The Process

“But it’s a hard way to go, on the straight and narrow.  When everybody in town points a finger at you, but they ain’t had to walk with the weight that you’ve hauled.  They don’t know you at all, but they think that they do.”

Tyler Childers, “Bottles and Bibles”

 

There’s a process to success.  I’m learning that more and more.  Last week I baked a cake from scratch for The Coach on his 45th birthday.  I’m not a baker, mind you.  I’m much more of a creative cook who loosely follows recipes and uses what I have on hand rather than precise ingredients.  This cake was a challenge.

While following closely to the specific recipe The Coach requested, (I had made this cake in the summer for our daughter’s birthday and even though the icing mostly melted off the lopsided cake, everyone said it was one of the best cakes they’d ever tasted) I realized while reading through the various steps that I hadn’t truly followed the process when I’d made the cake before (I had thrown all the ingredients in together at once), so this time I did everything the recipe said.

I worked hard to follow steps in the exact order, adding each of the five eggs to the butter one at a time making sure to blend completely before adding in the next.  I added the sugar in one cup at a time, the dry ingredients were kept separate from the wet ingredients which were added to the mixture in an alternating pattern, all were blended together and put into the three circular, greased and floured cake pans and put into the preheated oven.

It took about two hours for me to follow each and every exact step of this process.  While the cakes baked, I made homemade buttercream frosting.  I waited- which I don’t normally do- until the cakes were completely cooled before I layered and frosted them at 10:30pm that night.  Note: The Coach still wasn’t home.

When we finally ate the cake on the day after The Coach’s birthday, everyone in the family said that it was the very best cake they’d ever had.  It wasn’t gorgeous.  It kind of looked like a cake you’d see at a church potluck made by somebody’s mawmaw. I don’t know whether it’s really the best cake they’ve ever tasted, but I thought it was pretty freaking good myself.

After Saturday’s state championship win, I was thinking back on the season and how it too is a very time consuming and tedious process to get to victory.  The season started off somewhat badly.  We lost several games.  It sucked.  I would get so mad after the games, and I couldn’t figure out why The Coach wasn’t angry like I was.  I didn’t realize that he has a deep understanding of the process, and he wasn’t concerned.  He knew the team would find their rhythm and figure things out.

Some of the worst parts of being the wife of The Coach are when people start bashing your husband, his assistant coaches, and the players.  When “fans” begin to talk about what the team should do, and put on social media how terrible everyone is and how so and so should be playing/coaching instead….blah, blah, blah- because they’re the experts. (*Imagine an eye roll here).

Everyone has their own opinions, I know, I share mine frequently with The Coach.  But what I’m coming to understand more and more is that there is a process that teams -and people for that matter- need to go through in order to find the sweet spot and become successful.

The Coach and I were looking at stats last night.  Saturday’s game was his 99th win as head coach and he’s had 25 losses.  According to my nonmathematical brain, failure should happen about 1 out of every 5 times.   If you’re not trying out new things and risking failure, then success won’t happen. Meeting with adversity and working hard to rise above it, is one of the most important steps in the process.  Many people would rather quit than push through something difficult or painful.  Growing hurts, you can’t grow without failure. It’s part of the process.

Another step in the process would be making adjustments to New People.   They are the new players, coaches, trainers, and other staff,  who haven’t been through the process before.  They don’t know how it works, and can’t be expected to know.  That would be like asking a person off the street to come in and do surgery on someone for an appendectomy just because they’ve had the surgery before- or perhaps watched a doctor perform the surgery.  Just because you think you’re familiar with a process, doesn’t mean you truly understand it on a level where you can perform it.  The process is learned slowly and in a meticulous fashion.  New People must be given time and a learning curve.

I listened to some of the newer coaches talk the other night about how their wives and girlfriends didn’t understand why the football meetings took so long.  I laughed.  I remember those days.  I used to think, it couldn’t possibly take 14 hours on a Sunday for the coaches to watch film and come up with their practice plan for the week, but I was wrong.  Sometimes it takes even longer.

