The Home Team / No teary goodbyes, please
It was late summer of 1993, and you couldn’t get away from hearing UB40’s reggae-style cover of the Elvis hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on the radio.
Clinton (the male version) was president; “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, was No. 1 at the box office; and the Mets were well en route to a dismal 59-103 season. On Aug. 27 of that summer, with my wife one week shy of giving birth to our third son, my column, “The Home Team,” debuted in the Westport News.
The Home Team moniker might seem to suggest a column about sports — which, incidentally, it often was — but I intended it as a double entendre: The column was also meant to cover what was going down on the home front, since I was, at the time, a youngish stay-at-home dad with two (about to be three) sons. School, sports, kids’ activities, local events — that was my turf.
My inaugural column that last Friday in August of 1993 was called “Carpools I’ve Known and Loved.” I remember clearly the stunned reaction to that title by our sons Matt and Greg, who were 12 and 9 at the time. They actually seemed embarrassed for me.
“What the heck (I doubt he actually said heck) could anyone possibly write about carpools?” Matt asked, incredulous. The piece referred to carpools for PAL Football practice at what was then Bedford Middle School (now Saugatuck Elementary), swimming at the Westport Y (back then, in the middle of town, not out at Mahackeno, where it is now), and Hebrew School at Temple Israel.
As any work-at-home parent knows, carpools are a huge part of your life — and, if you’re willing to keep your mouth shut and your ears open, can be an invaluable source of information regarding what’s going on with your kids and their crew.
It can also be pretty entertaining: In the piece, I mentioned driving Matt’s rowdy sixth-grade travel basketball team into New York City for a game at Madison Square Garden, with the guys constantly rolling down the window to ask passing motorists, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”
Later that fall, in a column called “The Apple Festival — and Other Things You Can Count On,” I wrote about the Memorial Day Parade, the Yankee Doodle Fair, the Minute Man Scamper, the July Fourth fireworks at Compo Beach, Little League opening day, Parents Night at Beach Camp, and — duh — the Apple Festival. I closed the column by asking, “Will any of these events ever change, even in the smallest detail, over the next several decades?” The answer, I can now say — thankfully! — is no.
Back in those years I was heavily into the dynamics of having a third kid when there were two substantially older ones already in the household. In a piece titled “Birth Order: Perks and Quirks,” I commented on how the quality of special trips differs from oldest kid to youngest:
First child: Disney World
Second child: Sturbridge Village
Third child: Waldbaum’s.
I also wrote tons about Little League, highlighting how large it loomed in the minds and hearts of the kids who played. In “Jaguar Blue,” I had this to say about Matt U., one of my favorite kids I ever coached:
Matt had just finished celebrating his second straight Jags’ title, when his mom noticed tears in his eyes during their drive home. “What’s the matter, Matt?” she asked. “You guys just won the championship!”
“But Mom,” Matt said, “Now I’m not a Jaguar anymore.”
With the wisdom of a mom, Karen U. gave her son the perfect answer. “Matt,” she said, “you’ll always be a Jaguar.”
As our boys moved on, I became a huge booster of Staples football. Our oldest son played on the 1997 Wreckers team that fell one play short of a state championship. My column “Proud To Be a Wrecker Parent” included this passage:
“ ‘Your son is part of that team?’ people would say, impressed, and I could tell I’d just gone up a few notches in their estimation. In those moments, I’d feel as proud as if I were wearing that blue-and-white varsity football jacket myself.”
For a time, I got so swept up in Staples athletics that my friend Pam, a Westporter and fellow football parent, diplomatically suggested that maybe I might want to write about something other than sports.
A few years later, when our youngest son Robby finally wore me down and talked me into getting a dog (Ricky the Beagle), man’s best friend became my new focus and obsession. Before too long, that same Pam said to me, “Enough about dogs already. Could we go back to sports?”
Meanwhile, Robby — that kid who was born a week after the column debuted? He’s 25 now, living and working in the city. Greg, the middle son who was a big part of that Little League Jaguars “dynasty” and a key player on those great Wreckers football teams? He’ll turn 35 this month, and is living with his wife and about-to-be2-year-old son right here in Westport. Matt, the oldest — the one who couldn’t believe I was writing about carpools? He’s 37, married, and also living in NYC.
And me? I’m no longer connected to the Westport schools, even though I have that Westport grandson who’s about to turn 2, and another one due in May (yup, still more Herman boys). I’m no longer involved with youth sports, though my Westport son insists I’ll have to manage his son Ryan’s Little League teams.
As an empty-nester, instead of coaching and carpooling, I spend most of my free time at Winslow Park or Compo Beach or Lake Mohegan with Kemba, my Duck Toller. Actually, I’m not even around town full-time. I look at myself as a “global citizen” as much as a Westporter. So while writing this column has been near and dear to my heart for a quarter century, it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation of Westport dads.
But to all of you — those who’ve stuck with me loyally over the years, and those who’ve only started following “The Home Team” recently — I’m still around. And you can still follow my adventures on “Beagle Man,” my blog on the Westport News website, at blog.ctnews.com/beagleman.
Let’s not be strangers.
This is Hank Herman’s 630th — and final — “Home Team” column for the Westport News. To reach Hank, you can email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com.