Mark Story: Kentucky pro athlete remembers those who helped him

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 8, 2014 

Left to right: Joan Wood, Ben Revere, Sharon Calhoun at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on May 2.

PHOTO PROVIDED

So often in the 21st century, one reads stories of young athletes who let the fame and riches of big-time professional sports cause them to forget the people who helped them get where they are.

This is the opposite of one of those stories.

In preparation for their 14th annual Teacher Appreciation Night, the Philadelphia Phillies asked their starting center fielder, Ben Revere, if there had been an educator who had made a special impact on his life.

The ex-Lexington Catholic High School star said there were two.

Which explains how Sharon Calhoun and Joan Wood, who taught Revere in middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School in Richmond, received an expenses-paid trip from the Phillies to Citizen's Bank Ballpark for Philadelphia's May 2 game with the Washington Nationals.

The two got the VIP treatment. They were interviewed on the Phillies radio network. They received plaques of recognition presented by Revere. And along with 10 Philadelphia-area educators who were recognized by the Phillies as "Teacher All-Stars," Calhoun, 65, and Wood, 64, even danced with the Phillie Phanatic atop the dugout.

"They treated us like celebrities," Calhoun said.

As a child growing up in Georgia, school was not easy for Revere. The youngest son of Eastern Kentucky University football assistant John Revere and his wife, Brenda, was eventually diagnosed with an auditory learning disability.

"It was an auditory processing type of deal," John Revere said Thursday. "(Ben) would take in (information) correctly, but by the time it got to his brain stem, sometimes he would reverse it. It was really frustrating for him."

When John Revere left a longtime job as a high school football coach in LaGrange, Ga., to return to EKU, his alma mater, as an assistant in 1997, the family was looking for a school where Ben could get individual attention.

They enrolled him at Saint Mark, a small Catholic school.

For three school years, when Ben Revere was in the sixth, seventh and eight grades, he was in Calhoun's math, science and art classes; Wood taught reading, social studies, drama, choir and religion.

"I don't know whether it was intuitive or their training or what, but they both were able to reach Ben where he was at," John Revere said. "His situation was very correctable. Joan and Sharon, they jumped right on it, understood where he was coming from."

Calhoun and Wood both describe the middle school Ben Revere as a bundle of energy with a mischievous glint in his eye and a winning way with other kids. Even then, he was talking about becoming a pro athlete. "We just didn't know then if it would be baseball or football," said Calhoun, the wife of former EKU men's basketball coach Mike Calhoun.

Once Ben Revere realized that he could overcome his challenges and do well in school, Calhoun said, he worked every bit as hard at that as he did at his sports.

"Ms. Calhoun taught math class. When I entered the class, I wasn't quick," Ben Revere said (in quotes provided by the Phillies). "Some kids just got the problems right away, and that wasn't me. Ms. Calhoun really helped me with math. She made it click. All of a sudden, I started to understand math, and I went from not doing well to getting all A's.

Wood, meanwhile, helped Revere see the importance of reading. "She said that would help me in all areas of my life," he said, "and she was right."

In high school at Lexington Catholic, Ben Revere became a football standout and Kentucky's 2007 Mr. Baseball. He was selected in the first round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft by Minnesota, earning a reported $750,000 signing bonus from the Twins.

Yet what he was most proud of, his dad said, is that by the time he entered LexCath he was up to speed with the other students academically.

"With all the challenges he had faced, that meant the world to him," John Revere said.

Saying thanks

Calhoun said Ben Revere had expressed appreciation for the role his middle-school teachers played in his life before. "He told me once in a very sweet note that everything he is now started the day he walked into our classrooms," she said.

Still, Calhoun, who is retired, was surprised when she got a phone call during baseball's spring training from a Phillies official telling her that the team would pay the expenses for her and Wood to come to Philadelphia for the May 2 Teacher Appreciation Game against the Nationals.

Wood, who is now a media specialist (used to be called a librarian) at Lebanon Elementary in Marion County, wasn't sure she could get off work. "My principal was very kind to let me," she said.

So the two teachers, along with Calhoun's two daughters and her 5-year-old granddaughter, flew into Philadelphia last week. The team put them up for three nights in the Hyatt Regency Penn Landing along the Philadelphia waterfront.

At the ballpark before the Friday game, the duo were taping a television interview when Revere came in and surprised them. The two were given No. 2 Phillies jerseys — Revere's number — and their former student autographed them. They got to go on the field for batting practice.

The teachers were not necessarily thrilled when told they and the other educators being recognized would go on top of the dugout to dance with the Phillie Phanatic. "Finally, we figured we might as well go with it," Calhoun said.

As the Beach Boys' Be True To Your School played on the public address system, Calhoun, Wood and the others hammed it up with the Phanatic. "They said I was on the Jumbotron," Wood said. "I didn't see it. I'm glad I didn't see it."

In the Hollywood version of this story, we'd report that Ben Revere had three hits and a game-winning home run in front of his former teachers. Actually, he went 0-for-4 in a game started by Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. The Phillies lost 5-3.

The two educators who helped Ben Revere fulfill his dream left Philadelphia feeling like winners.

Said Wood: "It was awesome."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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