Many times you do not realize the influence a person has had on your life until it’s too late to thank them for helping form you into what you have become as an adult.
Along the way, I have met many people who have meant more to me than I can express.
When I was a 10-year-old in Mrs. Townsend’s sixth-grade class at the Lake Nebagamon Grade School, I was lucky enough to meet one of those people — Pat Moreland.
Pat left us on March 2, but his influence and legacy will live on.
Moreland was the school’s principal, seventh-eighth grade teacher and basketball coach.
He was one tough teacher, the kind of educator you were afraid to let down. Goofing around in the classroom or on the athletic field was not a wise action to employ.
I met Moreland in September 1962, after my family had moved to Lake Nebagamon (Shangri La) from Carlinville, Illinois, in May.
I immediately heard how nice Mrs. Townsend was, but I had better not try to take advantage of Mr. Moreland. I’m glad I was forewarned. I never goofed off in his classroom and worked my tail off for two years.
During class one day in that fateful September, there was a knock on the door and Mrs. Townsend said, “Donny, Mr. Moreland wants to see you.”
Well, you can imagine the uproar from my classmates as they were wondering what I had done, and what my fate would be. Some probably thought I would never be seen again — and yes, I was nervous.
I was 6-feet tall in the sixth grade and had never played basketball. In Illinois, we had no gym and played softball or baseball year-round. If the weather was cruddy, we stayed in our rooms and played eraser tag.
Mr. Moreland said, “I want you to play basketball on the seventh and eighth grade team.”
I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of saying no to this figure of authority whom I feared, but I blurted out, “I don’t want to play basketball. I have never touched a basketball in my life.”
I will never forget the exact words. Without hesitation, he calmly said, “You forget one very important thing. I will be your teacher for the next two years. First practice is Monday after school. Be there.”
Immediately, fear, trepidation and sweaty armpits consumed me. I did not want to let him down, so I worked hard to be a basketball player. Moreland took me under his wing, pushed me — literally and figuratively — almost to the breaking point.
He knew how to push to make me the best I could be. It was because of him, and Northwestern coaches Gene Welshinger and Darrell Kaldor, that I achieved some success and was given a scholarship to play baseball and basketball at Northland College in Ashland after I graduated in 1969.
Without the push to start from Coach Moreland, my life could have been much different.
Moreland's son, Scott, knows what I mean. Scott was the first all-state football player in Northwestern’s storied history in 1973. He went on to play at Minnesota Duluth and UW-Superior for legendary coaches Jim Malosky and Mertz Mortorelli, respectively.
“You know I think the thing that I will remember the most about my dad, I didn’t even realize until later in my life,” Scott Moreland said. “He was always supportive in all of my life activities, especially sports, which he and I shared a passion for. But looking back, it wasn’t the visible support that had the most effect.
"He had an uncanny ability to see little details in life, and it wasn’t just in sports. If I was struggling in school, he could somehow see it and give me little things to think about to overcome whatever was blocking my ability to comprehend. In sports, it was always the little things he told me to think about that put me over the top.
“He would never come right out and say 'You have to do this or that.' He made me work it out myself. So in retrospect, I realize that he always allowed me to first fail, then he gave me the tools to turn around that failure and move past it to succeed.
"I know I’m not the only one he helped in this manner, I think there are likely thousands more, and I don’t think they have ever realized it. I do like to think he gave me a little extra however," Scott Moreland said.
Moreland was competitive in all he did. Driven, athletic in all sports, always looking to succeed and always pushing himself to be better. If he failed at something, that failure was usually a one-time thing.
As a young boy living in Iron River, he was a multi-county marble champion and an outstanding baseball and basketball player. The Milwaukee Braves invited him to try out as a pitcher. Being a lefty, he would have fit in nicely with Warren Spahn.
In the 1960s, I played for the Poplar town baseball team for a couple of years with Moreland. As a pitcher, opponents feared facing him, he had a winning percentage around 90%.
On many Sundays he would pitch both games of a doubleheader, winning both. With the millions of pitches he made in his life, he never had a sore arm.
Later in life he took up golf and excelled on the links, but his one true love was running.
He began running at the age of 50 and among marathons he ran were Boston, Grandma’s, Las Vegas, Disney, L.A., Paavo Nurmi and New York.
Until he was 80, Moreland logged over 80,000 miles while competing and training. He only stopped because of a hip replacement.
I always respected my teachers because I realized they were smarter than me. All my teachers at Northwestern got me on the right path, and for that, I thank them.
My English teachers, Virginia Tarter and Pat Loustari, helped me in so many ways.
Without them, I could not have written this. Northwestern basketball coach and friend for 50 years, Darrell Kaldor, helped me get my scholarship.
But, the one who taught me so much, and got me started on the path of life in 1962, was my coach, teacher, teammate and friend, Pat Moreland.
Thank you, Mr. Moreland.
Opinions and/or story ideas can be emailed to Don Leighton at email@example.com.