I was talking to a group of classes last week at a local high school about careers in my chosen field, criminal justice. Part of my talk included talking about how people never really know where they will end up, what they will end up doing in life, and all the other things that make up who we will be in the future. Since I have quite literally spent my working life in public safety, one of the students asked, “What would you have done if you weren’t a police officer?” Great question.
It made me think about the path that brought me to that classroom on that day, talking to these young minds about being a cop. That brought me to one day, one question, one answer, and that three seconds was a major determinant to the path of my adult life – and into that classroom last week. It was August 22, 1969. Just after lunch, if memory serves.
Being an Irish kid from the New York Metropolitan Area, my family moved from New Jersey to Daytona Beach, Florida when I was fifteen years old due to my father’s medical issues – the winters in New Jersey were not good for him. We arrived in Daytona on Thursday, the August 21st, and school started on Monday, August 25. There was little time to spare, so on Friday my mother took me to Mainland High School and registered me into my sophomore year in my new high school.
During that event, the counselor with whom we spoke took a look at my 6’1″, 200 pound frame and said, “You play football, don’t you?” Mom was quick to reply, “No. He doesn’t any more.” You see, I had knee problems after a season of JV football in New Jersey, so football was out of the question. In less time than it took you to read this paragraph, my life path was set.
Like most fifteen year olds, I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Moving over a thousand miles to this new place presented a whole new set of possibilities, but where? I didn’t know – but at that moment I found out that my future did NOT include football. I was now in Florida, so a couple of weeks later I signed up to join the Mainland High School Swim Team. That night when I told my family what I had done, my mom asked another question…”Do you know how to swim?” “I figure they’ll teach me.” was my youthful reply. I was now a swimmer.
They taught me competitive swimming, and I was one of the captains of the team by my senior year. But I am getting ahead of myself. If you were a swimmer at one of the three area high schools, your summer job was on the Volusia County Beach Patrol as a beach
lifeguard. So on my sixteenth birthday, I was on the beach learning how to do water rescues, CPR, First Aid and other such important things. I had entered a life of public safety.
From the beach after graduation I became a police dispatcher, then went to the police academy to be a cop. Hired as a patrol officer at nineteen, promoted to Sergeant before I was twenty-one, part-time college in Criminal Justice, and then lots of training in specialized areas of traffic crash investigation, DUI enforcement and other topics. Then teaching, more college for bachelor and master degrees, then teaching in the academy – well, you get the picture. Today as an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, I run the two-year degree program in Criminal Justice at Daytona State College, helping officers and others pursue education in their careers.
While working for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in the late eighties, a young deputy sheriff was a trainee of mine while I was running the training division. Later he retired from the department and began teaching in the criminal justice program at University High School in Orange City, down the street from my home. He called for me come talk to his classes.
Had I gone out for the football team instead of the swim team, I am sure that my life would have turned out much differently. That moment – the answer to a simple conversational question to which my mom interjected a definitive answer – determined more than just my participation in a high school sport. It determined everything.
Oh, yea – while pursuing my criminal justice degree after putting on my badge, I took a required course for my degree, Introduction to Psychology, in the Fall of 1973. It was there that I met met a young, pretty, smart and determined nursing student. We were married in November of 1975, and just celebrated our forty-second anniversary.
No, Mom. I didn’t play football. But I would have made one hell of a running back.