Turning 'I can't' to 'yes I can'

February 15, 2010

As I read "Competing is 'everything'" (Feb. 4), the story of Jimmy Tangires of Glenelg Country School by Glenn Graham, tears swelled in my eyes as my mind drifted back seventy-four years to when I was a junior in Sparks High School, where I had been told by all of the athletic coaches that I was too small to try out for any of their teams. I was only 5-feet 3-inches tall and weighed 108 pounds. This was a horrible disappointment, as I dearly loved playing all sports. However, they did permit me to be the team manager and score-keeper.

Upon graduation from high school in 1938, I enrolled as a freshman in Towson University (Towson State Teachers College at that time). At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was practically lassoed by Donald I. Minnegan, director of athletics, who was affectionately called "Doc" by everyone. "Tommy, (his nick-name for me while everyone else called me Q.D. -- my first two initials for Quinton Donald), you are coming out for the soccer team this year." I responded, "But Sir, I can't; I have never played on any sports teams in my life, and besides I have to go home and help milk the cows." Doc looked at me sternly and said, "I watched you last year in Physical Education classes, and you have great speed, so you are coming out for soccer; and don't ever let me hear you say, 'I can't' again. The answer is 'Yes, I can.'"

Shaking in my boots, I did go out for soccer and made the team, which led me to also making the basketball and baseball teams. This accomplishment was made possible through the kindness of my step-mother and younger step-brother who agreed to assume my milking chores.

In order to fulfill my athletic and academic obligations, it became necessary to make arrangements to become a boarding student by renting a room in a private home. This was made possible by acquiring a part-time job in a service station at 22-1/2 cents an hour, working during my free time during the week and on Saturday up to 10 p.m., all day Sundays, holidays and during the summers.

Courting time with Mary Elizabeth? Seldom, but we were married in February 1946 -- and were blessed with a daughter, son and five grandchildren. Unfortunately, I lost my wife in 1991.

In my Towson University senior year of '41-'42, I was captain of the soccer and basketball teams and played second baseman on the baseball team. Upon graduation in May 1942, I was selected as a member of the All Southern Soccer Team, All State Basketball, received the Outstanding Student Athlete Award and was named as a member of Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, which I accepted in honor of Doc as I did all of my later awards.

I realized these achievements were accomplished mainly through the efforts, guidance and encouragement of Mr. Minnegan, who was without a doubt the most powerful, influential, demanding and productive individual whom I have ever met -- along with my father, Donald W. Thompson, the family and community's warmest, most supportive, devoted, loving Christian man who ever lived.

In the process, I couldn't believe the way Doc drove me. He eradicated the word "No" from my vocabulary. Following practices and some games when he kept me to work on my fundamentals skills and shooting techniques, and to my amazement, it all soon began to fall in line and hang together. I learned from him that one's background and physical size should never be deterrents in one's development and life engagements.

Doc was indeed my second father, mentor and confidant who instilled in me that the accumulation of those athletic skills, self-discipline, aggressiveness, determination and teamwork could effectively be applied to one's academic and professional careers.

Doc's goal for me was to attend his alma mater, Springfield College in Massachusetts, and get an advanced degree in physical education, but World War II interceded, and shortly after graduation from Towson I enlisted in the Navy after being rejected for officer training school in every branch of the service because I was too small. After gaining some weight and receiving a waiver in the Navy for my enlisted service, I attended officers' training school at Columbia University, received my commission and was then assigned to duty aboard the aircraft carrier, The U.S.S. Enterprise, where I was involved in combat service in the Pacific for over two years. While at sea, Doc and I exchanged letters which indeed lifted my spirits.

After the war, and then being recalled for three more years during the Korean Conflict, I was appointed head of the middle school at the Independent McDonogh School located near Owings Mills in 1953, where I stayed for 32 years.

In 1963, Doc founded the Towson University Athletic Hall of Fame, to which I was fortunate to be inducted a few years later. We stayed active together at Towson, where we both were engaged in volunteer service.

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