BYU basketball coach Dave Rose laughed and told stories for 40 minutes in his office overlooking the Cougars’ practice court. Utah athletic director Chris Hill drove to Granger High School, where he once taught math and coached the basketball team.
Those interviews were among my most memorable moments of the year. When I think about 2017, my mind goes to the conversations with Rose, Hill and a couple of other subjects — including a former Utah Valley University women’s golfer who received a national award for perseverance and an author who relentlessly advocates for Major League Baseball retirees.
The Jazz’s winning a playoff series for the first time in seven years was good stuff, and I’ll always remember being in Los Angeles for Game 7 vs. the Clippers.
Even so, the stories that really stick with me were part of a series about the “First Jobs” of Utah sports figures, plus some interviews with people who were inspirational in their own ways. So these are my four favorite subjects of 2017:
Now in his 13th year of coaching the Cougars, Rose knows he’s the subject of some disillusion among fans who want more from his program and use social media to express their thoughts.
In Fillmore in the mid-1980s, when Rose went from the University of Houston to Millard High School, folks went straight to the source. “Because it was so intense in a small town, I really think it prepared me for all that,” he said.
Shopping at Duane’s Food Town, he would hear suggestions “from the cashier, from the butcher, from the guy doing the vegetables, what I needed to do better,” Rose said. “I got all that feedback in my very first year of doing this, 33 years ago.”
Hill had trouble getting his Granger players to understand him, just because of his New Jersey accent. In the Basic Math course he taught, he found ways to relate to students who wondered why they needed to know that stuff.
So he piled about a dozen of them into his Volkswagen van and took them to a site of their home-building class, demonstrating measurements and other practical applications. That’s just one of the memories that came back to Hill when he visited the rebuilt school in West Valley City.
Arriving shortly after the 10:33 a.m. bell signaled the first lunch period, Hill marveled about Granger’s size and diversity with nearly 3,300 students. He wondered how they all fit in socially and reflected about how teaching influenced him.
“I tell everybody, teaching in front of a class with teenagers is pretty intimidating,” Hill said. “And I learned to speak with them, I learned to be lighthearted, I learned I’d better know what I’m taking about. And I think that helps me so much now, when I’m speaking in front of people. … I learned it can be a great job if you work your tail off, and if you do it right, teaching is really, really hard — and so valuable.”
Having recovered from a debilitating illness to play in about half of UVU’s golf tournaments as a senior, Yeates could have earned the Kim Moore Spirit Award by enduring any portion of this litany, within a year: She struggled to walk, temporarily lost vision, dealt with the death of a childhood friend, learned of her father’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and accompanied her uncle to a hospital where the two of them were told that her aunt had died after a zip line accident.
Yeates’ sister, Michelle, remembers the night in the hospital when they cried together and Monica asked, “What if I could never walk again?” After her aunt’s death, almost exactly a year later, she acknowledged thinking, “Is this ever going to end?”
That’s a lot to process for a 22-year-old woman, who’s known for worrying more about others than herself.
Yeates wishes she could have done more for the childhood friend who took his life, and she felt helpless when her father’s sister died during a family outing while visiting Utah. “It’s one thing to have things happen to you,” she said, “but to see the people you care about most just hurt so much, that was really hard to experience.”
She covered all of this material and more in a 7,300-word essay that she hoped would help other people overcome tough times in their lives, and her attitude is remarkable.
The newspaper business involves receiving story suggestions from people with agendas, such as authors hoping to publicize their books. That’s fair. Several years ago, Gladstone wrote about how a group of players were ineligible for pensions because they played fewer than four years in the major leagues prior to 1980.
He highlighted that injustice in “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” with Utah residents George Theodore and Bruce Christensen among the players he interviewed.
So his book was a natural subject for me in 2011, but it didn’t end there. Gladstone has kept pitching the story, long after his bookselling efforts. “What motivates me is very simple: I am a sucker for the underdog,” he said. “I’m just a person who believes in equality.”
Theodore marvels about Gladstone’s persistence. At this point, “He’s not getting anything for this,” Theodore said.
And there’s a lot to be learned from his determination to keep the cause – and the people affected – from being forgotten.