Fall doesn’t mean failing

By Cassandra Walker

The old adage, “Spring forward, Fall back” reminds me, as we just did, to turn my clocks back the last Sunday in October. It is during this time, that I start to feel that summer is truly over and fall is upon us. For some people, the fall season brings depression because they think of it as nature dying and turning gloomy. Some even say fall, to them, means failing.

Although it’s true fall brings on color changes in nature, another metamorphosis also happens. Football enthusiasts across the country come out of hibernation. I can’t get through one fall, or football season, without reminiscing about a childhood experience that taught me, unlike the adage, to fall forward in life.

When I was in high school, I loved the fact that I was a cheerleader and could cheer at all the football and basketball games. During football season, that cold autumn air would gently blow on us, keeping us from getting too hot when we rooted our boys on to (sometimes) victory.

I remember the bands playing at half-time and how the players would feel so special when they come out on the field in their freshly washed uniforms (my husband, then-boyfriend at the time, was the star wide receiver). I was his and the entire team’s biggest fan – the biggest fan, that is, except for “Disco Mike.”

Who was “Disco Mike”?

He was only the biggest fan for football and basketball that Hillcrest High had ever seen. If there was a game, “Disco Mike” was there. Not only was he there, but he was screaming and cheering on our mighty Hawks way after the band had stopped playing. The reason we gave him the name “Disco” is that he would hold his pointer finger in the air and dance around like they did in the ’70s disco movies. He would be adorned in those colorful checkered pants and polyester shirt. He would spin and dance and put on a show. All of this would happen, of course, while he was yelling at full volume and never missing a beat.

Some days, “Disco Mike” would walk two or three miles just to get to the games. If we saw him, we would always pick him up. In the fall and winter months, he would walk for so long that his face would be red as a beet. He never seemed to mind, he just wanted to be a part of the festivities.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy for him to be accepted into the facilities as others. Yes, we live in a time of equal rights and no discrimination laws, but for “Disco Mike,” some people seemed to forget those facts. That is why it would hurt me when some ignorant, inconsiderate kids would tease him and talk about him because he was mentally challenged. They would call him “retard” or mock the way he spoke. Those kids weren’t as accepting of Mike as we were. They didn’t even want to get to know him.

All of us at Hillcrest knew he only had the mental capacity of maybe a 10-year-old, even though he was at least 30. No one knew his real age, because he didn’t know. He often would have his coat buttoned with many buttons out of sequence or a hat halfway on his head. Usually his nose would be runny and he sometimes stuttered when he spoke. It was often hard to understand him if he talked for any length of time, but one thing we all understood was that he loved people and he brought joy to anyone who took the time to get to know him. There were some neighbors who warned their kids and said, “Don’t talk to him. He is crazy.” But the only thing he was crazy about was sports.

Mike used his “disadvantage” as an advantage by cheering on our team even when it was down 21-0 and by telling all of us cheerleaders, after the rain had put a beating on our hair, that we were “still so pretty.”

I have not heard if “Disco Mike” has been to any games lately – I am not even sure if he is still alive. But one thing I am sure of: When the fall air blows and the leaves crackle under my feet, I hear the cheers of a local football game and the faint whisper of a happy laugh coming from a simple, gentle man.

As “Disco Mike” exemplified, fall does not mean failing, it just means change and acceptance.

Thanks for sharing.

Cassandraism: Behind a bunch of thorns can be found a beautiful rose. So it is also with people.