Turn on the television and there’s not much to watch these days. Sure, there are cartoons for the kids, which they love. And it’s funny that they even watch some of the ‘toons that I watched as a kid like the Pink Panther. Of course, the Pink Panther isn’t the role model I want for them.
But “Mr. Tom,” as my kids know him, is. Tom Suiter has been on television with WRAL-TV for some 40 years. The legendary sportscaster's staple remains Football Friday. The high school football highlight show has won numerous awards and Tom works hard to keep it that way. He was recently elected into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
He has found a way to touch young people on a weekly basis. His Extra Effort Award highlights a student-athlete from WRAL-TV’s viewing area each week during the traditional school calendar. Kids used to, and may still do, know they’ve “made it” in athletics when they see Tom show up with the Extra Effort plaque for them.
Heck, I got one for my work with him while in the sports office. I never ran a 4.3 forty yard dash. I didn’t catch touchdowns on Friday nights. I did however learn that Tom gives people an opportunity to prove themselves. When they do, he supports everything they do … just like a parent. My plaque hangs near the door in my office so people see it coming in and going out.
What I’m saying is kids need role models that are as hearty in morals and values as a slice of multigrain bread. That’s Tom Suiter.
He probably wouldn’t make a good sandwich, but he’s a fine gentlemen. Loyalty, honesty, integrity, trust, faith, hope, desire, urgency, fairness … those adjectives should hang on his suit jackets like stripes on a soldier’s uniform. He’s served his country, just in a different way.
I’m always looking for role models for my children. It’s a scary undertaking. I understand that celebrities and athletes make mistakes sometimes. I make mistakes. Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, Barry Bonds … Tom is not them. Grown men approach Tom with a respectful, “Mr. Suiter…?”
Coaching legends have reached out to Tom and have accepted him as one of their own. Why? That one’s easy. They’ve seen, as I have, that Tom makes it OK for kids to have role models. He’s sixty-something, but he’s timeless. The Pink Panther may have my kids attention today, but they’ll always know “Mr. Tom.”
Jay Hardy is the father of a grade schooler and a toddler in Holly Springs. He's a former sports photographer and reporter for WRAL-TV. Find him here once a month on Wednesdays.