Fatherhood is an emotional topic for Thurl Bailey.
The former NBA basketball player is worried that his father’s time might be short. Carl Bailey is now in his mid-80s and has survived three strokes.
“All those memories rushed at me,” Bailey said in an interview with the Deseret News. “When he’s gone, that’s all I’m going to have.”
Bailey grew up in a home with five children during the civil rights era in Washington, D.C. When Thurl was a baby, a brick wall fell on his father at a construction site. He eventually recovered but could no longer work, as detailed in a 2003 Deseret News article.
“It was hard enough to make ends meet,” Bailey said. “Mom and Dad were always strong, but my dad’s role was to make his sons say what they mean, mean what they say.”
Bailey learned many life lessons from his father. The happiest memories came when he took him to a ball game or a nearby creek with a bamboo fishing pole. Another time, Bailey’s father pulled up some weeds in the yard and built a makeshift basketball hoop out of household materials.
“He proceeded to teach me, through basketball, lessons about life, little things, like the importance of preparation, focus and being coachable,” Bailey said. “I knew that he wasn’t just talking about basketball, he was preparing me for life. I cherish those moments I have with my dad. I hope my legacy is half of what his will be to me.”
With Father's Day approaching, Bailey is one of seven Mormon athletes who shared a tribute to their fathers and other influential male figures in their lives. NFL receiver Austin Collie, Olympic bronze medalist Chris Fogt, Kansas City pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, Olympic silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace, NFL linebacker Bryan Kehl and retired major league baseball player Brian Banks also shared their stories and experiences.
They all echo the idea shared by Elder L. Tom Perry in his April 2004 general conference talk: "Fatherhood is leadership, the most important kind of leadership. It has always been so; it will always be so."
Not surprisingly, the last three years have been the hardest of Austin Collie’s football career.
After a stellar rookie season in Indianapolis in which he established himself as one of quarterback Peyton Manning’s go-to receivers and played in the Super Bowl, a series of three concussions and a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee threatened to end the former BYU receiver’s career. Last season, he failed to make San Francisco’s opening-day roster and was cut twice by New England before rejoining the Patriots in time for the NFL playoffs, where he contributed in two postseason games.
In his supportive circle of family and friends, Collie said it was his father, Scott Collie, whose quiet reassurance helped Austin believe in himself during those turbulent times.
“The last three years have probably been the most trying time I have ever had, as far as dealing with the concussions and the massive speed bump thrown in my way. There have been times of doubt and (asking), 'Am I going to play again? Am I ever going to get back to where I was?' ” Austin Collie said in an interview with the Deseret News. “He would reassure me. Every time I would talk to him, he would say, ‘You still got it. Stay in it. Your number is going to get called. Stay in it.’ That kind of stuff, when you’re my age, goes a long way.”
Collie said there were days when he wanted to go through the motions in practice. In those moments, he would hear his father’s voice, and it inspired him to elevate his efforts.
“It was just enough for me, to help me stay with it,” Collie said.
Collie is grateful for the confidence, diligent work ethic and never-quit attitude ingrained in him by his father and mother.
“The one thing my parents did very well was instill confidence in us that we could set goals, and if we worked hard enough, we could reach them, that we were capable, that we were better than we probably thought we were,” Collie said. “That has gone a long way for us, not only in football, but in everyday life.”
When Chris Fogt and his bobsled team crashed and finished last in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, it was his father, William “Bill” Fogt, who lifted him from the discouraging gloom and helped set him on the path to a bronze medal in the 2014 Sochi Games.
“You train for years, your family and friends are watching, then you crash. It was humiliating as well as humbling,” Fogt said. “My dad was the first to say, 'We are still proud of you for what you accomplished. You still represent USA and are part of an elite group of athletes that call themselves Olympians.' He has always been supportive, positive and optimistic.”
Bill Fogt was stationed in Germany with the U.S. military when he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He eventually attended Brigham Young University, married his wife, Janet, and pursued a career as a seminary and institute teacher.
While Chris Fogt has learned many lessons from his father that have benefitted him in athletic competition, one of the most powerful was a lesson in charity.
When Fogt was in high school, his father accepted a job in Boston. To prepare for the move, the family organized a garage sale. That day, the future Olympian witnessed something that has always stayed with him.
