A Buckeye reminder

  • BY Lisa Byington
  • 5.10.12

Where were you when you got the news?

I sat in my third-floor bedroom on campus during my junior year at Northwestern.

Ohio State shortstop Alicia Herron got her news on gameday.

Buckeye pitcher Melanie Nichols found out hers, after wrapping up a team meeting.

Where were you when you got the news that THAT person in your life was gone?

Mine was a high school math teacher, George Kitchen.

Herron’s was her mother, she lost a battle with gastric cancer.

Nichols? Her father. Died of a heart attack in his early 50’s.

I just came from Columbus this weekend, calling a doubleheader between Ohio State and Iowa. The Buckeyes’ head coach, Linda Kalafatis, reminded me of the pain those two Ohio State players endured last year. Their two parents died within weeks of one another, just one season ago.

Ironically, the one-year anniversary of Herron’s loss fell on this past weekend, senior weekend. HER senior weekend.

She shared the moment with her two older sisters. Herron’s father also lost a battle with cancer, when Alicia was in high school.

Melanie Nichols got zero warning she would lose her father. It came in a phone call after Ohio State’s season-ending meeting last year. “They were very close,” Kalfatis told me. “She spoke to him everyday. Thankfully, they spoke that morning.”

Then the head coach paused. “She has been trying to heal her heart.”

Ohio State has rallied behind its two teammates. The Buckeyes sport the initials of both Jan Herron and Bill Nichols on the back of their helmets all season.

During our doubleheader, BTN aired a feature (by Kara Lentz) about Herron’s journey. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here:


Herron’s mom passed on the SAME day Ohio State played Michigan last year. Herron decided to play…that day.

The Ohio State stories reminded me of my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Kitchen. I hated math. He made me … well…tolerate it. And he DID make Calculus fun, I will give him that. A 60-something-year-old man singing and dancing at the front of the room. How could it not? I actually won the math award my senior year. Something I still laugh at whenever I break out the calculator app on my iPhone. Mr. Kitchen would not approve.

He took the time to know his students. He was the first in the school building and the last to leave, hoping a student would do the same. He showed up as a fan at his student’s sporting events. During my senior year in high school, when our girls’ basketball team advanced all the way to the state semifinals, he was there for every game. He even had a nickname for me: “Leesy Weesy.”

It’s something I actually hoped he would forget when I was in college. Especially when Northwestern would return to play Michigan or Michigan State. “Gooooo Leesy Weesy,” I would hear from the stands, as we trotted out for warmups. You can’t blame me when I initially reacted the same way a middle schooler would when mom tries to give you a kiss in front of your friends. Here I was in college. My teammates would chuckle. I would cringe. Until, that is, I would look up in the stands and see this 5-foot-nothing math teacher, his glasses sitting on the edge of his nose, beaming from ear-to-ear, hands pumping in the air: “Goooooooo Leesy Weesy.”

Mr. Kitchen lost a battle with cancer after that. We were lucky. We could plan for it. I made a point of visiting him and his wife at their home one weekend. He was weak, and could barely get off the couch. But I had my chance to say goodbye.

Days before he died, I received an email to my university account. It was from Mr. Kitchen, a short two-sentence message. He wrote he was excited to see me this week at Noyes Street Cafe, the restaurant in Evanston we would always eat at when he would visit me at college.

I just stared at the email.

I knew we were hours from losing him. The email made no sense. Here was a man who was dying, who could barely get off the couch, and he wrote he would see me for lunch this week.

I realized something later. That message was his goodbye to me. Lunch is what we did. He was saying it wasn’t going to end.

One of my former bosses, Fred Heumann, likes to say, “Hug someone you love today. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.” I was reminded of that, in of all places, calling an Ohio State/Iowa softball game this weekend.

It’s where I got a chance to watch two brave young ladies compete at the sport they love, and in their cases, for the ones they love.

We never know where we are going to be when we get the call.

Or the reminder.

about the author

Lisa Byington has worked for BTN, FOX, CBS, Turner, and ESPN. She earned her BSJ and MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She also played four years of basketball and two years of soccer for the Wildcats.