Then, comes the work of having the team learn to operate as one.  This is painful since team members and coaches find where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  More times than not, people haven’t really ever looked at their weaknesses. There is also a huge mixture of backgrounds and personalities.  Hard work happens during this step, and team members show whether or not they can handle it.  After this time of awakening and discomfort, some players quit.  Some pout. And some work through the process and get stronger, smarter and more resilient.

Learning to sift through the voices is one of the most important parts of the process.  The team learns that there are voices of haters and voices of encouragers.  They have to learn to ignore many and listen to the few.  Sometimes they must learn to be their own voice of encouragement.  Players learn to keep their circles small if they want to survive the season.

One of the memories that stands out in my mind from this season is how Isaiah Bess, the quarterback, and MVP at this year’s state championship, would text and say encouraging things to the other players.   I remember when we were at our lowest points in the season and my son would come in and talk about how Isaiah had sent out a text encouraging everyone.  I could hardly believe it because at that same time people on social media and in the community were totally bashing him.  What an amazing young man, to be able to encourage others when the rest of the world was belittling him.  He became a real leader for his team by choosing to be one of the voices they needed to hear.

There are so many other steps to the process of becoming a championship team.  There’s no perfect recipe for it, but there are consistent steps that many people who aren’t in it day in and day out won’t understand.  So next season, if our team has a loss, or if a player or coach makes a mistake, I hope that you will think back and remember that, after all,  it’s just part of the process.  And it may be that one- in- five need for a failure in order to later have the ultimate success.

Fighters

“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”  Paul Valery

After my life of experiences, both personal and football related, I would have to argue that fighters aren’t born, they are made.  I would agree that some people are born with a little more fire in their bellies than others, but anyone can become a great fighter under the right circumstances.

One of my favorite movies is Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, and Morgan Freeman.  In the movie, Clint Eastwood has just lost his best fighter to another manager, and Hilliary Swank has come to him wanting to become a fighter because that’s all she’s ever felt that she was any good at.  We learn that the circumstances of her life have made her a fighter.  Eastwood’s character becomes persuaded to train her, and eventually, she becomes a champion.  One of my favorite lines is by Morgan Freeman’s character Scrap:

“To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything you know if you gotta make ’em forget even their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”

Every team needs fighters.  I think one of the problems I’m seeing over and over as a teacher and the wife of a coach is the mentality our society is building of entitlement, the lack of work ethic,  and the misunderstanding of consequences.  A coach nowadays, of any sport, has the extreme job of building fighters and players on their team through the means of reteaching kids how to think about life.  Many kids come to the playing field with the mentality that they deserve to play and that someone is going to hand them a championship trophy at the end of the season whether they have worked for it or not.  They come with lofty ideas about how good they are, and how they deserve to win.  Wins aren’t deserved-they are fought for relentlessly.

A few years ago I started learning to box.  I have a bag out in my garage.  I found in my own life that I wasn’t as strong of a fighter as I needed to be and that I didn’t handle criticism or failure very well at all.  Learning some basic aspects of boxing has made me feel more focused and capable.  I may not be great at it, but it is a process and helps me to feel both mentally and physically strong. When I put on my gloves I am transformed into someone stronger than I ever thought I could be.  I’ve been through some serious s#*t in my life where I’ve had to fight to survive.  All of that floods my mind when my gloves go on and I know that I am more than a conqueror.  If you’ve ever met me, that’s probably a funny thought since I’m 5’2″ and weigh about 120.  I promise I’m tougher than I look.

Players at higher levels of play should feel the same way when their uniform goes on.  I know some kids who may not be the strongest or fastest or most talented players on the field, but when they step on the field are morphed into some of the scrappiest and grittiest kids I’ve ever seen.  That’s because they’ve convinced themselves they are fighters.  They have found the fire in their bellies and stoked it with all of the times they failed and lost and got knocked down, and they let it fuel them. They will be the winners on the field but also in life.  They are determined.

