Archive for Thursday, October 12, 2006

Buck stopped here

October 12, 2006

When visitors stop by The Current office at 204 N. Main Street, one of the first things they see hanging on the wall is the press plate for the front page of the inaugural issue of the paper from Nov. 4, 2004.

The lead photo on that page is of a crowd of Lansing Elementary School third-graders swarming baseball legend John "Buck" O'Neil.

Buck died Friday night in a Kansas City hospital from complications from congestive heart failure. He'd also recently been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. He was 94.

In the days since then, fans, friends and journalists across the country have recounted their memories of Buck.

He was baseball's most valuable ambassador. That much is obvious.

But baseball isn't the only organization that lost a hero Friday. Those in the education field did too.

Buck's favorite pastime was educating people about the storied history of the Negro Leagues, but he also was passionate about education in general. He'd been denied the right to attend high school in Sarasota, Fla., as a teenager because he was black, so it was important to him that today's children take education seriously. Sharing that message with schoolchildren was a priority.

The 2004 visit was Buck's second to LES in as many years to meet with the third-graders. They'd read Peter Golenbock's book, "Teammates." The book focused on the friendship of Jackie Robinson, a black player, and "Pee Wee" Reese, who was white, and how their relationship in the face of racism helped black players gain acceptance in Major League Baseball.

O'Neil was friends with both Robinson and Reese, so he agreed to meet with the students as a supplement to the lesson plan.

Buck quizzed the students on their knowledge of Robinson, the player who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. He tested them on baseball terminology. He shared a few personal stories in the grandfatherly style his admirers fell in love with.

He also emphasized the importance of education - something he valued even more after not being able to attend high school.

"An education is one of the most important things you can do for yourself," Buck told the students. "I'm still learning, and I'm 92!"

Lansing Elementary School principal Tim Newton recalled Buck's visits fondly.

"I think the most important message he had was learning to love one another and respect one another," Newton said. "I think those are the things that are important for the kids to learn."

Newton said the students likely were too young to fully appreciate O'Neil's visit at the time, but he said it was an experience they would be proud of when they're older.

"Later on there's going to be things that are going to be named in his honor, and the kids can actually say 'I got to meet the man,'" Newton said. "For the kids to have the opportunity to meet someone who represents Kansas City, that's something I'll always remember."

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