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MIKE CLARK: Reese leaves a lot of positive memories
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MIKE CLARK: Reese leaves a lot of positive memories

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When Scott Reese was 3 years old, his older sister Cathy told him he could fly like Superman if he jumped off the top of his dresser.

It was another in the siblings' running series of practical jokes. Cathy pulled out a drawer, Scott hit it on the way down and there was a trip to the emergency room to get stitches.

But neither that nor anything else could ever convince Scott Reese he couldn't do something he put his mind to. Legally blind since the age of 2 because of a rare eye disease called optic nerve hypoplasia, Reese nonetheless pursued his dream of playing high school football for Griffith in the mid-'90s.

A kicker as a senior after two years on the offensive line, Reese earned national recognition for his perseverance, meeting former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey and Notre Dame walk-on turned movie hero Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, among others.

Reese also made his mark in less public ways in a life that ended too soon. He died Oct. 29 after being stabbed in an altercation at the Indianapolis apartment complex where he lived in recent years.

But this is not a story of how Reese died. It's a story of how he lived, which was with the energy and enthusiasm of the kid who took that dive off the dresser almost 40 years ago.

Cathy Peters, Scott's sister, credits his family's support for his can-do attitude.

"My parents, they never told him he couldn't do something," Peters said.

So Reese lived the way he wanted, in spite of the fact that he couldn't see anything that wasn't right in front of his face. Unlike his parents, other adults often stood in his way.

He told former Times sports writer Jeff Carroll, who also was a year ahead of Reese at Griffith, that he was stymied in efforts to play club soccer as a kid.

But Reese was bound and determined to play football at Griffith. He got permission to join the summer conditioning program the year Russ Radtke took over as the Panthers coach. But Reese was worried when he was called to a meeting with assistant coach Justin Faw.

"I was scared when he pulled me aside," Reese told Carroll. "I said to myself, 'Oh great, here goes. Someone told him and now I'm either going to either have a meeting with coach Radtke or be told on the spot I would not get a chance to go out for the team.'"

But Faw had a different message: Given Reese's visual impairment, it might be helpful to wear sports goggles like Walter Payton sometimes did. And Faw had one more thing to say: If Reese ever needed anything, all he had to do was ask Radtke or any other coach.

Reese didn't see much action on the line as a sophomore or junior, which he was fine with, because the Panthers had better players in front of him. But he wanted more playing time as a senior, so he went to Radtke after his junior season with an idea.

This is how it went, Reese told Carroll:

"My exact words to coach Radtke were, 'May I ask a stupid question?' I only figured it was stupid because the thought of a coach allowing me to switch to this particular position, I'm sure seemed ludicrous to most on the surface."

But it didn't seem ludicrous to Radtke, who said yes. So with encouragement from his coach and his dad, who patiently shagged football after football while Reese worked at his craft, slowly but surely a kicker was made.

Reese went to a kicking camp at DePauw and was good enough to see action that season. But the real impact Reese made was off the field, according to Carroll, teaching his classmates and teammates some important life lessons.

"Here you all are, trying to assert this stupid brand of masculinity-for-show and then there's this blind kid, never stops talking, never stops moving, has an opinion on everything," Carroll said. "And first, it makes you ask yourself, 'Well, what in the hell do I have to be self-conscious about when this guy is moving through life with an engine that never quits?'

"And second. I think that being around Scott introduced us to the idea that effort and heart are traits to be admired, not punch lines. He changed us all so much without us ever realizing it, just because he refused to live in the shadows."

So it was in Indy, where Reese was a familiar and friendly presence around his apartment complex, chatting up everyone like the extrovert he was. Life had gotten better for him a few years ago when a Canadian company called eSight had him test a new battery-powered set of glasses for people with limited vision.

"It was amazing," Cathy Peters said. Now Reese could go to sporting events and not have to listen to a radio because he couldn't see the action in front of him.

And he could see all the things the rest of us take for granted: the moon, his aunt's blue eyes and so much more. Every time he saw something new and special, he'd call Cathy with the same child-like enthusiasm he never let go of.

Cathy Peters' phone has been ringing almost non-stop since Scott passed away. The calls are from people giving back the love Scott showed them.

He's gone, but his spirit lives on. We should all have such a legacy.

Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or michael.clark@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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