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Feature Story: Shelley Playing with Heavy Heart

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Kritter47, Jun 16, 2006.

  1. Kritter47

    Kritter47 Member

    Shelley Playing With Heavy Heart

    Feb. 23, 2005, 6:53 p.m. (CST)

    IRVING, Texas -- There's a bigger difference than one might expect between Jason Shelley's old number and his new one this season.

    Nine digits, 1,700 miles and one heavy heart.

    Shelley, the Dallas Desperados WR/LB who had worn No. 18 the past three seasons, changed to No. 9 this year to honor his nephew, a boy Jason looked up to almost as much as the boy looked up to him.

    By all accounts, Mike Pennerman worshipped his uncle and wanted to wear Shelley's No. 18 for his high school football team in Vallejo, Calif., where he played safety and wide receiver.

    But No. 18 was retired by the school because the player who wore it in 2000, Josh Richardson, had died in a car accident. So Mike chose to wear No. 9, one half of Shelley's number.

    "But he wore 18 in practice," Shelley said. "I went out there to his practice, and he had 18 on. It looked alright too. I guess he kind of had me with him."

    Pennerman was the type of teenager every parent dreams of. Sure, sometimes he pouted and sulked around the house when he didn't get his way, but he never got in major trouble and always set lofty goals for himself.

    Pennerman wanted to play in the NFL or work in the financial world once he graduated from college. But his real dream, Shelley said, was to open the largest homeless shelter in the country, where anybody could come when they needed a place to stay.

    But on Nov. 6, 2004, the snap came to Pennerman on a botched extra-point attempt. He picked up the ball and tried to run in for a two-point conversion, only to be tackled around the legs by three Rodriguez High players.

    Pennerman got up, walked off the field and said to his coach, his Uncle Philip, "I feel like something's pulling me down."

    Mike collapsed, unconscious on the sideline.

    He never woke up.

    Doctors said Pennerman suffered blunt force trauma to the head, although no one could recall him getting hit in the head. He was brain-dead before anybody knew what was happening. He died the nextday, a few hours after Shelley made it out to California.

    Two days later Pennerman received his first college recruiting letter and was named to the All-Conference first team on both offense and defense.

    Shelley was devastated.

    "Jason and Mikey were so close," Shelley's brother Steven said. "He found himself at one point blaming himself. He knows that Mikey wanted be like him."

    The first thing that crossed Shelley's mind, he said, was to get away from the game of football, to get everybody he loved away from the game that had taken his nephew from him.

    But some words from Traci Wease, Mike's mother and Shelley's sister, changed his mind.

    "I said if Theo (Mike's three-year-old brother) wanted to play, I'd go ahead and let him play," Traci said. "People have been playing football for how many years? It's just a freak accident. I don't want what happened to deter them from doing what they love."

    So Shelley decided to make a different type of tribute to his late nephew. Just as Pennerman wanted to wear his No. 18, he would wear the No. 9 for the upcoming season.

    Nine for the nine letters in Mike's last name.

    Nine because that was the first number Pennerman ever wore in Pop Warner football.

    Nine because Pennerman had wanted to honor Shelley, to be like him by wearing 18.

    Nine because Shelley's heart is still 1,700 miles away from Dallas, back in Vallejo, still hoping his nephew Mike will walk in the door at his mother's home one day like nothing ever happened.

    When he scored his first touchdown in the season opener against Chicago, Shelley pointed to his chest, then to the sky, saying quietly to the nephew he knew was watching, "Did you see that? Did you see that?"

    And even though Pennerman can't answer him anymore, Shelley knows he'll be there the rest of the season, cheering for his uncle the way his uncle used to cheer for him.
  2. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr or Ms 47,

    I found the start all crooked. I was trying to keep track of who's who.

    I really don't like the idea of making it all about the number or using it as a way to get into the story.

    Just me.

    YHS, etc
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    The ending, even in echo of your lede isn't working the way you intend. When you pursue a conceit like this, the number thing, you have to find a smart way to turn it that works for the story, or it just grinds along the page like a laundry list. Consider this: 9 is half of 18 - is Jason now a man diminished by half?
  4. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    K47 -

    First, thanks for posting. It is our great joy to have stories here to workshop. Take a look at the line edit I posted above.

    I'll echo F of the F's confusion in the early going. Too many numbers. Thereafter, too many characters.

    The trick with stories like this is knowing what to leave out. In this case, by the time I reached the end of the piece I was lost in a thicket of names and relationships. Jason and Mike are really the only two folks you need to make this story work. Streamline it. An apt structural model for short, complicated stories like this might be found in the work of Rick Reilly, who tells them on a pretty frequent basis. What you'll notice in his architecture (whether or not you like the prose or the sentiment), is the limitied cast, the simplicity of the storytelling, and the ease with which he gets the characters on and off stage.

    Ask yourself this the next time out - whose story is this? In this case, I think you were trying to tell Jason's story, but felt you had to tell Mike's, too. In doing so, and by adding all those supporting characters (coach, brother, mother) you wind up shortchanging Jason. As it is, I came to the end of the piece having no sense of the emotional price he paid for his nephew's death.

    And while I understand that he may have a really big, complicated family tree, it's up to you to trim it, so the reader can see the story within.

    Some thoughts on a Saturday night. Hope it helps. And again, thanks for posting.
  5. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr or Mrs 47,

    Isn't the number change a footnote to the story, rather than the meat?

    I'd say get to the meat early. I'll suggest something like:

    Players look up to great pros, college heroes, even upperclassmen at their old high schools--our guy here looks up to someone else for inspiration.


    Our guy never had a picture of his hero over his bed. Our guy never watched his hero on the tube or read about him in magazines.

    No, his hero was someone younger. Someone who didn't live long enough to see his first recruiting letter.


    I love the recruiting letter thing.

    YHS, etc
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