If there’s a better job I don’t know what it would be than having the opportunity to describe the athletic achievements of young University of Montana student-athletes on the basketball floor and the football field.
But as you probably understand, it’s not even so much the preparation, games, practices, long and sometimes challenging days of travel that most excite me – even after close to three decades of broadcasting.
For me, it’s more about the people I encounter and the relationships I’ve built. And most of all, the interview opportunities I am afforded.
While there sometimes isn’t enough time during a halftime, pre-game or post-game to do justice to the subject matter or interviewee, I take special pride in skimming the surface to piqué a listener’s interest to the point they might reach out to another form of media to acquire more information.
But while in the last couple of weeks, I’ve featured Utah State coach Stew Morrill talking about how difficult it was to leave Missoula, retired UM professor Bill Knowles on the effect of Al Jazera on the revolution in Egypt and Sanford Qvale reflecting on his son Brian’s record-setting time in Missoula, I could not have been more honored than when, after the Idaho State victory, I interviewed wounded Ronan U.S. Marine Tomy Parker on his caravan return trip up the Mission Valley to Polson.
And to share the interview with Grizzly Scholarship Association Executive Director Greg Sundberg and Head Coach Wayne Tinkle during the post-game made it even more significant.
So what, you ask, does that have to do with basketball and what does such an interview have to do with sports?
Well, you see, it has everything to do with sports, which I have always viewed and often described as nothing more than a microcosm of life.
Although he doesn’t think of it that way, Tomy Parker’s story is that of a 21-year-old true American hero, who days before he was blown into the air by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan rendered immediate assistance to a pair of fellow Marines who were wounded. He then lost both of his legs, fingers off of his dominant hand and sustained head injuries.
He has received the Purple Heart because of his wounds, but his actions days prior in saving the lives of teammates, fellow Marines, will I’m sure also be officially recognized. His lifesaving gallantry under fire should be rewarded with a nomination for a Bronze or Silver Star.
But more about the interview, which was conducted as he was en route on Highway 93 North as part of a phalanx of more than 200 vehicles, including members of the Patriot Guard and area law enforcement and fire departments.
Tomy’s voice was strong, sincere, heart-felt, appreciative and somewhat overwhelmed with all of the attention as he returned to the valley for a week’s leave less than two months after being wounded.
His indomitable spirit, which he told me is just his personality, will serve him well in the challenging months ahead. But he spent the majority of the interview time thanking people, especially his extended family, for their continued support and brought me to my emotional knees when twice near the conclusion he yelled “Go Griz.”
Sports has a profound influence on all our lives and I believe provides us some balance.
Tomy Parker’s determinative will and loyalty to the lives of his fellow Marines, one of whom did not survive, serves as a powerful example to us all of true teamwork and I’m sure will make its way into more than one locker room.
It was my honor to share a few minutes to try to bring perspective to the life of a young man who graduated from high school and sought to defend his country.
Semper Fi, Tomy.
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