Discipline has become a somewhat unsavory word in our society, but it is paramount for a team or a fighter to learn.  The voices we hear in our heads are under our control. We have to coach ourselves and allow ourselves to be coached by others with more strength and experience.   Work ethic, personal responsibility, and perseverance through failures, are all things a fighter must learn and mentally embrace.  There’s lots of talk about mental toughness in the sports world, but there aren’t lots of people who seem to have it.  People don’t want to talk about failure.  It’s the real “f-word”.  People don’t want to admit when they’ve failed or made mistakes and face the consequences.  But when you are able to admit your failures, you have the opportunity to learn, to regroup and to make a new strategy to succeed.  A fighter always finds a way to discipline themselves to come back after a failure with more fire and strength than they had before.

Losing a game is a wake-up call.  Losing at anything should be.  It’s a chance to find out where the potential fighters are.  Fighters don’t make excuses, they don’t hide the truth.  Fighters don’t point the finger because they know it’s all on them to step up, train harder, run faster, get stronger, before their next fight.  Fighters know there are consequences.  Losing is a consequence, but so is winning.  Fighters never, ever quit.

Recruiting Season

Disclaimer:  I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here.  I am simply an observer, as I am with many things in life.  I take it all in and form an opinion, then I write about it.  But in the household where I reside, I pick up on a lot of things having to do with football, whether I really want to or not.  Living in this household I have seen and heard many things over the years.  Some I may share, and some I will not.  I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of recruiting this year.  With all of that said, this is my take.

After the regular season come the playoffs, after the playoffs come the holidays, and right around the new year recruiting season comes into full swing.  I’m asked by friends if I’m relieved when football season is over.  Yes, in some ways it can be a relief, but in many ways it is just the beginning.  Recruiters come knocking.  They come to the school and to the homes of players.  They call on the weekends and at night while my family is trying to have dinner, or when The Coach and I are attempting to have an evening out.  Many of them think that The Coach will sway a player one way or another.  While The Coach can give advice when asked, he normally tries to stay neutral and is much more level-headed than I would be if I were in his shoes.  When The Coach arrives home at night, he tells me about all of the college coaches who have called or sent texts and the recruiters who have met with him that day.  Many times his whole day is spent with recruiters.  It is part of his job, but since he is also the Athletic Director, his job isn’t done, and he spends time between recruiters working on eligibility and working other sporting events at the school.  Sometimes the recruiters even attend the other sporting events to see athletes in action and meet various young people who may be of interest to them in the future.  He’s asked whether or not he has players who could be assets to the university or college.  He has to be honest.  While some players are tremendously talented on the field, many aren’t working as hard as they should in the classroom.

This year loads of colleges have come calling,  because of four-star rated Dax Hollifield.  He’s the kind of player every college wants because he’s simply a great kid.  I’ve watched him grow up.  He works hard both on and off the field, and is truly humble and pleasant to be around.  Stanford is interested in Dax, and a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet David Shaw, their head coach.  I’m not immediately impressed by anyone just because they are a fancy schmancy football coach.  But after meeting Coach Shaw, I was impressed.  That meeting inspired me to watch his Ted Talk about how football can save the world.  Now, I’m not a total believer in that statement, but after years of watching my husband and other great men coach, and learning more about the game of football than I ever wanted to learn,  I truly see value in the game.  In his talk, Coach Shaw explains how Stanford looks for intelligent and academically strong athletes.  They don’t simply wish to be a great school for academics or a great school who wins championships.  Schools don’t have to be one or the other, they can be both.  Coach Shaw explains how Stanford is paving the way for higher education to have greatness on the field and in the classroom in order to create young people who are valuable in a variety of areas and go on to help make the world a better place.  Young people who wish to be recruited have to catch on to this idea.

