Monday, October 26, 2009

Worst Saturday of my life

As the bus pulled of the turnpike and we started on the back country roads, the kids pulled out their earphones and started looking out the windows.

“Yo, it’s just like the movies! Where are we?”
“Where’s all the people?”
“It’s just too perfect out here, it makes me nervous.”
“Yo, I just saw a person! We been driving like all day and that’s the first person I saw.”
“Wait, where’s all the black people?”
“Yo, maybe this is like some Hitler type stuff and we only think we are going to play football.”
“They don’t like black people out here yo, we better look out for the reffs, ya know?”

I didn’t say anything. I just sat, listened, and watched the well tended corn fields and silos roll past.

The Milton Hershey School is a private boarding school founded by the Chocolate magnate with a charter to help troubled youth. The campus would make any college proud. There is a large, surprisingly modern main hall, a big athletic center, two huge outdoor swimming pools, one complete with a twisting water slide. I’m sure the sight of an actual stadium with a real locker room stunned many of the kids into silence, but I have no idea as I was distracted by all the “oohs” and “ahhs”. We filed out onto the pro grade synthetic turf, ran through some drills, and looked ready to play.

We had two weeks to get ready for this game. The first day of the two week build up was a Monday morning session that roused about 15 young men at the unheavenly hour of… 10 a.m. That Wednesday was study hall. Thursday it rained and ten kids showed up at the field. Friday Sarge called me to say only four kids checked out their pads today so don’t worry about heading for the field as no one would be there.
Monday was great weather, great turnout, and great practice. Tuesday was better weather and worse everything else. {Name withheld} was A.W.O.L. so later that night I went to his house. After using all my detective skills I found his home, not the address listed on school records, and he let me in. He was just feeding his little brother a dinner of chips and cool-aid. Turns out Grandma was rushed to the hospital, Mom hadn’t been heard from (which is normal), and {name withheld} had to watch little brother. We talked a bit about life and telephones and made sure little brother was spending the rest of the week at Dad’s.
Thursday was well attended but poorly executed.
Friday’s run through had key guys missing for good reasons (school), but many present were mentally missing. Jogged routes, inattentiveness, and plugged ears had me ready to strangle someone. We did our best to press through and I did my best to keep my words positive for the day before a game.

They ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
We fumbled the ensuing kickoff giving them the ball on the 20. They scored on the first play from scrimmage. We punted after three plays. They ran their first play in for a touchdown.
As the touchdowns began to pour down, so did the rain. The torrent of both water and points on top of us seemed to imply that heaven and the other team were allied. Game time is chaotic enough under normal circumstances but we coaches began to flounder a bit. I did my best to refrain from negativity, which comes so easily when it is deserved, but not everyone made the same attempt. Some coaches fumed, while a couple simply disappeared. I mostly watched, trying to figure out exactly what was happening.

Just as I didn’t know the school would let non-players, including girls, on the bus, I didn’t know they would let parents onto the sidelines. During the debacle a short, round man with a long goatee was yelling, “It’s the fundamentals coach! Teach them to tackle coach! Your fundamentals suck coach!” He went on a loud continuation of that theme. By halftime I had had enough. I warned the other coaches I was going to try to talk to someone I would rather punch, and approached the man. Trying to keep cool, I asked the man to not address the players unless he had encouragement. He argued. I explained that he was not there on Monday through Friday and because of that had no idea what the kids are capable of. He got loud. He said he would start showing up every day because as a player and competitor he knew our fundamentals sucked. Now I got loud. I told him he was right, our fundamentals suck, but they are surely not going to learn fundamentals today, so his words were not helping anyone. He agreed, and shut up for the rest of the day.
The second half was highlighted by our 120lb. running back single handedly, or footadley, bouncing off of, and running around, every member of the other team, for a 50 yard touchdown. Our defense mostly shut down their sophomores. The guy at the clock let it run the whole second half and at the end, the score was 70-8.

70-8! I have never been a part of anything like that.

