Years later, my apology for not talking with a kid

One of the first things a young reporter learns about community journalism is that access is a two-way street.

There is some advantage in having a City Council member as your next-door neighbor or running into the director of the chamber of commerce at lunch.

On the other hand, you have to be prepared for the fact that you will regularly run into people about whom you have written, not all of whom will have been thrilled with your work.

And so it was, at long last, that I found myself facing Morgan Mander, a poised young woman who shook my hand, looked me directly in the eye and said, "I'm Morgan, and your apology is accepted."

I had met her younger sister, Gentry, at my stepdaughter's wedding rehearsal supper the night before. I knew that she was one of three daughters of my friends Chip and Deanna Mander, and that she was singing (beautifully, it turned out) at the wedding the next day.

"You're not the one who — er — plays volleyball, are you?" I asked hesitantly.

"No, my sisters both play," Gentry said, an impish gleam in her eye, "but I think you are thinking of Morgan, the one you wrote about."

A dozen or so years ago, Morgan, then attending a private school, had wanted to play volleyball on the Pasco Middle School volleyball team because her school did not have a team. She was a good player (she went on to be a high school and college standout); the school had no objection and everything was fine until the Florida High School Athletic Association said she couldn't.

Her father, a prominent, and very talented, attorney sued the association and I felt compelled to take a side in a column.

The genesis of that compulsion would probably make a whole other column. I'm sure I had what sounded (to me if nobody else) like valid reasons at the time, and hidden among them was the fact that I had to produce three columns a week, which meant I sometimes had to manifest concerns that I might otherwise not have felt so strongly.

I remember that her dad wanted me to talk to her, and that I reasoned (again, I admit, I may be stretching the definition of reason) that the suit had made it more a matter between him and the state association than between them and her.

"So," I said, laughing uneasily at the rehearsal supper, "she's probably forgotten all about that. Right?"

"Not so much," Gentry responded.

What I didn't know was that the Mander family (and they do these things as a family) had later fought a similar battle for the rights of another daughter, Shelby, to play at Centennial Middle School.

I tried for a minute to think about what had been so important to me 12 years ago about whether a 13-year-old kid played volleyball. And, even more puzzling to an older and ever-so-slightly wiser me, I wondered why I hadn't talked to Morgan and picked up a few quotes.

"Do you think she will accept my apology?" I asked, adding, "Will you tell her I apologize?' "

"She probably will," Gentry said, "but you'll get a chance to find out. She's coming to the wedding."

Gulp!

Suddenly I wondered if anybody would notice if the stepfather of the bride didn't show.

But, as noted, Morgan Mander was gracious and good-humored about the matter. "It's like that in our family," she said. "We'll be complaining about something and my dad will say, 'So, do you want to sue them?' and we usually decide it isn't that big a deal. This time I said, 'Yes, I do,' and we did."

We chatted for a while longer, long enough for me to realize what remarkable young women Chip and Deanna had raised, and then I took my leave.

A few minutes later I was walking near where Morgan was sitting, tripped (after only a couple of glasses of wine) and nearly fell into the pool.

I looked up at her face and saw humor and concern, and decided she was almost glad I had not fallen in.

Years later, my apology for not talking with a kid 09/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 10:18am]

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