After the past few months, I find myself imagining what it must be like for high school athletes. There’s a whole plethora of message boards, forums, dot-coms, and recruiting analysts who have something called Crystal Ball Predictions, and it makes me nauseated  to think about the pressure these young people and their families experience. Some are noticed by everyone because of their outward, stand out athletic ability.  On film, they put on a show.   Recruiters know exactly what they are looking for, or do they?  How would it be to feel wanted by everyone?  Fought over constantly?  Some student-athletes know, but others who are talented won’t know.  They have to fight to be noticed.  How can they do that?  Is it worth it for a kid who dreams of playing in college or in the NFL?

According to a little digging and curiosity, I found that about a quarter of the athletes in the NFL weren’t ranked at all or recruited as a high school player.  Here are excerpts from two different articles I found on unranked players:

“Also impressive is that 19 players were rated as 2-star prospects or not rated at all, meaning nearly one-quarter of the players at the top of the league in 2016 brushed off the lack of belief in them by talent evaluators and grinded all the way to NFL greatness.”

Ben Kercheval, CBS Sports Writer

“This is often the most interesting category. These are the players that came out of nowhere and transformed themselves into NFL players. Most did so as a walk-on or playing at a Division II school or smaller.

The Arizona Cardinals first round pick, Haason Reddick, is a perfect example. He walked on at Temple as a defensive back and eventually blossomed into a force at defensive end leading the nation in tackles for loss as a senior.

Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk is another example of unranked to first rounder. He started his career at the Division III level at UW-Stevens Point before transferring to Wisconsin and transforming into an All-American. Now, he’s a member of the New Orleans Saints.

New Orleans Saints second round pick Gerald Everett signed with Bethune-Cookman (Florida) out of high school, while Chicago Bears second round pick Adam Shaheen was plucked out of Ashland University (Ohio).”

Chris Hummer, 247 Sports

Some young athletes are going to have to work to make connections because they will never be officially recruited.  Head coaches aren’t able to make every athlete look like a star.  Even when head coaches recommend players, it never comes down to the word of the coach.  Young men must learn to advocate for themselves, but how?  One of the ways they can help their chances of playing at the college level and possibly receiving scholarships is hard work on and off the field, meeting and talking with college coaches, attending camps, and making college visits.  My friend and coworker, Omar Porter, recently started producing videos and podcasts to help young athletes learn to market themselves as worthy student-athletes and find college programs where they would like to play.

Click here to check it out:  https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D9JLVMxrJPYk&h=ATOsxQfNEL_gK29LXy_YCHdJ5Rdp83uGZl1iRljMg239R4fO-YL7_VHVNi6QDGKBfeDZXHHccIlPJHlgYtSlWtIheEqAwSPNHcuN4cMK974zGTKKQ3unJ42XKA&s=1&enc=AZMkszW8EPy_dy6lRd9xI9aXzUT9nXdURxVhMcak5At9VW5Od96w_dEsKiz-z_Gqg88

In only a few days young men from all over the country will sign a commitment to one school or another.  The hard work of athletes, families, coaches, and teachers will pay off.  May they all follow their hearts and find that the dreams that they have for themselves are greater than they ever imagined, and for those who don’t sign but still have hopes of playing at the college level, may those young men not give up on their dreams but perhaps find another road that takes them where they want to go.

Dear Anonymous,

I’m sure The Coach isn’t the first to receive an anonymous letter telling him all of his faults and how he should have coached last Friday night’s game, and I’m sure he won’t be the last head coach to receive such a letter.  On behalf of all the people who put themselves out there in life, for all of the men who take their life and use it for the betterment of their community by coaching high school football, literally for pennies in the state of North Carolina, for all of those men who spend more time on the field than they do with their family,  only to have faceless and nameless people call them out, degrade them, or criticize them, I want to write a letter to you, Anonymous.

Dear Anonymous,

You see, I have no problem at all with people expressing their thoughts and feelings in the form of words.  I have done it myself at times in the heat of the moment, spouting off my feelings when I was angry or hurt, or thought of a better way in which I saw that things could have been done, but the difference between you and I, Anonymous, is that I signed my work.

