In recent days, thousands of fans gathered in Fort Worth, eager to be present as some of the most talented players engaged in world-class competition.

Onlookers, most of them envious, were in awe of the players in competitions that took on marathon status.

Some of the stars challenged the toughest musical compositions in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at Bass Hall, while others pursued a trophy, plaid jacket, and big money at the annual Colonial Invitational Tournament a few miles away. They played their hearts out, the former conquering the ivories of a concert piano, and the latter trying to bring a world-renowned golf course to its knees….

Thousands of folks who love piano or golf left Cowtown with dreams of what might have been.

“What if” parental pleas for piano practice had been heeded? “What if” triple-digit scorecards had been regarded as mere bumps in the road?

Too much time is spent, no doubt, on thoughts of roads not taken, reducing many potential stars in music or sports to gallery status….

In my early years, well-intentioned parents tucked some money aside for piano lessons.

I attended just one, kicking and screaming in protest. During the lesson, I knocked over a lamp, feigned a tummy ache and broke into chopsticks while the teacher was explaining something about “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”

By lesson’s end, I had established a new low mark on my teacher’s “good boy list.” Finally, she squared my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don, if you don’t shape up this minute, I’m going to tell your folks that you have definite promise.”…

Golf wasn’t my thing, either. I made the team at my tiny high school only because five players were needed to field a team. I was, uh, the number five player.

I would have had to shave off at least 20 strokes each round to improve my status from catastrophic to mere embarrassment.

My coach said if my golf game were a prize fight, they’d stop it….

A country boy, I’ve spent some “what if” time wondering if my musical or athletic propensities might have better shined had I been reared in a cosmopolitan setting.

Bob Murphey, a speaker friend whose stories warmed even the coldest cockles, loved to tell a story about being from the country.

“Folks from New York City think Chicago folks are from the country,” he’d droll. “And people from Chicago think the same thing about folks from Dallas, and Dallas citizens feel like Kilgore folks are rural.”…

One day, his story goes, a Kilgore native bristled when a visitor suggested (albeit in error) that Kilgore had never produced any truly famous person.

The local sputtered and fumed, but failed to challenge the visitor. Later, he kicked himself that he hadn’t thought to mention Van Cliburn, the musical prodigy who attended elementary school there.

His mental wheels spinning, he figured that maybe the community hadn’t really done enough to “show off” their star on the local stage….

He sprang into action. He rented the high school auditorium, had multi-colored signs printed for barbershop windows, and wrote a “come one, come all” piece for the newspaper.

Alas, winter took a strangle hold on Kilgore on the very day Van Cliburn was to perform. Highways were iced over, and the event organizer claimed to be able to keep his old pickup on the road only because he had the forethought to throw 300 pounds of chicken feed into the truck for better traction.

Still, a couple of dozen citizens showed up, adults “paying a dollar, and children 12 and under, 50 cents,” Murphey emphasized….

The organizer thanked the meager crowd for showing up, then turned to the youthful Van Cliburn, who already held international renown.

“I’m just so sorry about the unforeseen circumstances, Mr. Cliburn,” he apologized. “Given such bad weather and with such a sparse crowd, we certainly don’t expect a full program.”

A tear rolled down his face as he made a mournful plea: “But, since a few of us did brave the elements to come out, could you sang us just one song?”…

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to His Web site is