When Cris Carter and his family — mother, Joyce, three brothers and two sisters — arrived in Middletown from Troy looking for the best athletic program in the area, he was 7, too young to play Pee Wee football.
He signed up the next season and played for the Armco Credit Union team. The first time Cristopher D. Carter touched the football during Pee Wee Preview Day at Barnitz Stadium, he raced around the end of the offensive line for an 80-yard touchdown.
“It was me and my buddies running down the sidelines,” he said.
A star was born.
Flash forward a few years. Cris’ older brother, Butch, was a standout collegiate basketball player at Indiana University, and during one of their brotherly conversations, Cris was told: “If you want to be an elite athlete, you have to do some things that your buddies won’t do.”
Cris listened. Since the family lived near Barnitz Stadium in People’s Place Apartments, he spent his summers running the concrete steps, a weight jacket on his back, sweat rolling off his body. He frequently snuck into the stadium and was run off by the stadium supervisor.
A star was made.
On Monday and Tuesday, Carter will be back in Middletown for the first time in several years for what promises to be an emotional ride down memory lane. The field at Barnitz Stadium — the place where he first made his name — will be named after Cris Carter, and as he said with a laugh: “I guess I won’t have to break in no more.”
They probably will give him his own set of keys.
When Carter was told that a group of Middie supporters pitched naming the field after him, and the Middletown Board of Education recently approved the proposal, he immediately thought about his early introductions to football. Those summer days at Barnitz Stadium, before there was a roar of the crowd, before the band played the Middie fight song, and before he caught the attention of college scouts.
For him, it has come full circle.
He called the naming of the field his second “most humbling experience,” only behind being voted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Also on Tuesday, declared “Cris Carter Hometown Appreciation Day,” Professional Football Hall of Fame representatives will present him with a 45-pound bust that he will donate to Middletown High School, and he will be a keynote speaker at the Pigskin-Roundball Spectacular at the Manor House in Mason.
Carter will be inducted into the hall of fame in Canton — just about 200 miles from his Middletown home — Aug. 3, giving Middletown the most unlikely of athletic accomplishments: two hall of famers from a city of 50,000 people. Jerry Lucas was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Carter, Lucas and Middletown native Kayla Harrison, the 2012 London Olympic judo gold medalist, will be recognized during pregame ceremonies when the Cincinnati Reds host the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park Monday night. Carter is expected to throw out the first pitch, which is ironic considering he made his living catching the ball.
Not much of a baseball fan, Carter said he followed the Reds while growing up in Middletown, but his mother never allowed him to play the game. She figured basketball and football were enough.
Carter, a 1984 Middletown High School graduate, played for the Ohio State University, and he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 1987 National Football League supplemental draft. He played three seasons with the Eagles, until Coach Buddy Ryan released him due to Carter’s admitted drug and alcohol issues.
He was signed by the Minnesota Vikings and turned his life and career around, playing in eight straight Pro Bowls. When he left the Vikings after 2001, he held most of the team career receiving records.
After six years, and five finalist selections, Carter, who said he’s been sober since 1990, was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 2, 2013 — something he called “a tremendous honor.”
Having the initials HOF after his name hasn’t changed Carter, he said.
“I woke up the same person, but it feels like people think I’m a different person,” he said.
For Carter, confidence never was an issue. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and he knew success was going to follow him.
“I always thought I was going to do something special with my life,” he said during a telephone interview Thursday after playing Augusta National Golf Course. “As young as I can remember, I always thought I was going to do something special in athletics. I never needed much motivation. People never had to get me to practice. I was pretty much a self-starter.”
Still, there were struggles. He was ineligible for his senior season at OSU because he signed with an agent, and drugs and alcohol nearly derailed his career.
And when asked if there are lessons that youth today can take away from his life, he said: “Everyone has to walk their own path. If you want to do something, you have to do things that other people won’t do. Make sacrifices. I don’t get over concerned with the mistakes because people make mistakes. People always tell me that if they had my life they would have done it a certain way. But it is what is it. It turned out the way it was.”
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