Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 2)

Jerry Wyant

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 2)

I huddled with the Kansas City Chiefs throughout one game
I was the star of the Missouri Boys’ State talent show

I like to tell stories about myself. I have a blog. It only makes sense that I would use my blog for these stories. Since I have more stories than I have room for in one blog post, I am going to tell these stories over time and over several posts. This is part two, with two stories. Here is a link to part one.


I huddled with the Kansas City Chiefs throughout one game

The game was charity basketball, not football. But I got to sit on the Chiefs bench throughout the game and stand in the huddles during timeouts.

I was 9 years old. These were the Chiefs of the old American Football League. They played in the very first Super Bowl, and later they became the second original AFL team to win the Super Bowl. These guys were all legends to me.

I don’t remember how I ended up on the team bench. Perhaps one of the Chiefs saw me standing in admiration and asked me to join them during the game. At the time I knew the names of all of the players. Now, after all these years, I cannot remember which players showed up for this charity basketball game. I do remember that none of the black players showed up, even though some of them had been advertised to be there.

All-star tight end Fred Arbanas was there. He was injured at the time – recovering from a separated shoulder – and couldn’t play in the game. Despite the injury, he showed up. Since he couldn’t play, he was designated as the team coach during the game. I spent the entire game sitting next to Fred Arbanas. What a thrill for me! The game was just for fun, so we had plenty of time for small talk. During timeouts, I stood with the team as they huddled around their designated coach.


I was the star of the Missouri Boys’ State talent show.

The photo isn’t top quality, since it is a photocopy from a 1970s pamphlet. But here it is. I have a cheek full of apple.

I almost didn’t try out for the talent show. I really didn’t know if I had a talent worthy of consideration, or if my act was something that many people in the audience could do. I finally got up the nerve to attend the tryout when I convinced myself that this was my best chance to find out if my act was any good or not. Because I was still afraid of humiliation, I wanted to try out in secret. The only ones who would know would be the ones attending the tryout session. I didn’t tell any of the guys from my “city” at Boys’ State. (Those who attend Boys’ State are assigned to a fictitious “city”. “Residents” of each city share a wing on a dorm floor and create their own “government”).

My act was a juggling act. I had taught myself how to juggle in the privacy of my bedroom. At first I didn’t set out to learn how to juggle. Occasionally, when I was walking in town, I would find a pop bottle and pick it up in order to turn it in for the nickel deposit. While walking with the bottle in hand, I would idly flip it in the air and catch it. Before long, I realized that this act of flipping and catching was the basis of juggling, so I decided to see if I could learn how to juggle.

I had seen juggling before, on TV variety shows. But during the time that I was learning to do it myself, I never once watched a juggler do it. My reference point was my memory of seeing it done before I tried it myself. While I was still trying to learn, my school brought in a juggler to perform during a school assembly – but I happened to be out sick that day, and I missed it. I assumed that this performer had given tips on how to do it, so I didn’t know if all of the other kids in school could do what I was trying to learn how to do. I was afraid to ask anybody if they could do it. I was also afraid to let anybody see what I was doing. I was afraid because I didn’t want my hopes to be dashed.

The first time I juggled in public was during a speech class in high school. Each student was required to demonstrate how to do something. Don Edwards, who was the star of the school basketball team, brought in a basketball to demonstrate how to dribble. Randy Hamilton brought in a coconut to demonstrate how to eat a coconut – a witty reference to the Harry Nilsson song “Coconut”, which had been a recent hit song. Rodger Thompson took the class outside to the parking lot, where he demonstrated how to change a car’s windshield wiper blade. I decided to demonstrate how to juggle. This would be my first public test of what I had been teaching myself in private.

And it went over very well. Instead of people in the class telling me “I can do that, too”, they were telling me “wow, I had no idea you could do that”. Mrs. Rinehart, the teacher, was impressed. Mr. Arnold, the principal, happened to be walking past the classroom, looked in the window to see what was going on, and then came into the class for a better look. He asked me to juggle in front of the elementary kids, which I did.

But that was at one small school in a small town. The Missouri Boys’ State talent show was a different matter. Here were 960 high school boys, between their junior and senior years, who were chosen from all across the state for leadership potential and well-rounded scholastic and extracurricular abilities. They brought with them all kinds of talent. I was overwhelmed and felt invisible. How was my little juggling act going to play here? I was fairly certain that among this group there must be several boys who knew everything I knew about juggling, and then some.

But I didn’t know for sure. Perhaps this was the only chance I would ever have to find out. At the last minute, I finally got up the nerve to attend the tryout. The audition was held in the back of a theater. There was only one judge who would decide who would pass the audition and perform in the talent show. I juggled for a minute or two, and then I was told that I would get to go on. The judge told me that there had not been a juggling act in this show for as long as he could remember.

The part of my routine that I thought would be most impressive was bouncing balls off of a wall while juggling. It was something that I did during the audition. Unfortunately, I knew that there would be no walls on stage at the actual talent show. I would have to come up with something else to use as the highlight of my routine. Although I had never done this – or even thought about doing it in the past – I decided that I would replace one of the balls I was juggling with an apple. Every time the apple came around, I would take a bite out of it. I would continue the process until the apple was gone. I quietly walked to a market near my dorm, bought an apple, and saved it for the talent show. Without ever having practiced such a thing, I was going to do this in front of a large audience.

There were well over 1,000 people in the audience. The talent show was at the end of parents’ night. Only a fraction of parents were able to attend, but all 960 boys at Boys’ State, plus all of the parents who did show up, were watching me perform. This was at least 3 times the entire population of my town of Eagleville, Missouri. And I still didn’t know if there would be several jugglers in the audience, totally unimpressed with what I could do.

But my routine turned out to be the hit of the show. It wasn’t a contest – they didn’t choose winners or give out prizes – but the audience was into my routine the entire time. I got several standing ovations. I finished off the routine by eating the apple while juggling, and the entire crowd stood, clapped, and chanted ‘go, go, go!” the entire time. There were several good acts in the talent show, but none of them got the audience reaction that mine did.

I had one mess-up during my routine – one time when I actually dropped a ball. This occurred at the very beginning, and it was when I tried to improvise on the spot. I could never get over the disappointment of not having any walls to bounce balls off during my juggling act. But when I got on stage, there was a grand piano, in place for music acts during the show. I decided to use the back of the piano as a substitute for a wall. But my surface was rounded instead of flat. One ball bounced out of reach. I picked it up and went on to the part of my routine that I had actually planned. I did not make another mistake after that.

When I returned to my “city” following the show, I was no longer invisible. Before the show, they didn’t know who I was. They took notice during the talent show, when I was announced to go on stage and they heard the name of our Boys’ State “city”. After the show, I was the star. Guys I had been looking up to were suddenly looking up to me.

One follow-up note to this story. The events of the Boys’ State experience were recorded in a pamphlet given to Boys’ State delegates the following year. I also received a copy of this pamphlet, and inside was a picture of me on stage, juggling during the talent show. It is the only known picture of me performing my juggling act onstage. That pamphlet became one of my cherished keepsakes. Unfortunately, it got lost somehow during the 1980s. Decades later, I ran across a website for the Missouri Boys’ State. I left a comment on the website, in which I stated how much I missed that picture. My comment was read, and the Missouri Boys’ State sent me a photocopy of that pamphlet, with my picture, along with a pin and other items.

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don't Know About Me (Part 3)

Jerry Wyant