Sat, July 20

Column: True character test took spotlight Friday in Passport to Broadway

Years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a volunteer track & field and cross country coach at Mingus Union High School.

The best part of the job was the chance to watch the kids perform. Over the course of a season, you experience all of their highs and lows. If all the pieces of the puzzle fall perfectly into place, you get to see them deliver an optimum performance at the time of the season when it counts most.

There were two things I learned from those years working at Mingus: First, it's not under the best of conditions that provides the real character test for a young athlete. You expect them to perform well when they are at their best.

Rather, you gain real insight into their character when they're not at their best. The best example I ever saw of this was from a girl named Kari Tevlin, who was a real hot-shot athlete at Mingus 20 years ago. Under the best of conditions, she was a state champion in the long jump and an Arizona Meet of Champions winner in the triple jump.

But for most of her senior season, Kari's performances came during less-than-ideal conditions. She had the most chronic case of shin-splints I had ever seen. In meets, she would take one jump, hope it would be good enough to win, and then ice her legs until it was time to compete in the sprints or bring it home in the 1,600-meter relay. Once, a girl from Kingman bested Kari's long jump by an inch. Kari was in a locker room with her legs stuck in an ice bucket when one of her teammates told her she had fallen into second place.

Within minutes, she was back out on the field warming up and surpassed her prior best jump by a foot to send the Kingman kid packing.

Another time, I remember Kari was clearly showing signs of illness. As the meet wore on, she was miserable but still insisted on running her anchor leg of the mile-relay. She took the stick about 20 meters behind the lead runner, chased her down and gave Mingus an easy win.

She may have been the best athlete I ever coached during those years.

She undoubtedly was the toughest.

The second thing I learned as a high school coach is that the biggest threat to your team's success is the bus ride home after a long day of competition. You hear it in that first consistent hacking cough from the back of the bus. Within minutes, practically every kid on the bus has joined in and you're witness to an influenza symphony. The next week, three-fourths of your team is out sick and regionals are two weeks away.

Fast forward to the present. My volunteer efforts these days come in the form of being the assistant house manager for Verde Valley Theatre's production of "Passport to Broadway." I got the job courtesy of my wife, who's a member of the theater company and volunteered to serve as house manager for this production. That means I'm the assistant house manager. Which, in reality, means I have to stick around until the end of the show every night and empty all the trash cans in the Clark Memorial Clubhouse.

It also means I get to watch the cast perform every night, which is quite the job perk because I love musicals and this one is top-notch. You should make a point to see it.

Watching the same play every night reminds me of watching all those Mingus kids compete 20 years ago. There are 22 actors in this play ranging from an adorable first-grader to card-carrying members of the AARP. Some nights, you catch certain performers at their very best. One night later they just seem flat. The proverbial "off night."

And just like those Petri-dish bus trips where a flu bug can spread like wildfire, actors, like athletes, ply their trade in extremely close quarters.

It's bound to happen. Friday night, it did. Half, maybe three-fourths of the cast was sick. You could hear as much back-stage coughing as you could singing on stage. Many of the actors just wanted to get through the show, go home and go to bed. After all, in 24 hours, no matter whether they were worse for wear or had made a miraculous recovery, they were going to be back up on that stage giving the very best they had to give.

Some would say Friday's performance of Passport to Broadway was far from the best this cast had delivered so far during the play's run. "You should have seen 'em at the Sunday matinee," I heard someone say.

As for me, I had a flashback of Mingus' Kari Tevlin limping out of a locker room furious at the news that some girl from Kingman had the nerve to jump one-inch farther than she had. She certainly was not at her best, but that was not going to stop her from giving her best.

So it was for the troupe of singers at the Clark Memorial Clubhouse Friday. Most of them should have been home nursing their pipes instead of blasting them full-throttle.

Nope, from this corner, I did get to see these actors at their very best Friday.

It may not have been their best show, but it most certainly was their best show of character.