Having had a career affiliated with sports, I am keenly aware that there are plentiful rewards for those who succeed, but not everybody wins the prize; not everybody has a partnership with longevity. And, there is often as much heartbreak as there is celebration. I often think of the vicissitudes of life and the fickleness of the sporting scene. Playing sports all your life would be the dream of any red-blooded American boy. Kids prefer to be kids all their lives.
While I would need his input for confirmation, I am inclined to believe that had Terry Hoage not been “good enough” from sheer competitive ability and a brainy approach to playing football for 13 years in the National Football League, he likely would have become a doctor which was his original goal. The NFL just kept getting in the way. When it was over, it was too late to become a doctor. So, he became a winemaker which brought fulfillment in his life after football.
Athletes are drawn to competition with unquenchable commitment, which makes it difficult to withdraw from the stage. The arena. The games. The competition. That is why so many move into coaching, when their competitive days come to an end. The Senior Tour was a godsend to golfers when they turned 50 and had some place to go. It was the same with professional tennis.
A week ago, I stood in the parking lot before the final service for Tommy Paris Jr., at the Gainesville United Methodist Church and wondered what his life would have become, had he been able to compete at a higher level. He was an over-achieving quarterback in high school, and he contributed to an SEC championship team at the University of Georgia. He experienced success in a game he loved. But, when his Bulldog career ended, he returned home to Gainesville to become part of the fabric of the community. There would be no headlines, no trophies, no appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and no TV analyst positions to forever link him with the game of football.
As I looked north to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains past Lake Lanier, with a modicum of leaf color remaining, here and there, which brought about a defining setting of peacefulness, I thought about the fact that regardless of your abilities and choices, what matters most in life is making a contribution for which there is no honor or recognition.
Communities flourish because its citizens give of themselves, rendering a “service above self” commitment. That was Tommy Paris Jr. You find such residents in every community across our state — those who don’t flourish in sports, those who don’t make a name for themselves in the state house but who are quietly given to a charitable bent and are motivated to invest in their community’s well-being and future.
Tommy was a Rotarian and chairman of about anything and everything that brought improvement and betterment to Gainesville and Hall County. You know the type. There is one or more in every town which is why community enhancements from giving and investing continue to keep communities relevant across our great state.
Gainesville showed its appreciation when an overflow crowd turned out to say farewell to a loyal friend in this progressive town which has produced more than a few Friday night heroes. Tommy Paris leaves a legacy that can often be found in small town communities, reminding us that laid back and low key living often has a difference-making influence.
Like his father, for whom he was named, Tommy never smote his breast for any achievement or accomplishment. He was the quiet type who lent enduring support of community causes and took no bows. He gave a helping hand but eschewed recognition.
His times were fun times. His dad was a pillar of the community. Tommy followed in his footsteps. Like father, like son, Tommy excelled at all sports. He was never the wayward child. He became as proud of a high mark in class as he did for scoring a touchdown.
Tommy’s times were idyllic when he came along. It was as if his life’s pattern was pre-ordained. He would lead his high school team to success, he would captain his team and was awarded All-State recognition for his outstanding performance. He would play for his father’s alma mater, and he would marry his high school sweetheart, a beauty queen, and live happily ever after. Except for his unfortunate early departure from this earth, that is pretty much the way it worked out.
This is a reminder that whether or not you are a super-star athlete, senator or governor, there is something to be said for those who return home and give back to their community, enjoying a lifetime of contribution and fulfillment. That was the Tom Paris Jr. story.
Loran Smith is a longtime broadcaster, columnist and sideline reporter for the University of Georgia.