Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tribute to Larry Horyna who died this fourth month of 2009

The last time I talked to Larry Horyna he told me how proud he was of his football efforts on the University of Oregon team. I was surprised because I hadn’t followed his career then. When I ran into him in the library when we were both students there, he starting out on a football scholarship after the Army and I about to finish up my senior year, he said he was focusing on his school work. Football was just a way to a degree. He must have changed his view over the years while I was off trying to get started as a newspaper reporter.

Anyway, I do know that he carved out an exceptional career as an educator in Oregon, spending some of his huge energy on helping youngsters who were coming from tough backgrounds – maybe because he worked his way up in life the hard way though he never talked about that, at least to me.

My father in his later years, when we talked about the Ontario newspaper and my dad’s years there, frequently mentioned how much he was impressed by Horyna’s strength and leadership as a young man. (Frankly, playing across from him as a second string center, I was often impressed by his strength but I can’t say I liked it.)

Anyway, I sometimes go back to the following editorial my father crafted after our sad 9-8 loss to Vale in our senior football year in high school. Larry was a bulwark of that team and probably felt the loss as hard as anyone, though I know over his life he maintained friendships with many of the Vale players who whipped our team.

But enough of that: Here’s what my dad wrote after that Vale game:
His editorial, titled “These Were Our Boys,” included this passage with its tribute to Horyna’s appetite for watermelon:

“It was hard to hold back the tears driving home from Vale that night. That was partly because we knew from experience the nobility of these kids in defeat as well as their grandeur in victory.

“You see, they played knothole baseball for us five or six years ago. And they really learned how to take it. They were under-age, playing with a league of older kids in order to fill out the league schedules for summer play. If we ever won a game that summer, it has long since been forgotten.

“We couldn’t help but wonder if we hadn’t given some of these youngsters such adequate early training the philosophical acceptance of reverses on the playing field, if the result might not have been different at Vale on the critical evening this November. No bunch of kids ever wanted more to win a ball game. We know because we’ve listened to them work on it conversationally for the past nine years.

“For all that, we wouldn’t trade away that summer. What a sight it was to watch the Doman kids come in to town, covered with the dust of a day’s work in the field, and then take on an evening’s work on the playing field. And Larry Horyna, crouched behind the bat, whipped the gang in those days to higher performance, just as he has in recent years.

“Another sight we’ll never forget. Horyna eating watermelon --- seeds and all --- at the kids’ picnic in our backyard. That Larry could go through more watermelon in less time than any kid we’ve ever seen.”

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