The community failed Joey Range
by John R. Stiles

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it; ''Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.'' And so it is, it would seem, with athletic heroes as well. One could find no better subject for such tragedy than in the story of Galesburg sports' hero Joey Range.

And no tragedy could be any more compelling than that of the hard court hero and the hometown that used him like a government mule only to leave him standing on a local street corner.

Even though the tale is still quite a distance from its final chapter, there is little doubt that Joey's story is like the 800-pound gorilla that sits around in the front room that nobody ever talks about. And the saddest part of the tale is that the entire community probably shares far too big a role in the tragedy.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not in any way convinced that young Mr. Range is beyond hope in his struggle to find a future. And certainly, I, like many others, still hope that he finally latches on to that future. Hopefully, the concluding chapters of this story will have a much brighter tint than the failure we see standing before us.

And indeed failure, that of a school system that was too busy getting all the victories it could to worry about preparing a young man for a college education and a community that seemed content to simply turn the other way for the appeasement of its sports fans, is the common thread that runs throughout our little tale of woe.

Before we go any farther, let me state that, in my opinion, Joey may well be the best individual basketball player to have ever laced up a pair of sneakers in the athletic history of my home town.

However, there is something tragically wrong with this entire picture and nobody, least of all the pundits, school officials, law enforcement personnel and/or Silver Streak basketball fans, seem to want to broach the subject. Why is it that a young man with Joey's obvious physical talents isn't plying those gifts for some major college athletic program instead of cooling his heels on a Galesburg street?

The answer is all too painfully obvious. While Joey was more than capable of making his way between the lines on the basketball court, the school district that got the greatest benefit of his skills -- Galesburg -- failed to prepare him for the classrooms of higher education. It was a lot easier to simply push him along both academically and on a disciplinary basis than it was to give him something in return for his abilities.

It is only human nature for a youngster to take the path others have spent so much time and effort greasing. How many if any of us ever really choose the road of most resistance? The major difference is, most of the rest of us are forced to fend for ourselves a little sooner than Joey was. We have to find a way to pick through the thorns and rocks and haven't the luxury of having them picked for us. But Joey wasn't as lucky as most of the rest of us, which is probably a vantage point even fewer of us have stopped to consider.

Would anybody have stopped to think that it was we and not him who wound up with the advantages in this little scenario?

There are perhaps any number of big-worded explanations for why Joey is back on the block in Galesburg and not on the pages of some collegiate basketball preseason preview for 2000-01. Certainly, his stint at a Kansas junior college was not his last on the hardwood. But there's a much broader subject to be broached here. Just why did things get to this stage?

Why is a gifted athlete sitting on the block in G'burg instead of making national headlines at the NCAA level at the very least? And just what does this turn of events say about Galesburg? Well, to answer the second question first; It reflects very badly on this community, even though there are few who would step forward and admit it. The fact that the public school system couldn't do any better for a kid who gave them so much, is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all. Just what did all the little extra boosts along the way get Joey? Not to mention just what they got Galesburg? Certainly there were plenty of warning signs along the way. But rather than heed those warning signs, the system just completely ignored them. And for what, another second-place bit of state hardware in the trophy case? Haven't we already got more of those than anybody else in this state?

One would think that a decent attorney could make a very good case for the fact that the City of Galesburg -- and most especially its school district -- did a great disservice for Joey Range. We should, all of us, be ashamed of what happened and is continuing to happen to this young man.

And did we learn anything from all this? Well maybe, until the next time a teenaged phenom comes dribbling up Fremont Street. Unfortunately, I'd be willing to wager that the lesson of Joey Range will be lost in the roar of the season ticket holders and coaching wannabees of this town. We owe our community's image so much more than that. At least as much as we owe Joey Range, who unfortunately will be the one who pays for our town's lack of vision and character. We, at least those in an official capacity in this burg, were too busy thinking athletic glory and not near enough about one kid's welfare to see this train wreck coming. And there are undoubtedly those who will discount these few lines as the ravings of a troublemaker. But everybody with any comprehension at all of what's gone on in this town for the last 10 years, knows damn well that what I'm saying is the truth, as uncomfortable as that may be to hear. There may still be a four-year school lurking in the woods hoping to get something else out of a smooth Joey Range jumper. There are more than enough college cage programs on the make in this land. But I'd like to offer just a bit of free advice in such a circumstance. Somebody, someplace get this kid ready for a little more sweat on the books and the ball.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 27, 2000

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