February 2004 – I was in the ninth grade at Carver School in Tupelo. I had made the basketball team. There were probably 50 boys who tried out and only 15 made the team. And I was one of the five chosen by Coach John McAdams to start. So, in one sense it was one of the greatest times of my vaunted athletic career. But, soon after the season started I received my grades. What was worse, my dad had received my grades. He had warned me that if there were any D’s or worse I would have to give up basketball. And algebra had gotten the best of me – and brought out the worst – in what was to become my less than vaunted academic career. And Dad told me I would be the one to have to break the news to coach. He wouldn’t save me the embarrassment or pain. I had to do it.
I didn’t sleep well that night, and the next day I had a knot in my stomach until the last period when practice time had arrived. I was very nervous, but I went ahead and told coach that my dad was making me give up my place on the team because of my grades. Actually I almost cried in those few minutes. Coach McAdams had empathy, said he was sorry about it, but understood my dad’s decision. It was the longest practice I ever watched.
In a lot of kids’ lives the most important people are parents and coaches. And many times, coaches are the most important adult role models and agents of influence because parents, for one reason or another, are absent. Sad, but true.
The other day I was counting up the ball games our three kids had played in 2003. I hope you are sitting down for this. Wriley, my daughter, played basketball for Guntown Middle School and now Saltillo High School. Combined, that’s 25 games.
My son Wesley played basketball and football for GMS which is 25 games total. He also played a summer of USSSA baseball which was 60 games, as did my 10-year-old son Walker who played about 30 games. Throw in 45 church league basketball games for the three of them and you are talking about 185 various athletic competitions.
Granted, some games I viewed with glazed eyes and phony enthusiasm. But that, my friends, is a lot of cold hot dogs. A lot of diet drinks. A lot of popcorn. A lot of bottled water. A lot of sunflower seeds. A lot of gas. A lot of throw-the-uniforms-in-the-washing-machine-before-we-all-pass-out nights. A lot of energy spent. A lot of money spent. And a whole lot of time invested. Which brings me to the real point of this column and that is to praise all the coaches – and others who work with young people – who invest their lives in our kids and try to instill positive values in them.
I appreciate the work of college coaches, all of whom have had to work their way up the coaching ranks – but honestly – most of these ladies and gentlemen get paid quite handsomely for their time. But the big time college coach doesn’t have to drive the bus home after the game, if you know what I mean. He doesn’t have to stay late and make sure all the practice clothes are washed and gear is put away. And by the time these youngsters make it to college they have already been through the most pivotal time in their character development anyway. I am talking about the junior high and high school years.
Here is where coaches really make a difference. And they don’t do it for the money, not that I’m not against making money. But, if you divided the hours up by the pay (those who get paid) you would probably find many coaches don’t even pull a minimum wage. No, they do it because they love their particular sport and, most importantly – they love the kids they work with. They genuinely care about them. And the shame of it is, that doesn’t show up on the scoreboards. Scoreboards are what we parents and fans see. Coaches see the face behind the helmet. They see the heart behind the jersey. The same goes for the Boy Scoutmasters, Sunday School teachers, dance instructors, school teachers and others.
So, to all you “coaches” out there – I salute you. If you really care about the kids, God will honor your efforts. One way or another.
As for me on that terrible day, I went home and told Dad I had done what he asked. I was heartbroken. And so was he. He called coach McAdams later that evening, explained the situation, that I had learned a valuable lesson and that he was giving me another opportunity, and coach graciously consented to allow me back on the squad.
And thus began my vaunted athletic career which, unfortunately, I have run out of space to talk about.