I hear it all the time from my classmates. I hear statements such as “School doesn’t really matter,” “High school sports are meaningless,” and “I don’t want to be here.” Sometimes I even find myself singing the same somber tune about high school life. For those who can strongly relate to or agree with these negative narratives, I’d like you to learn about Jerry Campbell, Cleveland alumnus, graduating class of 1965.
On Feb. 24, 2016, Campbell wrote a letter to athletic director Mike Shanahan detailing how he would like to make a donation to the school’s track and field program. In the letter, Campbell explains why he chose to donate and why Cleveland is so dear to his heart. His love for the school jumps through the page and the positive impact Cleveland had on his life is truly felt. He attributes the school with finding his confidence and unlocking his potential. “With the passage of time I feel more and more appreciative for the four years I spent at Cleveland as a student athlete and citizen of the school community,” wrote Campbell.
He wrote of how Cleveland was the first place that made him feel valued and safe, mainly because of the encouragement and guidance of great teachers and coaches. “Just hearing a teacher or coach say the simple words ‘Great job Jerry’ meant the world to me at the time,” he said. Campbell even recounted, in detail, his fondest memory of Cleveland. At the city relays in the spring of 1965, Campbell was the first leg of the distance medley relay team that won the city championship and the next week set the school record at the time in the event with a time of 10:40. In his retelling, Campbell talks about how he had no confidence before the race, but he knew he had to find some because his teammates were counting on him. “It was a magical day for some reason. I was somehow able to set my fears aside. We all competed well and as our anchor runner (miler) Danny Dean rounded the final turn and came flying down the home stretch and we were the winners and PIL champions it had to be just about the happiest moment I had yet experienced in athletics and life.”
Still think that high school sports don’t matter? It says something that Campbell can still remember how he felt, the names of his coaches and teammates, and the location of the race (Madison High School) for an event that happened over 50 years ago in his life. Cleveland boys basketball coach Don Emry, who retired this year, always told the program at the start and end of each year, “As life goes on, you start to forget the number of wins and losses you had. Those stats begin to fade. You always remember who you played with and the special relationships you formed with your teammates and coaches.” I never fully understood what he meant until I read Jerry Campbell’s letter.
Campbell joins a long list of Cleveland alumni I have heard speak highly of their high school experience. I have been fond of my time at Cleveland so far, but I still don’t think I understand how Campbell feels. Like he said, his appreciation grew with the passage of time. I hope when we get to his age, we can all share the gratitude and pride for getting to be a Cleveland student for four years. Campbell reminds us all that maybe this high school system isn’t just a dumb waste of time, but maybe it will take us some time to truly believe him.
Campbell finished the letter with my favorite sentence of all, “Anyway Mike, best to you, and Cleveland High School; my school, where part of my heart has always been and will always be.” Campbell, a 1965 graduate, showed how he will forever share a bond with every current Cleveland student. It is his school just as much as it is our school. Thank you for helping to put things in perspective, Jerry. From one Cleveland man to another, go Warriors (or should I say Indians).