True sports hero Howard County: How one soccer player turned a bronze medal into pure gold.

March 04, 1996

CAL RIPKEN JR.'S stirring consecutive games record last year? Makes us salivate for Opening Day. Magic Johnson's comeback from his HIV-related retirement? Inspirational. But it was another local sports story this winter that for us exemplified the meaning of sports heroism.

Hamisi Amani-Dove, a 22-year-old soccer player from Columbia, played in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver last summer. As reported in a story by Laura Barnhardt in The Sun for Howard recently, Mr. Amani-Dove was coming off the field, fresh from receiving a bronze medal for his team's effort.

A group of children gathered around the players, clamoring for autographs or sweatsocks as souvenirs. Mr. Amani-Dove saw a boy in a wheelchair, an 11-year-old named Jeff Wolf from Colorado. Mr. Amani-Dove didn't know it at the time, but Jeff Wolf himself loved to play soccer before a trampoline accident at age 8 left him a quadriplegic. Mr. Amani-Dove walked up to the youth, slipped his medal about Jeff's neck and walked away.

Jeff's parents were dumbfounded. How could someone give up a medal he had just won to a stranger? Jeff's father chased Mr. Amani-Dove to the team bus, but the player declined to take back the medallion. The Wolfs tried for months to track down Mr. Amani-Dove, but for months had no luck; gold medals may leave a more elusive trail than glass slippers.

Mr. Amani-Dove, a Rutgers University student who is now off to Holland in pursuit of a professional soccer career, downplays the gift: "It was very important to me, but the competition is what matters -- the fun, the athletes, the game. Winning the medal is secondary."

Every rec coach in the land should recite this story to his charges. Young players often get too swept up in their trophy collections. The amassing of dust-covered trinkets isn't what sports was meant to be, anymore than prima donna pro players preening like peacocks. Amid a wasteland of "Neon Deions" and baseball players offering fans obscene gestures and Charles Barkleys proclaiming that superstars like himself are overly burdened with the responsibility of playing role models (though not too busy to make hamburger commercials), along comes an Hamisi Amani-Dove to show us what heroism in sports means.

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