Some people have guts.  Some people are the kind of people who may not be our favorite people, but we know they will be honest and upfront with us.  They come to us, yes, to our face, in person, or write us a note, and sign it with their real name, and tell us what’s up.

Last Friday night, I was as angry as any other person who watched that game.  I said some words to The Coach right after the game about how I thought things should have been done, then got up on Saturday morning and talked with him about some other things that I had thought of during the night.  You see, I didn’t get to see The Coach come home since I went to bed at 1:30 after waiting up for him.  He and the other coaches were at the field house watching film and working until 3:30am.  Where were you then Anonymous? Probably sleeping.

Late Friday night I had to apologize to two friends I was rude to at the game, because I was so worked up, and said some things and some words I shouldn’t have said.  I take responsibility for my words.  Fortunately, they understood and forgave my blatant honesty and rudeness, and we are still friends.  We can say things to each other that are honest, and real, and be okay with it and move on.  Maybe you should take a lesson, Anonymous, and learn to do so as well.

I respect the opinions of others, but when you take to social media and hide behind your computer to call someone out in front of the world, or send anonymous letters to someone’s home, taking measures to make sure it is typed and not handwritten, (Oh my, do we know you that well to know your handwriting, Anonymous?)  Then that tells me just how big of a coward you truly are.

In your letter, you call out a couple of the coaches for their lack of involvement and ability.  If you are such a fantastic analyst of football and coaching, then truly, you should get yourself out there and volunteer your time and talents like several of our coaches do.  You see, my husband and all of the other coaches on the Shelby staff have a gift.  They have the ability to work with young men, inspire young men, and coach teams to greatness.  The put their faces, names, and families in the line of fire each and every week, as they get out there and coach in front of “fans” like yourself who like to pick apart and find fault with what they are doing.  It’s easy to see what’s wrong from way up there in the stands.  The field is a different place indeed.  It has a completely different perspective.  If you are truly so gifted, why aren’t you putting yourself out there, and helping coach the team?  Oh, that’s right.  You’re a coward.

Don’t, for a second, think you know what goes on in a coach’s life, or household.  Perhaps you, Anonymous, have a perfect life, with plenty of spare time on your hands.  Well, coaches don’t have that luxury.  Our coaches are dealing with plenty of real-life problems each and every week.  They don’t simply appear and get to put every second of their energy into a bunch of players who have it all together.  Sometimes they are busy making the very best out of bad situations.  It is easy to criticize what you don’t understand.   The coaches go home to households where things aren’t perfect either.  They have kids who get sick or hurt,  kids who need help with homework, parents who are sick or having surgery, laundry, yard work, busted pipes, garage doors that need repair, wives who need some attention, babies on the way, new babies crying in the night, houses for sale, and so much more.  Could you balance all that life throws at you, and coach a team to four straight state championships?  I challenge you to do so, Anonymous.  I challenge you to even try.   But, you will never be the kind of man my husband is.  You will never be the kind of man that any high school football coach is because you are too chicken shit to even put your name on a letter.  You mentioned that The Coach has “an air” about him.  He is borderline arrogant at times, but he has to be to do what he does.  He has confidence in himself, his assistant coaches, and his players.  I hope that someday you will find your confidence, Anonymous.

In closing, I want to recommend you find a positive and productive hobby, Anonymous, instead of picking apart people who are actually getting out there and putting their time and energy into helping young men to be successful.  Best wishes for the future.  Next time you want to say something, feel free to write me a letter.  Just be sure to sign it.

Most sincerely,

Catherine M. Ware

 

Rivals

“Don’t matter what they throw at us.  Only angry people win football games.”

Darrell Royal

Who are we without our rivals?  In football, the very best rivalries are often between schools which are close in proximity (like Clemson and South Carolina), and have a deep tradition and history of playing against each other (like Auburn and Alabama).  Here in the south it’s a bit like a family argument, and everybody takes sides.

