The recent death of coach Joe Stepusin on Sept. 28, 2020, brought back fond memories of him. His death also reminded me of a forum I attended about 10 years ago in Atlanta at Morehouse College, my son’s alma mater.
This forum involved several outstanding alumni of the school whose task was to encourage incoming students. Each of the speakers had to address “How and Why You Become Successful in Life.” A well-known minister from Michigan stated that there are three reasons that cause one to be successful in life. His reasons were your faith, your parents and kin and others. I have heard these three reasons discussed before over the years. They were never discussed with such clarity, precision and passion as he described them. Much has been written and said about the role that our faith plays in the success in our lives. Equally the role of parents and family has been chronicled by many authors on the subject of success. I can attest to the outsized role that my parents and faith played in my success.
I will focus on the role of “others” because not much has been written or said about their role. They are not your parents nor kin who may share your religious beliefs. They are people who through words, deeds and gestures have made your life’s journey much easier. Oftentimes they may or may not be aware of the good fortune they gave and the recipients may or may not be aware of the good fortune they received. Only upon reflection and meditation do they realize their good fortune. They could be a beggar on the streets, a convicted felon or an atheist. They could be a professor, a teacher or a minister. I graduated from Middleburg High School in 1967. It was a small school that was predominantly white. The Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954 held that all schools must be integrated. For a short period of time local school boards across the state adopted a Freedom of Choice plan to thwart the Brown decision. This plan allowed a parent or guardian to choose the school that their child would attend. I along with my parents’ consent chose Middleburg to complete my last year of high school. I very soon regretted that decision. I certainly did not know what awaited me at that time. I had never been in a situation where I was called ugly names and had spitballs thrown at me. Furthermore, one of my teachers was hell-bent on trying to show my classmates that I was not on their level academically. It was never a problem finding a seat on the school bus because I had the whole seat to myself right behind the driver. I missed my friends from Henderson Institute and those fine teachers who cared about my education. I tried for several months to return to my former high school.
The baseball season began in the spring of 1967. Coach Stepusin was the coach. I made the team as a second baseman and shortstop. Coach Stepusin did not know me or my parents nor anything about me. He was one of the “others” who touched my life in a profound way. In addition to coaching me, he told me that he would protect me and not allow anyone to harm me. I was never afraid of being the only black player in the conference because Coach Stepusin assured me that I would be a welcomed addition to the conference. He told me I had the ability to play college baseball. I do not think he realized at the time how he blessed my life. Coach made the last three months of my senior year memorable and enjoyable ones. His kindness and support will always be remembered. In his senior years, I would see him in restaurants around town with his friends. He would always introduce me and tell them that I was one of his players. He always had kind things to say about me.
By the way, I know Coach Stepusin won a state basketball championship at Vance High School in 1974 with a perfect 26-0 record. His 1967 Middleburg baseball team went 12-3 and came within one game of playing for the 1A state championship. The entire team realized early in his career what a great coach he was. Our team had several stars including Wayne Ellington who went on to play for Elon University and Bill Ellington who went on to play for Campbell University. Although I was not a star, I went on to play for Fayetteville State University.
Rest in Peace Coach Stepusin!
Randolph Baskerville is a Henderson resident and retired judge.