Saturday, July 24, 2010
A Local Hero is Gone
Rocky Belk died last week and the Arlington community was left with one less voice for the people that have none. Success did not come easy for Rocky. He was an athlete on the bubble; enough talent to make it all the way to the NFL but scrapping
every step of the way. Because Rocky had to carefully piece together his athletic career, he came to understand what it took to achieve his advanced education goals one piece at a time and he never forgot those that were not empowered with the same knowledge and voice along the way.
I met Rocky on the school yard one day while I was watching my daughter, Sirena, play in gym class. We had a conversation about youth, sportsmanship and life in general. We became friends that day and worked on a local project for the Arlington Career Center on better choices for student athletes. One night we went out to dinner at a restaurant off the GW parkway near closing and he got there first and they refused to serve us. I'll never know how much of it was racially motivated but that was Rocky's impression and it was upsetting to see that sort of thing play out for a man that was so giving of his time in the community. A few months later we saw "The Express, the Ernie Davis Story" together and I'm sure Rocky could relate to some of the scenes growing up particularly since he was also a Cleveland Brown for one season, a bit of life imitating art.
Rocky told me that when the Browns won a game the fans in his town home community would shovel snow in front of his door to greet him after the game. A celebratory snow in. He had skills but could not stomach the politics of pro football. The quarterbacks were partial to the players that they were used to and it affected who played. Sam Rutigliano was probably a bit ruthless for Rocky's taste. Nonetheless he got to experience a couple touchdowns in the pros and made good on his promise and ended up with a Sports Illustrated appearance while at the University of Miami. He got to catch more than few with hall of famer Jim Kelly when he played for the Hurricanes. His heroic exploits were more about what he did off the field.
Although he was always full of hale to greet his prized possessions,the children at Longbranch Elementary where he served as head gym teacher, Rocky had a very sensitive side. It was his big heart that in part played into his failing health at the end because he did not put the same level of focus on himself as he did on others. He had tremendous respect for the educational institutional process and for his
fellow faculty and head principal Felicia Russo. That process was so important to him because it was the ultimate equalizer. When Rocky finished up at school he gave more of his time to the Gum Springs Community Center near Fort Hunt where he went to high school.
Can we summarize a man's legacy, his life's work, in a memorial plaque? It would be kind of cool for students that knew him to tell those coming in that ask who was this Rocky Belk and what did he do? Those that knew him could tell them that Rocky Belk from Gum Springs followed his dreams and made it all the way to the NFL working every step of the way and after he got there he never stopped giving back. What motivated him was simply his love for the children he taught.
In the end, for those that knew him, it really doesn't really matter whether a plaque with Rocky Belk's name inscribed on it is put out at the horseshoe kiss and drop where the Longbranch students start their morning; because in the end every child and parent that Rocky touched will remember him at that horseshoe full of hale and with a big,easy,giving smile.