#72 & The Influence of Sports

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#72 & The Influence of Sports

As a kid in the early 1970’s I was around a foot shorter than most boys my age. Growing up in Merritt Island, Florida right next door to Cocoa, where the Houston Astro’s trained, I was fortunate enough to attend many MLB spring training games. The players from many of the teams, whether it be the Cincinnati Reds, the new Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox would pull up on their buses and my friends and I would think they were Gods coming down the stairs of the bus. We got autographs and were up close and personal with all the players, from Johnny Bench and Pete Rose to Carl Yastrzemski and Salty Parker.

One sunny Florida afternoon, the Cincinnati Reds pulled up on their team bus and right behind the bus was a large red early 70’s Lincoln with a white haired guy in the back seat. I had no clue who he was. My Mother said, “that’s their manager, Sparky Anderson.” He exited the car in his Reds uniform and jogged to the field. After the game, he exited the clubhouse and my friend and I were admiring his big red Lincoln standing at the rear window of the car. A driver got in and started the car and Sparky walked up to us and opened the back door. He said, “get in boys and I’ll tell you about the Reds.” I grew up in the classic car business, and I was fascinated by the beautiful red and and white leather interior, so we jumped in the rear seat and Anderson climbed in and shut the door. It was a hot, humid, steamy Florida day and I still remember the cool air blowing over the seat. Sparky asked me, what sport I played and I said, “I want to play, but I’m too short”. He said “nonsense, it’s not how tall you are, it’s how passionate you are about the game.” The Reds were coming back in a few weeks. He told me to buy a catchers mitt and bring it back to their next visit and he said, “by next season, I want to see you catching on a team.”

I took his advice and became a catcher and my love for the game grew throughout the years. My baseball play evolved into a passion for golf, where I later played in the Amateur Tour for 4 years and over the years I have always applied my love and passion for sports to business, which has always been beneficial.

Many people that watch sports root for their teams and many people have no desire to even watch a game of any sort, but there is an innate message from sports that, once engrained into a youngster, seems to get overlooked by the avid sports fans and the non-sports fans alike. That message is multi faceted and it can bleed over into other areas outside of sports, whether it be applying it to business, as in my case, or using the message to excel in any other dream that one may be chasing.

There is a local story here in Allen that is very similar and even more inspirational.

Alana’s first Lacrosse game as a player.

Alana O’Brien was born in Bend, Oregon and ended up here in the Allen area with her family. She is an avid Allen Americans fan and supports the players and the team as much as anyone. Alana didn’t play any sport until she was influenced by one of her favorite Americans.

Alana & Joel Chouinard of the Allen Americans

Alana told us she remembered being at a fan skate with her dad and talking to Joel Chouinard #72 of the Allen Americans. “We talked about my brother playing hockey. Joel asked me if I played sports or anything at school?” Alana said,  “I told him that I homeschooled and that I don’t really play sports. I remember saying I like watching sports, like hockey, with my family. Joel told me that I should try something new.” Alana shrugged and told him about the time that the Allen lacrosse team had come to her school. Joel told Alana that he made lots of friends playing hockey and after they exited the ice Alana told her parents that she wanted to try lacrosse. She said they looked shocked. It wasn’t long thereafter that Monkey Sports had opened in Allen. During a visit, Alana was trying out the rebounder. It just so happened that a guy was there from STX. He asked how long Alana had been playing and he was shocked when she told him that she had never played, but wanted to try. He gave her a starter set that day and told her that she could keep it, but made her promise that if she didn’t like lacrosse she had to pass the set on to someone else to try it out.

Monkey Sports May 2017. STX rep showing Alana how to shoot

Alana has played lacrosse now since last fall and she has excelled at the game. northDsports.com has had the pleasure of watching Alana play and it is very apparent that she plays from the heart and has a deep passion for the game. Even to this day, it is amazing to me how an athlete’s passion is expressed, regardless of their age. It’s apparent that Alana’s passion for the game can be directly traced to just a few words from a professional athlete and the impact and inspiration that Joel Chouinard of the Allen Americans had on Alana, supplying her with the motivation to not only begin playing, but to also excel is what the essence of sports is all about. That’s why we branded northDsports as “The Essence of Sports” and both Alana and Joel are the true epitome of the phrase.

Alana has many interests. She loves being creative and doing art. Although PE is one of her favorite subjects she also excels and loves science and math. She loves all kinds of music. “My mom and I play our own version of beat shazam,” Alana said,  “and I also like watching my Dad and brother play hockey.”

Alana originally asked for Tyler Seguin’s #91 or her stepdad’s #32, but in an ironic twist, she was issued #72, which just so happens to be Joel Chouinard’s number on the Allen Americans. Coincidence? I think not.

October 2017, Alana gives Allen Americans Joel Chouinard her #72 jersey, due to the wrong size being ordered. Alana signed it for Joel.

Alana started lacrosse on defense. One day their goalie wasn’t at practice and Alana thought about Joel telling her to always try new things, so she asked her coach if she could try being a goalie. “I had so much fun,” Alana said. Alana’s favorite team is the Allen Americans. “The players are so nice to us kids, coach Martinson makes me laugh when I see him, and I love talking to Miss Stephanie and our ice angels.” Alana is also a Stars fan, but told us that she enjoyed watching the Knights last season. In her words, “they were AMAZING.”

“I love hearing that I can be a good influence for young kids like Alana,” Joel Chouinard said, “When you know someone looks up to you, you try to always show by example terms of work ethic, sportsmanship and focus, which motivates you to be a better person. As a kid, I had a few people I looked up to and I still look up to them today. I remember wanting to one day be like them or act like them. So, our role is to show by example, so we can kind of set the tone for them.”

Alana positioning to make the stop.

It is that tone that Joel mentions that keeps certain athletes grounded and humble, when we are at a time and place in sports where arrogance and the game is all about me and not the team. Every time I start getting discouraged when witnessing certain actions in sports that express the negative and un-classy side, I run into individuals like Joel Chouinard and Alana that secures that place inside of me that I felt over 45 years ago when I sat in the back of Sparky Anderson’s big red Lincoln from the Cincinnati Reds. I can still close my eyes and see him sitting next to me and the smell of the leather, just as I am sure Alana will remember Joel Chouinard leaning down to take a picture with her on the ice many years from now. Let’s not lose that connection. Without it, sports can erode quickly, before we realize it happened.

When Alana is not watching hockey, she likes camping and doing things with her family. “I like animals too.” Alana said, “Our family helps with a boxer rescue. I like helping with the foster dogs and finding them a family.”

What an unbelievable individual Alana is. Whether you’re are 8 or 80 years old, we could all learn something from Alana’s young journey, with so much more to come. northDsports.com wishes Alana and her family all the best. And for all you young athletes out there, the next time you feel as if you’re at a dead end, try something new and become a winner.

Thanks to Joel Chouinard, Alana and her family for supplying northDsports.com all this information and images. It is families like yours and players like Joel that truly inspire.

Photo Credit: All photos herein are the property of northDsports.com and The O’Brien family and were published by northDsports with their permission and consent. All content herein, other than property published by permission, is the property of northDsports.com and any reproduction, other than normal social media sharing, is strictly prohibited. Copyright ©, northDsports.com. For reprint permission contact rick@northdsports.com

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