CARE: Scott Shannon

Our “C” word for November is CARE. In the CYITML definition, a leader who exhibits CARE: Puts others first; evaluates everyone honestly; understands everyone’s impact. It’s been a long time since we’ve posted to this blog. In fact, much of what you’re about to read was one of the last things we posted a year ago. See, because of both the timing (early November) and our “C” word (CARE), this is a chance to re-post an article about a former college pitcher and close friend, Scott Shannon. You’re likely in the 98 percent of people reading this who’ve never heard of Scott and, possibly, not even Lipscomb University. But Shannon embodied CARE. Here’s a bit of his story in a column I’ve written and edited many times around November 5.

From 1987-1991, Scott Shannon was a hard-throwing right-hander for legendary college baseball coach Ken Dugan and the Lipscomb University Bisons in Nashville, Tenn.

(And, yes, that’s Bisons with an “s.” The one at the end, not in the middle. Hey, that’s how they did it in the South in the mid-late 1800s. They did a lot of things wrong in the South in the mid-late 1800s.)

Shannon, 6-foot-4 and about 180 pounds (even though he was listed at 195), had a gift for a right arm. Part of that gift was the ability to throw in the 90s. Another part was the ability to throw just as hard in the late innings of a game as he did in the first two. During his career, Shannon compiled a career 27-9 record and a 3.87 earned run average for the Bisons. As a junior, he walked only eight batters in 70 innings. During his senior season of 1991, Shannon helped lead the Bisons to the NAIA District 24 baseball championship and a berth in the Area 5 tournament.

That season, the NAIA All-American Shannon had a 10-1 record with a 2.85 ERA, and was the NAIA Player of the Week at the end of March. Several major-league scouts talked to him, but he wasn’t drafted.

Really, in terms of overall athletic ability, he was fantastic. He may have been the best athlete, or at least the best conditioned, at Lipscomb. (And, keep in mind this was Lipscomb at a time when the men’s basketball teams were setting records for points scored and wins. As the story goes, there was talk about Don Meyer’s Lipscomb team taking on Billy Tubbs’ high-scoring Oklahoma team, but Tubbs didn’t want to do it. False, perhaps, but a fun story for another time.)

Stories about Scott Shannon around campus were near legendary, or at least that’s how my aging mind remembers. He ran five or six miles a day. On several occasions, he even ate an entire pizza late at night and then ran five miles a few minutes later, clocking a pretty good time.

When he wasn’t pitching, Shannon was involved with the Bison Radio Network. We were broadcast partners for nearly three years. In all, I’d guess we called more than 250 basketball and baseball games together in those three years. His baseball teammates likely would say that he fit the CYITML definition of CARE. He definitely did as a broadcasting partner.

That’s the way he was. Shannon had an uncanny ability to make friends with a wide range of people. To paraphrase a famous movie line, the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, dweebies – they all adore him. Whether as a teammate or classmate or dorm hall mate, or working baseball camps with elementary students, he touched hundreds of lives. There are plenty of people with great Scott Shannon stories, I’m sure.

In the fall of 1989, we started calling women’s basketball games together. About a year later, Scotty, who’d become a close friend by this time, encouraged me — goaded me, really — into asking out a freshman basketball player. It took a year or so, but eventually that pretty girl said yes. (Another story for another time, but we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last spring.)

A few months later in 1991, during the summer after his senior season, Scotty seemed to be wearing himself thin. He was working two jobs and preparing hard for a couple major-league tryouts. As August approached, he started complaining about being tired. I joked about how he was becoming an “old man.” (You can do that when you’re three months younger.)

But as an athlete you know your body. You know the aches, pains and normal fatigue and recovery. Even as a young, invincible athlete, you know when something just isn’t right. In early September, Labor Day weekend to be exact, Scotty reached that point. Something just wasn’t right, so he went to see a doctor at a Nashville hospital. The doctor suggested that he go, almost immediately, to nearby Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

It was cancer. Damn cancer!

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.7 million new cancer cases this year. And more than 600,000 people will die from some type of the disease this year. Additionally, look at the two people around you. At status quo, according to the ACS, one of the three of you will get cancer during your lifetime. (Studies in Britain and Canada put the number in those countries at 50%, so one of every two people.)

In a few days, undoubtedly, I’d be calling or texting Scotty to give him a hard time about turning 50. (Again, you can do that when you’re younger.) But I won’t make that call or send that text.

You see, two months after being admitted to the Vanderbilt hospital, and having not left it since the Sunday night before Labor Day, Scotty lost his fight with a rare form of cancer and all of the drugs used to fight it. It was Nov. 5, 1991. He was six days shy of his 22nd birthday.

Call it morbid. Call it sentimental. Call it whatever. I don’t care. But not many days have gone by in the past 28 years that I have not thought at least once about Scotty. Although it’s usually a quick, funny story, many of those thoughts center on the unanswerable: “Why?”

Why would God allow this to happen? How could someone my age — and in incredible shape — get cancer and die so quickly? I don’t expect to ever know the answer to those questions.

Whatever Scott would’ve done in life, there’s no doubt he would’ve been successful. He would’ve been the type of “C” leader that we try to instill in our C-10 Mentoring & Leadership students. He certainly fit the CYITML definition of CARE.

A lesson I’ve learned through the years, though, is that friends come and go. There are those who come into our lives and we’re forever grateful, regardless of how long we’re around them.

My youngest son, who happened to be born on Nov. 9, 2004, takes one of his names from Scotty. Scott’s family has told me that they know of other little boys — rather, high school students or older now — running around with the name Scott because of Shannon’s influence.

There’s a great line toward the beginning of Rocky III: “Friends don’t owe. They do because they wanna do.” (OK, maybe “great” is a stretch.)

For the most part, that line is correct. If we’re lucky enough, we’re touched by at least one friend that we do owe.

For me, Scott Shannon is — and always will be — one of those friends.

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