I wish I could say this was a wakeup call but I fear it wasn’t. It was for me.
When one starts at a huge disadvantage, how do you get them to the level where they can compete?
Do circumstances dictate that rules and expectations need to be adjusted?
Where is the balance between discipline and understanding?
These aren’t football questions, they are society questions. That game on Saturday wasn’t just a sporting event but an allusion to bigger things.
That is why my weekend was so hard. Not just losing a game, but the idea that my best efforts were/are inadequate.


Dave said...

Now you know one of the reasons it was time for me to retire. When it becomes appparent that you no longer have any kind of control over those you are responsible for, but yet you are to blame for all their failures, etc. you know it is time for a change.

At one time, rules could be set, the person responsible for breaking those rules could expect to pay the price. You don't show up for practice, you don't play,etc. And yes, I do know, if you did that you would not have a team anymore. Today, rules are made to be broken not followed. Is it out of your hands? Most likely, can you do much about it, most likely not. When you have kids with what parents they do have, that have no true good role model to follow, they do what they deem is good forthemselves and don't worry about the consequences.

When you played football, there was a certain very good player on the team, coach did all in his power to keep him out of trouble so he could stay on the team. In hind sight, I am sure the coach wished he would not have let that certain person play that caused more penalties and I believe actually lost the game for you.
You always wonder what would have happened had he not been in the game on that special occassion.

You can only work with what you have, and if you aren't backed by the administration in tough rules that need to be followed, then maybe they do not need a football team. Do you have rules and are they followed? Do you give a consequence for the rule broken?

Amber said...

"These aren’t football questions, they are society questions."

Many of the same questions we are asking in my ed. classes. The story is the same. The disadvantages are wide-spread. Passion for your subject, and LOVE of the students is vital. Sometimes it takes one moment of inspiration from one trustworthy adult to turn someone's world around. Often, it takes more than that. We all need to make an effort. I believe those of us who have some advantage - and advantage - should use it responsibly to help bring others along with us, rather than living life as a competition to get ahead.

uglyblackjohn said...

Everyone goes through this.
Just like Pacino in the Godfather, "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in...".
Just wait, the next post will be about how someone did better than you'd ever expected.
These are the small moments we hold on to to get us through the tough times.

Lindsey said...

Yes your best efforts may be inadequate on a large scale, but the wonderful thing is that they may be extraordinarily effective on a small scale. And if it so be that ye should labor all your days, and bring but one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy. It's discouraging, but optimism and hope where there is no reason for hope can change one person, and (hokey as it sounds) that one person will never forget you. I think you are doing a wonderful job, not only with your coaching, but with your blog. You've made me look at the world and stand up to my boss, who's rather intimidating at time, when he's said something ignorant and racist. He doesn't say things like that anymore, at least not in front of me and whoever else I'm standing with at the time. Isn't that a good thing? You may not see the effects of your actions, but I bet that boy who had to take care of his little brother now knows that, even though you yell at him, you care enough to track him down and find out why he wasn't at practice when his own parents don't care where he is. That, Brohammas, is wonderful. That is worth it.

Friend-Fan said...

What Lindsey and Amber said!!!


Chicana creating art through chaos said...

planing seeds is hard work, we are not always around for the harvest but keep on planting...gracias for your efforts for the Greater Good

Corbie said...

It's like that story about the starfish where the boy proclaims that, while he can't save all of them, certainly it makes a difference to the ones he can. Keep up the good work - it makes a difference to someone.

Chaci said...

These boys have much to learn from you and I know your efforts aren't inadequate. It all depends what stick you're using to measure them by.

Kala Fine Furniture said...

Great story man, I have to say that if I had been in your shoes, I wouldn't have talked to the guy, I would have gone Philadelphia Golden Gloves on him. But you are the better man.

I think that priorities are the point here. Your boys have so many other things on there plate. Like making sure little brother at least has something to eat. How can you really expect them to focus and play a game that they have never really played before. I had absolutely no real worries in High School and we went 1-9 both varsity years. I can't imagine what these guys are going through.

Some are born with or given every advantage in the world and yet they fail. Others are given nothing and have to work for everything they have and the succeed. Now this is not always the case of course. But those that state with the disadvantage must make the choice to do all that it takes to raise themselves up to the playing field or higher. How do you teach or instill that into someone, I have not clue...