JEFFERSONVILLE, Ohio (CNN)– Sometimes on weekend nights, as we drive through the country, we will see the lights from small-town football stadiums.
We are usually on our way from one campaign stop to the next. Virtually every day on the trail, the candidates for president and vice president talk about the need for America to find its best and most worthy incarnation– while at the same time the campaigns spew the most cynical and angry kind of vitriol at the other side. Their belief seems to be, as usual, that the strongest and most blusteringly confident will prevail.
With this in mind, as we drove at night thought this part of Ohio, I thought about the town of Logan, down the road to the east. And about how much the campaigns, and all of us, might learn from the quiet story of what happened at the old football stadium there.
Before that stadium goes away forever.
Bill Sauer Field has long been the center of town life in Logan, population 7,300. The high school football team– the Chieftains– has always been the focus, and pride, of the town.
Who is Bill Sauer, for whom the stadium was named?
A local politician? A car dealer who paid for its construction? A former superintendent?
None of those.
Bill Sauer, born in Logan in 1908, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age. His parents searched in vain for a medical miracle; Bill never was able to walk, and spoke with great difficulty. He asked for no special consideration at Logan High School, and, because of his health problems, he was 23 before he graduated.
What he loved most was the school’s sports programs, in which he could never play. Craig Dunn, the sports editor of the Logan Daily News, told me that Bill never missed a game, seldom missed a practice– football, basketball, track and field. In his wheelchair on the sidelines, he cheered his swift, healthy classmates.
It continued after he graduated. His father died; Bill supported both himself and his mother. He operated a candy store near a church; he ran the concessions stand at the city swimming pool; he sold Christmas cards and magazine subscriptions.
And he was at virtually every Logan game.
In rural America at that time in the nation’s history, it must have been an especially difficult life for a young man with his disabilities. In Logan, they embraced him. When he was a senior in high school, the coach of the football team, Red Longley, surprised Bill, who was unable to stand on his own, by awarding him a varsity letter.
But the best moment was to come later in his life. In 1975, the town decided to bestow upon Bill Sauer its ultimate honor.
The football stadium– built in 1925, the core of Logan, its heart– was, on its fiftieth anniversary, renamed.
Bill Sauer Field.
In our society, cities, and fans, are expected– sometimes almost required, it seems– to fall in love with their football teams. In Logan, a town, and its football teams, fell in love with a fan.
Until his death in 1988, Bill Sauer continued to attend games at Bill Sauer Field. Few outside the community knew about all this, but it wasn’t something that was done for those outside the community. It was done by Logan, Ohio, for Logan, Ohio.
We hear a lot on the campaign trail about challenging ourselves to be decent and compassionate. About looking out for our neighbors.
The campaign speeches end, and the candidates move on.
Yet sometimes, in places we least expect it, we find the most towering examples of just how good we can be if we open our eyes to those among us who don’t solicit our applause, but who are most deserving of our encouragement, of our gratitude– of our love.
Bill Sauer Field in recent years had finally deteriorated to the point where it was considered too out-of-date. This autumn, out near State Route 328, a new and glistening athletic complex has gone up.
The crumbling football stadium is being torn down even as you read these words. By next season Bill Sauer Field will be completely demolished, just a memory.
But what a memory.
And– during a campaign that asks us to find our truest and most giving selves– what a lesson.