I heard a guest speaker the other night tell about how much younger he felt than his actual age. I believe this is true for many of us. Time continues to move at its usual pace and our body ages with it. But in our minds we continue to be the age we think we are. In other words, twenty years is a long time until it ain’t.
It has been twenty years since I sat in my living room in a rented house outside Tompkinsville weighing the pros and cons of taking my first job as a high school head basketball coach. I was just 24 years old. Earlier I had driven to Warsaw for an interview. It was three and a half hours away. I knew no one there. It may as well have been a foreign country.
But I loved it from the very start. As I drove from Sparta and topped the hill heading into Warsaw, its beauty made an impression. The interview was a good one, I could tell. They had offered me a tour of the facilities afterwards.
From the high school I was asked to hop into the Athletic Director’s car to go see the gym. She said it was taupe. Two things went through my mind. One, why were leaving the high school to drive to a gym? And two, what in the world was taupe?
We stopped in just a few seconds at the middle school and sauntered around the middle school gym. To be honest I was still confused as to why. But, being 24 and wanting at least an opportunity for the job I kept my mouth closed and smiled a lot regardless. (Later I realized the middle school gym was in fact the high school gym too.)
And then I drove the long ride home and thought about the decision that lay ahead.
I was born and raised a Monroe Countian. I had graduated from the high school only a few years earlier. I had returned straight out of college. I was an assistant girls basketball coach and assistant baseball coach. I liked my players and their families and the coaches with whom I worked. I could drive a few minutes to see my mom and dad and my Granny and Papa.
I could’ve stayed there the rest of my life and been perfectly happy.
But something in me wanted to be head coach. I had dreamed it for a long while. And now the opportunity was in front of me. And who was I to say it would ever come back around again.
And so I took the job. At the time I obviously had no idea how it would turn out.
But now after twenty years in the business as a head basketball coach, I have retired. And I know how it turned out.
To paraphrase Buffett, some of it has been magic and some it tragic, but I have had a good life (career) all the way…
I won’t bore you with all the details, but it is a surreal feeling knowing it is over. We spend a good deal of our lives looking ahead. We plot and plan and ponder. The future is so wonderful in its possibilities.
And I have always been a dreamer.
Hours upon hours envisioning how it would go. It was helpful, useful. I think it very important to watch success happen in our minds.
Of course, it never plays out the way we envision it, the way we dream it. But by dreaming it we set in motion the things (at least in part) that do happen.
In the end, I have had over 60 seniors graduate from my programs. All have went on to further their education. Most have won academic scholarships. A handful have won athletic scholarships. Two have played Division I basketball. All have made me exceptionally proud as graduates, professionals, wives, moms, and members of their communities.
And then there is Chelsea.
She was our only senior on our 2008-2009 Lady Wave team. She was not a starter, not a great player. Truth be told her sport was volleyball. But she was a solid contributor and one of the best kids I have ever known. One afternoon in the old James R Allen gym she had the best practice she had ever had.
The next morning she was gone.
It is and will always be the defining moment of my coaching career.
My teams have won over 275 games, 7 district titles, played in 13 regional tournaments, and won one in 2014. I treasure every one of those moments.
But it all pales in comparison.
That whole rest of the year is pretty much a blur. Every game was a blur. Each night the opposing teams would hold a moment of silence. Most had raised money to donate to the memorial fund. Everyone was so kind and gracious. I don’t remember much of it really though.
Thankfully my wife and my other assistant coaches and my players kept showing up. That pulled me through. Like most guys I didn’t address it much outwardly. But I may be more proud of those kids and that year than any other. If they felt like me, I know they would have rather just went home. Would rather have not gotten on those buses.
We finished 11-18 but we finished. We lost in the 1st round of the district. By a lot. But we showed up and played. I love that team…
When you dream about a coaching career you dream about big wins. You dream about going to state, you dream about the roar of the crowd and the police escort on the way home. I have had the good fortune to experience all of that.
But that isn’t the important stuff really. It is a surprising truth. I want to share that with young coaches all the time, but they won’t know it until they do. You can’t tell people these things; they have to learn it on their own just like I did.
What is really important are the people you get to know. The irony is that if you are a coach worth your salt you spend a lot of time trying to be a positive impact on the kids and the community. But what you find is all the while it was the kids and community positively impacting you. What I will miss the most are the kids and the people. The community members and yes the parents too. I met my wife coaching. My kids have been raised in the gym. Some of my best friends in the world, folks who stood up for me at my wedding, I met them through coaching. On my daughter’s 10th birthday some of our players came and stayed and played dodgeball and sang Happy Birthday. You can’t pay for moments like that and you don’t get it likely in any other job…
Twenty years. When I was 24 it seemed like an eternity. An amount of time that couldn’t possibly elapse. Now at 44 it seems like a wisp of wind on a cool Spring day. Like the Buffett song indeed. A Coach Looks Back at Forty (Four) I suppose. Some of it was truly magic, some of it sadly tragic, but I’ve had a good (coaching) life all the way.