During the sale, a family pulled up in an old, beat-up truck. Their appearance suggested they came from humble circumstances, Fogt said. The family expressed interest in buying a dresser priced at $50.
Anticipating a higher cost of living in Boston, combined with his father's teaching salary and a family with eight children, Fogt knew his parents were in need of money. Yet he saw his father load the dresser into the truck free of charge. His dad then handed the man $20 for gas.
“I don’t think we made any money in the whole sale. He basically gave everything away. We were poor, losing money, yet he still had it in his heart to help and serve people,” Fogt said. “That’s one thing I’ve taken with me. I’ve always tried to be charitable toward other people in all walks of life.”
Steve Guthrie has never been prone to giving big pep talks or offering instructional tips to his athletic children, but he has always been committed to showing up for their games.
With three sons playing three sports and a daughter playing volleyball, there were a lot of games over the years. Yet Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, can’t remember a time when his parents didn’t show up for a family member’s sporting event.
“Thankfully, their schedules allowed for that,” Guthrie said. “Clearly, there was also a high level of commitment on their end to do that.”
Guthrie recalled one weekend during his senior year of high school when his parents attended his game in Oregon on Friday night, then drove more than eight hours to see his brother Chad play for Southern Oregon University the next day in Washington. After the game, they traveled home in time to attend LDS Church meetings on Sunday.
When Guthrie played baseball for Stanford, his parents consistently made the six-hour drive for several months each season.
“They always did that. There was never a debate of going to one and not the other. They always went to all of them,” Guthrie said. “There was never a doubt.”
Sadly, their impeccable attendance record was broken when Guthrie started playing professional baseball.
One of the best games of Guthrie's professional career was on Father's Day in 2009. Pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, Guthrie held the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies to three hits and two walks while retiring 19 of the final 22 batters. The Orioles won 2-1.
Steve Guthrie is not a man of many words, and quite frankly, he’s not the biggest baseball fan, his son said. But having him there, as he had been so many times, made it extra special for his son.
“Him just being there, saying ‘Good game’ and giving me a hug, meant a lot,” Guthrie said.
Young Noelle Pikus-Pace was pitching in the second game of a softball double-header when the 12-year-old got into an argument with her coach, who also happened to be her father, Lee Pikus.
She had just walked two batters when her father started yelling, “Pitch a strike.”
“I’m trying to pitch a strike,” she yelled back.
“Well, just pitch a strike then,” he said.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” she fired back. “I’m not trying to pitch a ball.”
“You better pitch a strike,” he persisted.
That was it. She dropped the ball on the mound and moved toward first base, where she informed her teammate they were switching positions.
“OK, I’m playing first and you go pitch. I can’t take it anymore,” she said. “He was pretty mad.”
The next day, father and daughter were on friendly terms again, playing pitch and catch in the backyard.
“He definitely had his moments where he pushed me to be a little more than I thought I could be,” Pikus-Pace said with a laugh.
Long before she won the silver medal in women’s skeleton at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Pikus-Pace was coached and mentored by her father.
She has always loved and respected her father. Lee Pikus was raised in Duluth, Minnesota, by parents who were alcoholics. He eventually joined the LDS Church and became an electrical engineer. Over the years, he has demonstrated how to work hard and ignore the critics, Pikus-Pace said.
Although there were times when her father was “stubborn” and “demanding,” Pikus-Pace eventually grasped the life lessons he was teaching her. She would not have reached the Olympic medal stand without his help, Pikus-Pace said.
“He always expected me to be my best. There were times when I couldn’t take the pressure he placed on me. The desire he had for me to succeed was a little overbearing at times,” Pikus-Pace said. “He pushed me to be better. He knew I could be better. Sometimes I didn’t see that. But I’m happy he pushed me.”
Last October, Washington Redskins linebacker Bryan Kehl tore his left ACL in a Sunday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys, ending his sixth NFL season. The injury required the former BYU star to go to Pensacola, Florida, for surgery and rehabilitation.
“Who volunteered to come down there and stay for more than a week? Oh, my dad, Gary Kehl,” Bryan Kehl said with chuckle.
