This is the time of year when students are recognized at public ceremonies for notable achievements in their studies, their sports and in their extracurricular pursuits.
Where we live, there are awards in various sports that are named for our son, who also is memorialized by town ballfield Harrison Apar Field of Dreams and a charitable foundation of the same name.
Due to a rare dwarfism, Harrison had lifelong physical challenges that caused his demise at age 15, a day after his third heart surgery.
I look for something different—and hopefully a little inspiring—to say each year to young athletes, parents and coaches when the various Harrison Apar awards are presented. This year, a new thought occurred to me.
What is it about sports that addicts us to them?
The adrenalin of competing or even just watching.
The thrill of victory, whether competing or watching.
The redemption of knowing the agony of today’s defeat can be avenged next time.
Sports make us feel alive.
Sports celebrate the human spirit.
In sports, we value strength, size, speed, quickness, precision, timing, scoring and statistics.
What, then, could a boy born with the medical condition known as skeletal dysplasia possibly find rewarding about participating in sports, as Harrison did? He didn’t have anything approaching size or strength; he couldn’t amass even the most nominal statistics.
Why would a kid standing 3 feet and weighing less than 40 pounds want to be on the basketball court when he knew he never would sink a basket? Wouldn’t he find it embarrassing? Not Harrison.
Why would a kid who knew he never would hit the ball past the pitcher’s mound want to step up to the plate? Wouldn’t he find it humiliating? Not Harrison.
The answer to “Why?” is, I believe, the same for anybody who plays sports, whether it’s Aaron Judge or Harrison Apar.
At the end of the day, at the end of the game, the No. 1 reason anybody who plays sports is out there is not about statistics or scoring or even winning.
It’s about validation.
Forget about being tested by a 90-plus mph fastball or by a par-3 island green. More than worrying about the opponent or about degree of difficulty, we test ourselves every time we lace up, warm up, set up a shot, or get up to bat.
Validation is the heart and soul of sports. “I can do this,” we say to ourselves.
That’s what Harrison said to himself. That’s what he set out to prove when he stepped up to the plate or dribbled the ball up court. And prove it he did. The stunned looks of disbelief from the sidelines were just icing on the cake.
Harrison once scored a totally honest 8 on a par 4 hole at his grandfather’s golf course in Florida. After he drained his putt for the snowman on the scorecard, I couldn’t resist looking at him with a straight face and saying, “Big deal. I do that all the time. I can even do it on a par 3.”
What was no joke is the time Harrison’s seventh-grade class was on a weekend retreat to learn about self-sustenance and recreation in the great outdoors. When there was a strenuous activity he couldn’t do, we’d repair to a nature trail and take a nice, leisurely hike together.
But the one activity he insisted on attempting, which I never mastered myself, is rappelling straight up a wall. It was not how much he accomplished (ascending a single peg after many minutes of exhausting exertion) that impressed everyone. It was the indomitable effort he put forth, with his classmates cheering him on to get his tiny foot on top of just that one lonely rung, and then leveraging his leg to pull up the rest of his body in triumph. Validation! Exhilaration!
Later that night, as the parent chaperones hung out in the log cabin reviewing the day’s activities, one of the dads, who had been a collegiate and professional wrestler, said, “The toughest kid out there today was Harrison.” Hearing that brought me to tears then—and now.
That’s why the sports awards we give out in Harrison’s name each year are not about who has the best statistics or who’s necessarily the best athlete. It’s who wants it the most and who goes out and gets it, maybe against the odds, maybe despite formidable obstacles that make it less likely for the athlete to win the validation that everyone seeks from sports—and yet they prevail.
The Harrison Apar sports awards are about perseverance and about toughness, because no matter how big or fast or strong you are, there’s always someone who is bigger, faster or stronger, but not always someone who has more heart. That is the proud legacy our son left both us and those we honor in his name.
I was grateful to hear from an old friend, Patricia Huffield, who provided important additional information pertaining to my May 31 column about Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. Pat writes, “There are two other schools which are part of PNW BOCES which serve other important parts of the student community in the area: Pinesbridge serves the multiply handicapped and The Walden School provides special education. These schools are staffed by a cadre of dedicated teachers and therapists, my daughter among them, who help the children maximize their capabilities to lead independent, productive lives. They also are of tremendous value to many, many families in the community and yet unknown to most.”
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914.275.6887.