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Craigheads: Like father, like son


Dad helped son and son helped dad and it almost was too dizzy to comprehend, how much they did for each other, how much they have done for other people. To the point that you must understand that both names must be included to form the necessary and perfect symmetry, that resulted in this: Byron and Jason Craighead were inducted Saturday night into SRJC's Athletic Hall of Fame. Joined by blood and mutual influence.

Theirs is a story every father would love to tell and every son would love to say, Thanks, Dad. And the best way to begin this is at the end, a year ago, when Byron agreed to teach a once-a-week, two-and-half hour class in athletic training for a string of 17 Fridays at Los Positas College in Livermore. Jason coaches swimming and diving at Las Positas as well as teaching health, physical education, aquatics and sports psychology.

Byron would stay the night and hang out with Jason and his family during the day. Byron would watch Jason organize pick-up games of basketball with the college's math professors, and ones from biology, and the sciences, and the English department, from all departments really.

"Just like I did at the JC," said Byron, who retired in 2007 after 36 years of teaching the health sciences and athletic training at SRJC. "Just like I did, just like I did."

Byron would see Jason work with Las Positas students and athletes after hours, would learn Jason's phone was always there for someone who needed it, would see how Jason could move within a crowd, comfortably, with ease, creating a true social network that didn't need the engine of Facebook to run it. It was the passion Byron recognized as so very familiar.

"All of that, what he did," Byron would say, "it was just like what I did at the JC. I established a trust, a connection with people and now I saw Jason doing it. It was inspirational for me to see it."

Saturday night at the Fountaingrove Inn, the Craigheads were two of the five inductees, wrestler David Montano, runner Trina Cox and track and field star Tom Daniels being the others. All were worthy, all had a nice athletic resume and all needed no introduction or validation. The Craigheads had their little special niche because, well, not many Hall of Fames have a father-son inductee combo platter, much less at the same banquet.

Jason, 35, was a seven-time junior college All-American in 1995-96 and the five individual school records he established, each record had been held by a different swimmer. And each of those five individual records he held, they were eventually broken by five different swimmers. In other words, Jason was nearly a one-man swim team.

As for Byron, 66, he was a USOC athletic trainer at the Salt Lake City and Vancouver Winter Olympics. He has worked for the NFL's Raiders and with professional rodeo cowboys. With 36 years of teaching and training at SRJC, Byron has a list too long to assemble of former athletes who still come to him for advice.

"And I am one of them, and I still do," Jason said. After he left SRJC and while swimming for UC Santa Barbara, Jason drove back an estimated six times from Santa Barbara for his dad to take a look at his troublesome shoulders. As for phone calls he made, too many to count, Jason said.

"The athletic training course I took from my dad," Jason said, "I learned more in that class than in any other class of its kind I took anywhere else. Any other class was easy, a breeze, compared to my dad's."

Maybe that's because Jason already knew what to expect. See, Byron Craighead is a sweat equity kind of guy. Work, of and by itself, will create achievement through discipline and Jason got a crash course in it growing up in the Craighead home about 10 miles west of Santa Rosa. Byron and Louise's other child, Jenny, even wrote a poem describing that. Here's one stanza:

"Staying overnight doesn't come without a perk; You'll wake up in the morning and he'll put you to work."

Meaning Jason Craighead had unique sleepovers as a kid.

"I had some friends who didn't come back," Jason said, "because they didn't want to split wood in the morning."

Jason also buckled. He did but he grumbled because, well, that's what kids do.

Now, when he comes home to visit, Jason volunteers to chop.

"It's his work ethic, his passion to do things, that I so much admire," Jason said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the person I am today. The social habit he developed at the JC, the community he established within a community, that stuck with me."

It was that sense of community which led Jason to create a tipping point for his father. In 1987, as a sixth grader at Forestville Elementary School, Jason was having a series of conversations with a teacher, Don Kane. Jason casually told Kane his dad was an athletic trainer at SRJC and always was looking for new experiences. Jason didn't know it but Kane was a synchronized swimming judge at the Olympic level.

"I know people at the USOC," Kane told Jason. "If your dad is serious, I'll put him touch with some people there."

Within six months of that conversation Byron was accepted into a two-week athletic training internship at the USOC. Normally the waiting time — if accepted — is two years. One thing led to another and, bingo, Byron is on the USOC's short list for trainers. He's worked two, been offered many more, but declined because it interfered with his class and sport schedule at SRJC. Byron is nothing else but loyal to the people who employ him.

"It's clear he loves these athletes and they love him right back," wrote Darrin Steele, CEO of the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in a letter to SRJC's Hall of Fame committee. "He has been such a significant part of U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. His passion and energy is unmistakable and. . .contagious to the rest of the team. It's been a privilege to work with him."

"And my dad never treated me any differently than anyone else when I swam for the JC," Jason said with admiration. All received uniform care and counsel. All received a moment or an hour of his time. Byron played no favorites and didn't punch the time clock.

"I believed in doing it like Patch Adams would, humor with medicine," Byron said. "And I wanted to make sure when they (athletes) grew up they would be able to play with their kids. I would tell them, &‘Don't sacrifice your knees for that (sport).' "

Byron hoped they would listen, hoped they would take his advice, thought many did and, in the blessing of all blessings, his son did. Did all of it. Still is, still will, to his two daughters and another child on the way. Love what you do, son, and you'll never work a day in your life. Develop trust. Bring people together. Create a community. Don't be afraid to break a sweat; perspiration never killed anyone. Jason agreed and paid his father the ultimate compliment.

Yeah, dad, I'm all grown up and I'm just like you. I'm just like you, dad.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.