When I first played organized sports, my baseball uniform was made of flannel, a one bar helmet protected my noggin on the football field, and my basketball shorts were too short for anyone to be wearing. I wore those funky-looking Kurt Rambis-type glasses while red, white, and blue sweatbands adore my wrists. It didn’t matter when or where I played, most importantly, I was now part of a team.

I took my share of bumps and bruises, hard hits and hard knocks. I even punished a few opponents, too. One year saw stitches sewn above an eye, another  black and blued by a baseball caught near my hairline instead of my mitt. All told, in one sixteen-month period I suffered three known concussions with three others a possibility. If you think this is a diatribe about sports injuries and a warning to parents to keep their kids out of sports, you’d be incorrect.

Because of sports, I learned about life. The lessons that I was exposed to are difficult to replicate outside of athletics. I learned how working together allows everyone to achieve more. Wide World of Sports had it right, though. There was a “thrill of victory” and an “agony of defeat.”

Mixed in all those plays, pitches and jump shots, I learned about guts, going the extra yard, and that get back up when you’re down attitude. I was schooled by men who gave up their free time and many times instructed me without pay. They were police officers, firemen, blue collar laborers, priests, teachers, bankers and businessmen.  There is no price you can place on the knowledge they instilled in me.

I still use these lessons today. Four winters ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

I learned then and I apply now the concept of team. My wife, my doctors and therapists, and I face this battle as a team. The grit and never say no attitude to take one more step today was learned reaching for that end zone on Friday nights. I found out that sometimes we have to throw a change-up when my body refuses to cooperate. Discipline is my strongest ally, exercise and diet my pick and roll.

When I first visited my mother after the initial diagnosis, through her tears she hugged me asking for  forgiveness for doing this to me. “I should have never let you play sports.”

“I’m glad you did, Mom. Without sports, I would never had the knowledge to live like a champion everyday.”