Salute To A Ballplayer

Saint Pauls College former student and basketball player ( # 52 on above photo) Neil Woodard passed away recently at the young age of 61.
Neil was my roommate and teammate on the Fighting Tigers from 1973-1977.  I remember meeting the brother for the first time and he made an immediate positive first impression.
Neil was a sincere and down to earth brother with an incredible sense of humor.
And who could forget those dance moves !  Part of the beauty of attending college away from home is that you get to make lifelong friends with people from different backgrounds.
I’m from Chicago and possessed what I thought were modest but presentable dancing skills.  Like most youngsters back in the day you would watch Soul Train and try to copy something.
However, my boy Neil surprised me and I’m sure many others with dance moves that looked like they came straight from the T.V. series “Fame”
Neil would leap and spin in a manner that resembled modern dance more than anything else.
It wasn’t until I learned Neil attended Music and Art School in New York that I began to understand the depth of this man’s skill set.
I learned later that Neil was a musician and to my surprise was also a great writer.
 I can recall meeting this 6′ 8″ brother blessed with great hands and footwork branding him as a prototype basketball center/power forward.
Neil was strong and would not hesitate to slam on you given his considerable leaping skills. ( Believe me, as the guy on the wrong end of some of those dunks I know).
Neil also personified what I would like to call the New York ball player.
New York ball players strutted as healthy a sense of bravado as most other cities but in Neil and others I sensed a dedication to the game that showed up in just about every aspect of their lives.
When you saw NYC guys you could tell just by looking at them that they were basketball players and they were from New York.
What I found is that these brothers would talk basketball and walk basketball, Neil was no different as he helped the Saint Paul College Tigers play some of the most competitive basketball in an extremely tough conference the CIAA.
I remember a recent conversation shared via group text that I shared with Neil and a couple of former teammates William Cozart and Brady Whaley.  The talk was hilarious as we all traded good natured stories about who shot too much and who  coach Moses Golatt fussed at more.
We teased Neil about leaving Saint Paul’s for rival Virginia State to collect on a promised Chevy Camaro.
It was a great time and reminded us just how important the maintaining of relationships can be.
We were all shocked and saddened upon learning of Neil’s death and the outpouring of love and respect at his home going only solidified what we already knew about this man who has spent much of his life in service to others.
As I mentioned Neil was a Jazz musician and writer but most importantly he expanded his love for the LORD by starting the Remnant Church and Magazine with a fierce dedication and first rate staff.
It is a common saying that the LORD reaches us by using other people a point driven home by all of the testimony’s of people who’s lives were impacted by Neil (mine included).
We will all miss this gentle giant who drank freely and enthusiastically of life and all it offered.
This poem by Dylan Thomas typifies to me the essence of this peaceful warrior:

poet Dylan Thomas

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Poem by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Neil got every inch out of every day as the self proclaimed “Superman”
touched and helped  many over the course of a full and meaningful life.
RIP Big Man, you will not be forgotten.
Reprinted courtesy of The Remnant Magazine.