A Review (sort of) of TO DAD, FROM KELLY

With all apologies to my Buckeye friends, I grew up in a Notre Dame household, so having no strong Ohio State allegiances, when my oldest brother, Kevin, enrolled at the University of Michigan, I instantaneously became a Wolverine fan. It was the 1975 football season. Rob Lytle was the star tailback for the Maize and Blue, and Don Dufek was the All-American defensive back. In the countless games of football with my brothers, cousins, and friends played in the side lot on the corner of Fifth and Marlboro, I often imagined myself to be Lytle and Dufek making plays in the Big House.

I actually met Rob Lytle in 1989. He was helping out his old high school football coach at Fremont Ross Pete Moore by working as Moore’s assistant at Port Clinton High School. At the time, I was an assistant at Sandusky St. Mary’s, and we were playing against the Redskins at True-Lay Stadium. Someone introduced me to Lytle before the game. I shook his hand, but I was too shy or too starstruck to speak. I mean, Rob Lytle was third in the Heisman voting in 1976 and had played several injury-riddled seasons for the Denver Broncos. I used to play with his football card for God’s sake, and now I was shaking my boyhood hero’s hand?! I never crossed paths with Rob Lytle again, but I remember following his son’s, Kelly, football and track career at Ross. After Kelly graduated, I don’t remember thinking about the Lytles again until I read that Rob had died much too young at the age of 56. It sucked the wind from me like landing belly first on a football.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that life has a funny way of circling back upon itself. This past Saturday, I had coffee with Kelly Lytle. We met to talk writing, for Kelly recently published his first book, a memoir titled TO DAD, FROM KELLY, that I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed. After finishing the book, I felt compelled to contact Kelly. For one reason, in a chapter titled “Accomplice,” Kelly shares that his father suffered multiple concussions and strongly relied on painkillers to alleviate the pain from the too-many-to-count injuries that resulted from his years in the game that he loved. This is just one area in which Kelly’s book intersects with my novel GOODNESS FALLS. Both of our books question whether the benefits gained from playing the game of football are commensurate to the price the sport exacts. Another reason I felt it necessary to contact Kelly was to, in a strange way, repay Rob Lytle for the joy he brought to me while I watched him play football for the Wolverines with as much grit as any player I’d ever witnessed. At the time, I didn’t realize just how much he was sacrificing in terms of his health and longevity to bring me and others that joy.

When I first entered the world of publishing, I had no one to mentor me, no one to warn me of the pitfalls waiting for a first time author, and no one to point me towards profitable uses of my time and energies. I figured that if I could be that person for Rob’s son, maybe I could make up some of that debt I owed him. It was another reason I felt compelled to touch base with him. What I learned in a two-hour conversation, however, is that Kelly, a Princeton grad and an accomplished professional, doesn’t need me. He’s smart, passionate, driven to succeed, and a living testimony to his parents’ successful raising of a strong and independent young man. In the end, I’m sure I walked out of that coffee shop with more gained than I gave.

It would be a huge mistake to think of TO DAD, FROM KELLY as a football book. In fact, it is hardly that at all. Rather, it is a book about family, growing up in a small town, perspective, living with passion, and most importantly, embracing life and confronting grief. There is literally at least one chapter in this book for everyone. It continually strikes universal chords that resonate with poignant truths and warm nostalgia. Readers will hear the voices of their own parents, coaches, teachers echoed in Rob’s raising of his son, and they will recognize many of the selfsame lessons they were taught as children and teenagers. As it provides invaluable insight into the male psyche at various stages of maturation, TO DAD, FROM KELLY should be of especial interest to moms, wives, and girlfriends in their never ending attempt to understand the motivations and behaviors of the men in their lives.

In my lifetime, I was fortunate to watch Rob Lytle play football and to benefit from his example of toughness, hard work, and dedication to his teams and to the sport he loved. Through Kelly’s recollections, I’ve learned that Rob fully embodied the nickname of his Fremont Ross Little Giants. It’s an oxymoron that captures Rob’s own ironic sense of failure – which Kelly so tenderly shares – and that despite his achievements, he was “little,” just a man like the rest of us; however, Rob Lytle – even if he didn’t quite appreciate it or was too humble to admit it – was truly a “Giant” worthy of my adulation and his son’s undying love and devotion so touchingly shared in TO DAD, FROM KELLY.

Order your copy of TO DAD, FROM KELLY: http://www.amazon.com/To-Dad-From-Kelly-Lytle/dp/0692250387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415190839&sr=8-1&keywords=kelly+lytle

Order your copy of GOODNESS FALLS: http://www.amazon.com/Goodness-Falls-Ty-Roth/dp/162287529X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Football’s Proper Place?

Youth Football
Whenever I post a blog article or a Facebook status update pertaining to the dangers of concussions in football, I receive a few “blow back” responses. These rebuttals typically accuse me and my novel GOODNESS FALLS of contributing to the softening of America’s male children. The argument is that contact sports, such as football, are necessary for the toughening up of our kids because the adult world is a difficult place where only the strong survive, and if we continue to coddle our children, they will grow up soft and ill-equipped to prosper in that world. I certainly understand their point; however, I feel it is a position no longer tenable in the modern, technology-based society where brain almost always trumps brawn. What is especially pernicious is the possibility that this argument for the need to “toughen up” our kids is little more than a thin justification to preserve a sport that provides so many of us with not only entertainment but also with such a sense of self-worth – through our identification with our favorite schools and professional teams – that we cant imagine a life without it. “O – H . . .” “Roll Tide!” And, “Go Big Blue!”

