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Giving Thanks For Coaches And Heroes

The news from not-so-Happy Valley in Pennsylvania has been disturbing. As a parent, I am mad. As a sports fan, I am sad. And as a citizen, I am shocked and disgusted.

But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I choose to give thanks: for family, friends, neighbors, and, yes, for coaches, some of whom are truly heroes.

A cherished e-mail

I still keep on my desk a copy of an e-mail my son's YMCA basketball coach sent us when he was in 3rd grade. It made me cry with pride when I first received it 2years ago. Now, when my son and I don't see eye to eye on something, I look at the e-mail and it reminds me that there may hope for this knucklehead one day!

Long forgotten are the phone calls I have gotten about my kids' lack of focus, or horse-play, or being late for a class or practice. I will always treasure the good coaches with love and thanks. The not-so-good ones get discarded, along with worn out sports equipment.

But even after years of working with so many wonderful coaches it is hard to list the qualities that make a coach special, so a story will have to do.

A Texas-sized coach

My son's first season of 11-man football just ended recently, with parents, players and coaches gathering for the eagerly-awaited  post-season banquet. We shared memories of long hot practices, early morning games, and the inevitable bumps and bruises, listened to the obligatory speeches, and applauded as awards were handed out. The coaches were so full of pride over what their team had accomplished you would have thought they were talking about a National Championship Texas Longhorn team (in my dreams), and not a local kids' team that ended up with a four-and-four record.

Football coach with players and referee in background

The head coach was exactly what you would expect a youth football coach to look like in Texas: big! Not only was he big, but he had a booming voice. There wasn't any doubt about who was in charge. If a player did something good, everyone knew. Same if they didn't. When my son didn't perform to the best of his ability, I learned to keep my head down for a play or two (I called it my "turtle move").

Another big thing with Coach was celebrations. Whether the team won or lost, everyone did something well, and everyone learned something they could improve on for the next week. He made the kids love the game and love to play with each other. After-game meals were almost always chicken wings- mostly the coach's treat. I am sure you have a similar story to share about your child's coach.

The stuff of legend

You are probably thinking, well, okay, so what made this coach special? It's the one story he would not want me to share! It made him a living legend in my neighborhood.

Earlier this fall, Coach went to a college football game. Before the game, he somehow he got separated from his buddies - it was probably divine intervention - and ended up stumbling on a group of teens beating up an elderly man. I don't know if it was for money or if the gentleman was just caught wearing the wrong school colors at the wrong place. My friend yelled at the gang to stop. They just laughed and asked him what he was going to do about it.

Well, you guessed it. He took them all on. Apparently it was "Lights Out" for all comers. Looked like our coach has just turned into a Hero. But as any 11 year old boy will tell you, it is NEVER the kid who throws the first punch who gets caught. The second person's counter punch always ends up getting penalized. When the police arrived, all they saw was a large adult male beating the stuffing out of some teenagers. Who looked to be the hero now?

Fortunately, the assault victim was able to finally tell the police his side of the story to straighten out the whole matter. Meanwhile, my neighbor was held up with questions, paperwork and trouble, not to mention he missed watching his game!

The coach's remarkable story resonates even more this week.  The coach does not like to talk about it because he does not feel he deserves special recognition. He did not want the kids to hear the story because of the police involvement. He just did what anyone else in that situation would do, right?

I would like to think so, but this week I was reminded that not all coaches do. I only had to go to the end of the season party to understand just how different Coach is. A reluctant hero? Perhaps, but a hero nevertheless. And for that I am thankful.