It had to be terribly boring, Bryan Kehl said. Most of the time Bryan was medicated, engaged in rehab or sitting in his room. But having his father there illustrated something more meaningful for the injured NFL linebacker.
“I told him, 'You don’t have to stay after the surgery,' but he wasn’t going to have it. He said he’s staying until I leave,” Bryan Kehl said. “It shows he’s always been there for me. From day one until the end, he’d been there for me. There has never been a time when he wouldn’t bend over backwards to do anything to help.”
Kehl said his father came to every single one of his little league games, all of his high school games and 49 of the 50 games he played for BYU. The one he missed was at Colorado State during his freshman year when he played sparingly.
Kids remember those things, Kehl said.
“That's how my dad has been my whole life. He has always believed in me and always been there for me,” said Kehl, who was adopted by Gary and Nancy Kehl in 1984. “I’ve been blessed to have as good a dad as a kid could ever hope or dream to have.”
Before he won a World Series ring with the 2003 Florida Marlins, Brian Banks pulled weeds and played golf with his father, Glen B. Banks.
Every Saturday morning at 6 a.m., they were out doing something productive in the yard. It was mostly misery for the teenager at first, Brian Banks said. Then lessons about the value of consistent hard work began to emerge.
“A lot of times it was just moving one pile of dirt from one area of the backyard to the other. But what I gained was good work ethic and habits, along with an understanding that in order to get where you want to be in life, you’ve got to have a desire to get things done,” said Banks, now retired from the game and working as a dentist in Arizona. “I’m sure as a teenager I was mumbling and groaning, but it was that consistency that ultimately paid off. As I look back, some of the greatest life experiences came in the conversations we had out there in the yard.”
After a few hours in the yard, the conversations continued on the golf course.
“He really took the time to get to know me and find out what was going on in my life and who my friends were,” Banks said of his father. “It was that consistency through my teenage years that I think taught me important values.”
Glen Banks also set a positive example of faith and finding lessons in everyday experiences, Brian Banks said.
The family was also consistent in having family home evening and scripture study, which influenced Brian’s testimony. Each Monday night, he would grab a bag of Oreo cookies and a tall glass of milk and turn on Monday Night Football, only to have the TV turned off for family time.
“I was frustrated that it had to be turned off, but he would try to time it around halftime to keep me happy,” Banks said. “We always ran into the second half. But again, it was that consistency again.”
Ultimately, no matter what happened in Brian’s games from little league to the big leagues, Glen Banks found a way to relate it to life. After each game, he would put his arm around Brian and find deeper meaning in things like strikeouts and home runs.
“'You know, this is a lot like life,’ he would say. 'You are going to have your highs and lows. The important thing is to not get too high or low and understand tomorrow you have a job to do,' ” Brian Banks said. “To him, it was, 'Let’s take whatever good or bad happened and put that into a life lesson.' He still does that today.”
Bailey went on to accept a basketball scholarship at North Carolina State and was a member of the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA national championship team. He spent 11 years in the NBA before playing professionally in Greece and Italy. He is grateful to have been coached by “fantastic leaders” like Jim Valvano, Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson and others.
He never would have met them, however, without the guidance and mentorship of his junior high coach, Michael Cole.
Bailey was cut from his seventh- and eighth-grade teams. The coach at the time told him, he "didn’t have what it took to be a basketball player,” Bailey said.
Bailey admits he knew little about the game then, but he idolized Julius “Dr. J” Erving and knew he wanted to be a basketball player.
As Bailey was going into ninth grade, the coach who cut him left and Cole was named the new coach. Bailey considered not trying out but decided to give it another shot. He was glad he did. Not only did he make the team, but also Cole committed to work individually with him for an hour before and after practice.
“Could I play? I was 6-foot-9, size 15 shoes and just tripping over everything. Coach Cole kept me on the team. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. But in reality, I knew I wasn’t very good,” Bailey said with a smile. “That’s when it began for me. Coach Cole was a guy who saw some potential in me and helped me to start on that journey.”
Recently, Bailey has been inspired by a famous talk by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt titled “Men in the Arena.” He wants to share the message and hopefully inspire other men to be better husbands and fathers.
“This is not just for myself, but for other men in general, to wake up and step up in the arena,” Bailey said. "I call those ‘Arena Men.’ ”
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