Were we still living in an age when proficiency in hand-to-hand combat was not only necessary for survival but a measurement for assigning social status, I might agree; however, we are not living in such barbaric times. Even those who did possess the physical attributes and martial skills conducive to those periods were primarily pawns for those in power. They were tools used either for military gains or for entertainment. Today’s football players and MMA fighters, for example, are not much different than the gladiators of ancient Rome. Like trained circus animals, they prostitute their talents in bloodsports to the aristocracy who, in turn, put them on display for the common people as a means for them to vent anger and frustration that may otherwise be directed at those powerful few. True, for a brief time, some of these gladiator/athletes are well remunerated for their performances. An even smaller number rise to a level of celebrity that lavishes all sorts of excess upon them. However, for the majority, their time in the spotlight is brief. Either they die in or as a result of their time spent in the arena, or they limp back into crowd and are quickly forgotten.

I sometimes question our motives for pressing our kids into participation in such violent games. Even more, I hate to think that our youth and high school football programs are little more than a way to feed the egos of over-involved parents or a way for some of them to relive their pasts; or that they are little more than an important piece of the profit puzzle for the athletic equipment industry; or that youth and high school football programs are little more than feeder programs for successive levels of football in which the stakes – both economically and in terms of injury – grow increasingly higher; or even that they are a little more than a means to teach “toughness” (whatever that is) to our children. But, sometimes, I wonder if these motives are not exactly the case. What I do not “wonder” about is the potential for catastrophic injury still posed by participation in the sport.

I’m willing to bet that if someone conducted a study to identify the number of highly-successful individuals who played football at some point in their youth that number would be substantial. I am, however, just as certain that an equal – if not far greater – number did not play football, yet they somehow had the necessary toughness to excel in a variety of fields. Therefore, the argument that football or other bloodsports are vital in the training of our young men falls apart. Admittedly, it may be useful for some, but it is far from the only method to produce the sort of individual who possesses the necessary qualities for adult achievement. I might even argue that much of the macho skill set learned through participation in football is actually counter-productive to success in the much more subtle and nuanced worlds of business, finance, law, politics, education, and medicine for example. What’s important is that we keep the place of football in its proper perspective. Contrary to much popular belief, it is not an institution fundamental to our survival as a society. However, if properly managed, it can continue to play a positive role in the education of some children.

As I’ve consistently stated, I’m not advocating for the abolition of youth football. All I’m saying is that there are additional measures that can still be taken to safeguard our kids, including baseline testing of cognitive functioning prior to participation; the limiting of full contact drills, the better monitoring of head strikes; and the better instruction of coaches regarding the recognition and treatment of head injuries just to name a few.

Let the blow back begin. I’m happy to face it.

GOODNESS FALLS and the American Church of Football

That's me, #1, on St. Mary 8th Grade Football Team.

That’s me, #1, on St. Mary 8th Grade Football Team.

GOODNESS FALLS tells the tragic story of the confused final days of a high school quarterback suffering the cumulative effects of multiple brain traumas endured over a decade of playing tackle football, from Pee Wee through the varsity level. In the throes of ever-worsening headaches, protagonist, T.J. Farrell, struggles to maintain his increasingly-tenuous hold on his girlfriend, his starting position, his future, his sanity, and his very life.

The genesis of my interest in this topic dates back to my own experience as a high school football player, when as an undersized sophomore, I suffered a concussive injury that rendered me semi-conscious for a period of nearly an hour. Ironically, it occurred against Port Clinton, the school at which I now teach. I remember the knee to the front of my helmet, but from there, only snippets of adults talking at me in urgent tones and blurred images of the stadium, an ambulance, and the hospital remain. What I do remember clearly, however, is that – with no obvious signs of external injury – I returned to full contact practice on Monday. Parents, coaches, and the vast majority of doctors didn’t know better in those days, and if they did, they weren’t telling. Now, we know that a second blow to the head like the first, suffered so soon after, very well could have killed or seriously impaired me for life. In a small way, GOODNESS FALLS is an attempt to better inform all who read it of the dangers of sports-induced brain trauma, especially that which is repetitive and especially as it occurs in children and young adults.

As a former high school football player and coach myself, I understand that even the slightest condemnation of the American Church of Football reeks of at least some degree of hypocrisy. However, my goal is first and foremost to tell an interesting story then to make a salient social commentary. The oldest writing axiom in the book is to “write what you know.” What I know is the culture of high schools and, especially, the culture of high school football; therefore, these are the topics on which I write with at least a modicum of authority. My purpose, however, is not to call for the abolishment of football at any level but to encourage stricter measures for the diagnosis and treatment of concussions that err on the side of safety and the slow return to participation. I also want to encourage the continuing trend (thanks to USA Football’s Heads Up Program) of the establishment of coaching techniques and rules of play that provide the most protection possible for kids.

Read Here to learn more about the May release of Goodness Falls: http://wp.me/pSq2Y-9Q