New touchdowns scored at Bear Stadium’s south end zone remind me of the only touchdown of my playing days (I was a lineman but moved to tight end for my last two games). In the final game of my three years as an Oak Grove Falcon, I caught a seven-yard pass from Eugene Jones to send the game against Michigan Avenue into triple overtime.
I cover basketball games in the same gym I watched the Bearettes win back-to-back national championships while I was a student at BCHS.
Every time I walk into Jim Smiddy Arena I can still hear the high-pitched voice of the man its named for yelling “Get the ball to Data! Shoot Data shoot!”
Seeing old classmates like Greg Geren and Gary Austin now part of the school and central office administration makes it hard from me to call them “Goob” and “Wires” anymore, but I still do occasionally, mainly because I didn't have an embarrassing nickname they can come back with.
Memories of one of the best friends from my childhood have filled my mind for the last couple of weeks due to not only writing about the athletic prowess of his nephew but getting to sit down with his little (6-foot-7) brother for a 90-minute breakfast a little over a week ago.
When I think about Ronnie Casteel, my mind drifts back to countless hours of playing basketball in his driveway on Lakeview Drive or football in the open lot beside his parents house (the same one I mentioned last week that Ryan and his dad Randy had spent plenty of time in).
Often in the summer or on a Saturday my routine when I was somewhere between 11 and 13 years old would be to leave my house on Meadow Lane, either on bike up Bates Pike or on foot cutting across the Gee farm to come out the backside of the field on Beck Street.
Another one of my best friends, Doug Heming, lived in the next to last house on that dead end. “Jawman” (as Coach Bill “Birdman” Bigham named him because of the way his jaws bounced up and down when he ran), his little brother Dewayne and I, would go over to Ronnie's house to play ball.
Ronnie and Randy (who was no where near being tall back then), along with Dennis Howell from across the street would play for hours on end.
The thing I remember most about those games was how much better than the rest of us Ronnie was.
“Jawman” was quick as lighting but had a height deficiency. Dennis, Randy and I were all chubby and slow, while Dewayne wore thick glasses and had to look right at the ball when he dribbled.
Now granted we weren't a collection of Kobes, LeBrons or Michael Jordans, so it wasn't hard to stand out, especially since Ronnie had a couple of inches on the rest of us, was lean, fit and could jump like a deer.
With more than four decades around athletics, I've seen many players who are “natural athletes. Ronnie ranks right up there with the best I've ever seen.
He not only left the neighborhood boys in the dust but when we'd play at school against the likes of Geren, Jones, Steve Castello, Gary Crisp, “Pokey” Clark, Tim Jones and others, Ronnie stood out as well.
So why isn't his name hanging in the Smiddy Arena rafters or mentioned in the historic lore of Bradley sports from the late 70s? Why doesn't the many county championship trophies at Oak Grove bear his name along with the likes of Dennis Carroll and Danny Wooten?
Because, in my opinion, he's the best Bradley County athlete that was never allowed to play.
Every year before athletes can suit up for their respective schools they have to pass a physical.
To look at Ronnie, even to this day, he appears to be the picture of health. When we were teenagers his long, curly black hair and rippling muscles made the girls swoon, especially when he'd take his shirt off. No one would have guessed there was an imperfection.
Ronnie had a heart murmur and the doctors wouldn't sign off on his medical exams to allow him to represent Oak Grove or Bradley Central on the athletic field.
I know it hurt him not to be able to play. He could out run, out shoot, out everything most every kid in the county.
Although he didn't get to don the green and white of the Falcons or the Bear Black-and-Gold, Ronnie has something most of us hope for — success in life.
He was always a strong A-B student. He and Kenny Lewis helped get me and Geren through middle school (that's right “Goob,” I didn't get you through school and you didn't get me through school like we tell everybody. Ronnie and Kenny helped us both pass).
Ronnie is in his second stint of working at M&M Mars (where both my sons work), with some time in between at Maytag.
He's married to one of the most beautiful girls from our high school days — Rachel Hamilton.
His daughter Meredith just married Justin Rogy, an inspirational assistant football coach at Polk County High School.
Despite having to have heart-valve replacement surgery done when he was in his mid-30s, Ronnie works out a couple hours a day at the YMCA.
He has his health, running several miles a day although he's half a century old. He can be seen running up and down Stuart Road, as well as several other places.
I've only seen Ronnie three or four times since we graduated 30-something years ago (shame on us for not keeping in better touch) but back in the day we were “buds.”
While some athletes get the glory on the court or field while playing for their schools, others who are just as talented are sidelined by things we never see.
I’m not saying he’d push the likes of Steve Sloan or Alvin Scott out of the top spots in Bear history, but I would have liked to have seen what Ronnie could have done against the top level of competition.
Seeing guys like Ronnie, Geren and “Jawman” still in great athletic shape after all these years has inspired me. You think it’s too late for me to take up jogging. Hey Ronnie wait up. Let's have lunch sometime.