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Jewish World Review May 10, 2000 / 5 Iyar, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Maybe it's time for the right people to hear our cheers -- Jim Parque, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, was very unhappy about something recently, and he made his displeasure known to reporters assigned to cover his team.

What made Parque upset was that not enough people were coming out to cheer for him and his teammates while they played baseball.

"I don't know what else we can do," Parque complained to the reporters. "It's mind-boggling. I don't understand. I mean, we're winning. What do we have to do, throw perfect games and hit every pitch out of the park before they come out?

"It's not like the weather's bad. . . . You're just like, hello? Gives you a little boost when you strike somebody out and you hear a massive roar, or a guy hits a home run and the place goes nuts."

Well, yes, it undoubtedly does. Professional athletes, who make handsome amounts of money to play games, who earn their livings by doing the things other people do for fun, who are used to having reporters write down their every utterance, and having adoring fans stand up to applaud them, are so accustomed to the sound of cheers that evidently they consider it to be their right. Part of the benefits package -- strangers screaming out their love. And when the shouts of love are not there, they complain.

In yesterday's column, the case of John Rocker was discussed. Rocker, who has just returned to duty as a relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves after his much-publicized enforced absence from baseball, had this to say to reporters who were assigned to speak with him on his first night back: "Beat it."

That's what can happen to young men who, from the time they are children, are pampered and treated like royalty because they can run swiftly or throw a small ball with accuracy. They become so used to strangers seeking their great thoughts that they begin to believe they deserve it. And meanwhile, men and women who are just as skilled as the ballplayers -- men and women who teach brilliantly, who excel at the sciences, who work tirelessly in fire departments and police departments and children's protective agencies -- never hear a cheer.

It will probably always be thus. But last week, while Jim Parque was complaining that not enough people were cheering him and his fellow ballplayers, while John Rocker was directing people who wished to hear his words to "beat it," I was thinking about a young woman who lives in Ft. Meyers, Fla. Her name is Laurie Dickinson, she's 18, and she is a senior at Estero High School. She had let me know about something that seems to be one small step toward making our priorities more sane.

At her school, she said, there are pep rallies to honor the students who do well in classes -- who study hard and improve their grades. The rallies are the same kind that have traditionally been held for school athletes -- complete with cheers, awards and music:

"For the past five years we have been celebrating and rewarding academics right up there with the football team."

At her school, she said, the pep-rallies-for-good-students program is called Renaissance, and is part of a national effort sponsored by Jostens, the yearbooks-and-class-rings company; other schools, on their own, are beginning to hold rallies for good students. People apparently are finally beginning to realize that to applaud and celebrate only the good athletes is not just narrow-minded -- it is counter to everything that matters in the real world. High school athletes are to be encouraged for the work they put into their sports, but the fact is, a tiny percentage of them will go on to make their livings playing those sports as adults.

But the boys and girls who study in silence -- some of whom go home to empty houses, who never hear a word of encouragement from anyone -- are much more likely to turn their quiet work into something that makes the world a better place. The boy who spends long hours learning physics, the girl who makes herself understand the higher levels of mathematics -- who cheers for them? Who tells them that they are doing a good job, that their diligence matters?

What is going on at Estero High School in Florida, and is beginning to go on at other schools -- loud rallies to cheer for the students who do their best in class -- seems to be a good start. Jim Parque and his teammates will hear plenty of applause this summer, especially if they win enough games; John Rocker will be surrounded by reporters whether he has anything of merit to say or not. We don't need to worry about them. To the boys and girls who have never received an ovation, though . . . well, they're overdue.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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