This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 14, 2006.

Mother’s Day full of loving memories

By Ed Odeven

Mothers put smiles on our faces, teach us right from wrong and help us realize that anything is possible with hard work and a dream. And they’ve played a huge role in shaping our lifelong interest in sports.

They give us encouragement after a win or a loss. They are interested in the games because we are a part of them as players and fans, and that’s the way it’s always been.

On Mother’s Day, listen to these fond words about moms and sports from five Arizonans: Mitch Strohman (the Voice of the Lumberjacks and host of KVNA’s popular sports-talk show “Outta Bounds”), Flagstaff High School principal Tony Cullen, Chet Green (a former Sinagua High School assistant football coach), NAU women’s basketball coach Laurie Kelly and Ed Kelley (a former pro soccer player in South America who now resides in Tempe).

These are stories, you’ll find out, that have helped shape their lives.

For Strohman, April 1974 was a special time in his life. After all, he was a baseball nut and Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark. He had already tied Ruth’s record of 714 homers. On April 8, young Mitchell and his mom watched the Braves-Dodgers game on TV.

“I was kind of an odd kid,” Strohman said. “I used to actually keep score of any major league baseball game I watched on TV or attended in person and that game was no exception. My dad, who helped foster my passion for baseball was out of town on business, so it was my mom who hung with me as we watched Dodger pitcher Al Downing throw the pitch Hank hammered into the Braves’ bullpen in left field.

“Mom and I both jumped and yelled together when the ball left Aaron’s bat. I’ll never forget the moment: my mom and I sharing the excitement of seeing history (not just baseball history, but American history) being made. I still have my homemade scorecard from that game. It’s a cherished possession.”

Cullen, who grew up in Flagstaff and played ice hockey and football for NAU from 1982-87, remembers his mom being the quintessential “team mom.”

“Many of the hometown athletes during that time chose to live in the dorms for the freedom that it offered,” Cullen said. “I chose to stay at home, knowing that each day after practice my mom would have a hot supper waiting for me and the encouragement that got me to that point. Her encouragement, love and sincere support made my accomplishments happen as an athlete and continue to push me in my job today.

“…Throughout the year, each Sunday my mom would cook huge meals of T-bone steaks, potatoes, vegetables and a great dessert as I brought friends from the team home. You have to take into account that it wasn’t just a meal, it was a day, a day filled with food, talk, watching TV, asking for more toilet paper, naps, snacks, and always ended with my mother reaching up and hugging huge athletes, each one as they left to go back to the dorms.

“…This continued throughout the years and throughout the seasons. My mother always got thank-yous and cards from those guys throughout the years. Although they do not come by anymore on a regular basis, I have always seen them drop by when they were in town to say hi and joke about what was for dinner. Her words of encouragement and loving care to all those young men and women (the women were invited because someone had a girlfriend on the NAU volleyball team) were sincere and appreciated as if they came from their own mom.”

Over the years, Green has helped coach his son, Ramen, who went on to play football at NAU, and his daughter, Megan, who now plays soccer for the Lumberjacks. In retrospect, he admits he might’ve been too hard on them in his quest for them to succeed as athletes.

“As a dad, sports and competition of your kids sometimes develops as an extension of your own experiences,” Green said. “This I realized both with my son and my daughters. My wife (Kenya), however, as a mom seems to always put this reflection in order by grounding herself to the reality of the event with a pure admiration for the privilege her child has to compete. She does this with an unconditional appreciation for the action more than the results.

“Win or lose, that’s her son or her daughter out there mixing it up, getting it done or just out there. I salute that pureness of sportsmanship that can only be witnessed in the eyes of a mom watching her child compete. This support mechanism is that of the greatest fan any athlete will ever have.”

Coach Kelly, who guided the NAU women’s squad to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in March, attended a Division III school, St. Thomas, in her native Minnesota and became one of the top players in D-III history. She led the Tommies to a 98-15 record in her four years at the school.

But since St. Thomas is a D-III school, Kelly didn’t receive an academic scholarship. Instead, her parents supported her during her college days.

“I was home one weekend, my junior year of college, and I was with my mom in the car running errands,” Kelly recalled. “She stopped to cash her work check from the department store she worked at. It was not a lot of money, but as the teller gave her the money she turned and gave it to me. …

“It hit me that my mom had worked for two weeks’ pay and then just handed it over. I felt bad. She turned to me and said, ‘Please don’t feel bad. There is no place I would rather invest my money than in my children.’ That day has stayed with me always, and as a mother of two young children (daughters Morgan and Madison) I now truly understand what my mom meant.”

Kelley, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., will never forget a memorable Father’s Day in the early 1960s when he blasted a home run in a Little League game.

“The place went nuts, everybody was waiting for me at home plate. And there was joy in Mudville,” he said.

“After the game, my dad patted me on the back and said, ‘That was a nice Father’s Day present.’ And it was, but all of my good days on the ballfield were reinforced by knowing that my mom was there for every game. She knew just what to say when we got a shellacking as well.

“God bless her, she loves her D-backs. That’s why at 91, wheelchair and all, mom and I always get good seats when the Mets come to town.”

So Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, including mine, who was one heckuva stickball player in her youth.