wall.

That’s the line they feed kids who want to play sports: Hard work trumps skill, until the day comes when you realize it doesn’t.

That day came for me after a second year of riding the bench at Havelock Middle School. I know no one really kept records of our team, but I may have been the only kid in school history not to play garbage minutes, which I suspect is because I was booed at a pep rally. Apparently, middle-school kids hate phys-ed teachers enough to boo their offspring.

I should have walked away from athletics right there. I could have been a scholar or diplomat — maybe even the world’s first astronaut cop.

Instead, I took up swimming, the only sport I knew where you could be totally alone and still benefit your team.

I’d like to say I benefitted from a tough coach and rigorous routine, but mostly I got by on talent and quit swimming by the time I went to college. I even turned down a couple of small scholarship offers to go to UNCG.

In the years following, I broke away from sports. I got heavily involved in music, but I never could stop watching basketball. While the pro game languished through the Iverson era — most of my friends hated those years while I secretly stole away to see games when I could — I jettisoned my love of sport to be a headphones kid.

Strolling around college campuses with massive Sony symbols covering half my head, I basically replaced the inner sanctum of chlorinated loneliness with the whitewash of indie rock. I hung with kids who would rather debate punk lyrics than decide who would win the Super Bowl.

These were the dark years. Watching sports came few and far between, even on a campus full of events. I coached an intramural soccer team, because my roommate Larry said, “Any man who owns a green leisure suit should scream from the sidelines.”

That’s about the closest I got to my childhood obsession until my junior year in college. My roommate and I decided to have the laziest summer possible. I had just discovered drinking and gotten my first student-loan check, so we worked and saved during the fall and winter. Then,we quit our jobs and watched baseball all day before hitting the bars at night.

I became a junkie. Any game became an excuse to block out the outside world. I started blogging my obsession and wrote for some online publications while living in New York City. Now I write a weekly column about the Charlotte Bobcats for that city’s altweekly, Creative Loafing.

One lazy summer reintroduced me to the pageantry, but sports have been there all along. Whether I casually dropped Avie Lester’s name to test someone as an NC State fan, debated Darrell Green’s role in developing the modern role of the defensive back or devoured the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend during a yearly take-off-work ritual, I can never turn back. I even read a swimming blog to keep me abreast of talent in America and abroad… two years away from the next summer Olympics.

I traded in my headphones for surround sound and now I can’t hear the people booing. I cut through the water, cruising on talent.

I will earn my way back to my dream while standing on the sidelines. And I will learn as I go. So here goes nothing.