One of the modern-day icons of Americana is that endearing figure known to schoolkids everywhere- Coach.
My first experience with Coach was third grade PE class, Coach Haefs. For three years, Coach Haefs led calisthenics, quarterbacked flag football, pitched for softball, refereed kickball, and stood by with a grin during that sadistic spectacle known as dodgeball.
Once Coach Haefs picked up James Florence by the front of his shirt and put him up against the wall. Today, Coach Haefs would be looking for another line of work, but in 1973 Sweeny, Texas everybody- except maybe James Florence- thought this was highly entertaining.
One of the legendary tales at Sweeny Intermediate at that time was how one of our classmates’ older brother, who was two or three grades ahead of us, hit a “back at you” line-drive to Coach Haefs- striking him between the eyes and knocking him out cold. The kids mulled around for a couple of minutes, and then decided to go in and get dressed for class- leaving him sleeping on the pitchers mound.
Sometimes, when the light was right, I thought I could see a little dent in between his eyes.
When we arrived at Jr. High, we were greeted by not one, but three new coaches- Coach Baron, Coach Times, and Coach Marthiljohni.
Coach Baron was the head football coach, and athletic director. He was a good-natured, laid-back middle-aged man. He was complemented perfectly by his assistants, Coach Times and Coach Marthiljohni.
Coach Times was an extremely quiet black gentleman. He was the offensive assistant and track coach who never wasted a word. Coach Marthiljohni was the defensive assistant and basketball coach. He was the exact opposite of Coach Times- he was a big, loud man who always had a lot of things to say. He believed that nearly every problem could be solved by “getting out there and hitting somebody”.
Pre-game and halftime talks would involve Coach Baron telling us the game plan and pointing out what certain players were doing right and encouraging better play. Coach Times would say the line needs to block better. And then Coach Marthiljohni would yell about every penalty and missed tackle and bone-head play before wrapping it up with a high decibel exhortation to “get out there and hit somebody!”
Once, Coach Marthiljohni grabbed James Florence by the front of the shirt and put him against the wall- high against the wall, much higher than Coach Haefs. And, it was still entertaining.
Our football was divided into an “A” team and a “B” team. The A team was really good- winning six and losing two close games. I was on the B team and we were equally bad- managing one 6-6 tie and getting beaten pretty soundly most of the time in the other seven.
In our last game of the season against our rivals Columbia- we came off the field at halftime down only 14-0 and not playing bad- still with a chance.
Coach Baron advised that we were plugging up the middle good on defense, and running the ball good sometimes. He told us to stay with them and play our positions. Coach Times said the line needed to block better.
Coach Marthiljohni gave the speech of Jr. High athletics. He said we were in this game, and actually playing like a team. He got serious and emotional and (correctly) pointed out that for some of us, this was it- the last game. He then told us we should go out winners and sent us pumped-up and yelling out onto the field with the plea at the top of his voice to “get out there and HIT SOMEBODY!”
We went out there and hit somebody. Our quarterback completed a pass to the half back who took it all… the…way!
Yeah! 14-7! That’s what happens when you get out there and HIT SOMEBODY!
We lost 36-7.
High school saw a new role for Coach- occasionally you would walk into a class and find coach teaching a class, which was a mixed-bag. Most of them were ok teachers- but my science teacher- Coach Eddings- was a great man.
He looked like he should be playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. He was one of the nicest men I ever met. But what made him great was that he truly cared for the students- he made sure he interacted with, included, and encouraged every student in the class. He asked everybody what they wanted to be in life at the beginning of the year and remembered what everybody had said at the end of the year when he encouraged everyone to achieve their goals. He made everybody feel special.
My last two years of high school we had Coach Kountze for PE. He had one rule and one rule only- NO grab-assin’.
Coach would call roll sometimes, and then roll out the ball cart and pointing around the room, would sternly state “NO grab-assin'”. For two years, we played three-on-three basketball on one of the goals in the gym. Others played basketball, worked-out, or played backgammon. About twice during the period, Coach would stroll through, usually with a mug in his hand, to ensure there was not any grab-assin’ going on. Occasionally he would sense the beginnings of grab-assin’ and would appear with the loud admonition to “knock off the grab-assin’!”
My life was surely enriched by these coaches.
Of all the life lessons I learned, I would have to say that the most valuable one came from Coach Baron. One day, while I was talking during practice, he asked me “Bond!”- (coaches always called students by their last name)- “did you ever wonder why God gave you two eyes and two ears- and ONLY ONE MOUTH?!”
As ridiculous as it might sound, I had never wondered that before. I know that the answer is obvious, but the statement, for whatever reason, was delivered at the right time and I pondered it and took it to heart: You are not going to learn anything by running your mouth all the time- those are words you already know. When you watch and listen, then you will hear and see things you may not already know.
It was a good lesson for me to learn. Thanks, Coach Baron!
Thanks to Coach, I learned how to observe the world around me and learn from the experiences of others.
And everything is surely more peaceful and fulfilling in our lives when we refrain from grab-assin’.
Get out there and hit somebody!