Subtle gestures become unforgettable moments

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 23, 2019 1:30 am

As the television production crews pulled cables and the crowd slowly filtered out of the Pit on Saturday night, two boys lingered near the baseline outside of the Quincy High School boys basketball team's locker room.

"Where's he at?" one asked.

The other stepped onto the front row of the bleachers thinking he could see over the crowd. He wasn't tall enough to do that.

"I can't see him. Let's wait," he told his friend.

So they sat down on the bleachers and scanned the crowd. Each time a different player or coach emerged from the locker room, they're heads snapped to see who it was, much like a pitcher turning to watch the home run he'd just given up.

When it wasn't Jeremiah Talton who appeared, their body language screamed disappointment.

Unexpectedly, the QHS sophomore forward emerged from a crowd standing in the middle of the floor. He had a couple of people to talk to and a media obligation to uphold, and the two boys respected that and maintained their distance.

Once Talton was done chatting and standing by himself, they ran up to up him, gave him a high-five and ran off.

"That was cool," one of the boys told his dad as they exited the building. "I slapped Jeremiah's hand."

No matter what comes next, that will be an unforgettable moment.

Anyone with one of those I'll-remember-that-the-rest-of-my-life experiences can relate. I certainly can.

Those boys running around the Pit were 8 or 9 years old -- I was told they were in third grade -- which was about the same age I was when my sister, Theresa, was inducted into the National Honor Society her senior year at Quincy High School.

My parents planned to attend and had arranged a babysitter to watch me. My parents felt I was a little too rambunctious at the time to sit through the ceremony, but little did they know with the proper incentive I could make it through the evening without a disturbance.

The babysitter's plans changed and my parents had no choice but to take me with them. Before that happened, my sister promised me if I behaved she would introduce me to Michael Payne during the post-ceremony reception.

Yes, the Michael Payne.

The 6-foot-11 all-state basketball player bound for the University of Iowa. The dominant defensive presence at the top of the Blue Devils' press. The man I watched dunk on anyone and everyone while leading the Blue Devils to the Class AA state championship and a 33-0 record.

That Michael Payne.

The chance to meet him was all the incentive I needed. I had to sit quietly through what I can only imagine was an excruciatingly boring ceremony for an 8-year-old. There were no electronic devices to put in my hands to keep me entertained. I had to stay in my seat in the QHS auditorium and not flinch for at least 90 minutes, maybe as long as two hours.

I didn't budge or peep or give my parents any reason to escort me out of there before that ceremony ended.

Since I lived up to my end of the deal, my sister came through on her end.

Before we left, my sister pulled Payne aside and asked him to talk to me. There stood a pudgy 8-year-old with a mop of curly red hair looking up at the tallest Blue Devil in complete awe. He shook my hand and talked to my briefly, leaning with his elbow atop the lockers in "B" Building.

Yes, he was that tall. And yes, he seemed larger than life at the moment.

Nearly 40 years later, I haven't forgotten that night. I don't think I ever will.

Thanks to Talton, Saturday night may be a night those two boys never forget. I hope they never do.