In Cleveland County,  proximity and tradition hold true for all four of our high schools.  I attended Kings Mountain High School just on the other side of Buffalo Creek, so naturally I hated Shelby.  The Coach attended Shelby, so he was a Golden Lion all along.   When I started dating The Coach, I couldn’t even bring myself to cheer for The Golden Lions for the first few games.  He finally told me, “If we’re going to date and be serious, then I need you to pull for my team”.  I did, begrudgingly at first, but I’ve come to love his Golden Lion team and the fans.

The weeks when we play our rivals, The Coach tends to stay up later than normal watching film and working on his strategy.  I may get in trouble later for saying that, but it’s true.  It pushes him to do his best to outsmart that other team, since a year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake.  But I think it’s more than that.  Rivals in Cleveland County are serious.  They produce a brotherly animosity.  We can all be friends, unless we’re playing against each other.

I liken our county rivalries to a little competition The Coach and I sometimes have.  Occasionally, we sit down to play a friendly game of checkers.  It begins innocently enough at the kitchen table with some cold beverages in hand.  Laughter mingles with conversation, and we start off in an easygoing way with our game.  But…The Coach is masterful with strategy, the tide begins to turn, and suddenly I find myself playing to win.  I’m not terribly competitive, so it’s a bit foreign to me to have these feelings of wanting to smash him like a bug over a simple game of checkers.

I scan the black and red squares, and study my moves methodically before taking my finger off the checker to finalize my spot on the board.  I force myself to think one, two, three moves ahead to see what opportunities I might be providing for him.  The Coach likes to harass me with trash talk during the match.  He is used to this feeling of competition and heated rivalry.  As for me, it becomes a stressful experience.  By the end of the game I’m ready to draw blood.  I’ve nicknamed these battles “Checker Death Matches” for their intensity.  I can’t stand to lose to him.

I have become a much better checker player by playing these little games with The Coach, much better than I really even care to be at checkers.  What is it with these checker matches?  Why do I change into this person who becomes so focused and calculating, unnerved and belligerent?  Of course I want to win, but more than that, I think I want the respect of my opponent who is clearly better than I am at the game. I think too that I need that sense of accomplishment, of being better than I’ve been before. That’s possibly what all rivalries truly are, a need for respect and acknowledgement of effort (pride and bragging rights are a pretty nice bonus). When it comes down to it, our rivals make us better. They make us work harder than we would without them. To play against a worthy opponent drives us forward and strengthens our resolve.

Rivals aren’t simply reserved for sports, in reality they are everywhere, and each of us face our own rivals daily.  Some of us choose to take them on, and we become better people for it.  We face them in a difficult boss or competitive coworker, a dream that takes our all, a sickness, a goal we keep fighting to reach, a loved one with an addiction, an assignment that seems too much for us to handle, or a team who truly wants to beat us.  Rivals make us stronger than we would ever be on our own.  We hate them, but perhaps we should be thankful for them.  They can make us better people and better teams if we choose not to let them crush our spirits.  They may defeat us momentarily but if we consistently make the decision to get back up to fight another day, they can help make us great.  They will give us a sense of accomplishment, and when we defeat our rivals….we feel invincible if even for a season.

I feel grateful, and I think The Coach might say the same, that we have the teams in our county who fight the good fight. We might hate each other on the field, but afterward the brotherhood continues. The Coach talks on the phone with the other county coaches frequently.  They are friends.  I’ve overheard bits and pieces of conversations, and they all seem to share a deep respect for one another as coaches and people. Personally, I don’t think we would have four state championships if not for those teams we play each year from our own county, those rivals who challenge us to be better, and to play and coach and cheer our hearts out.

Influence

When friends suggested that we visit Anna Maria Island in Florida for our summer vacation, instead of taking an epic road trip to Austin, Texas that I had been planning for months, I almost scoffed.  Then, I saw the pictures…  The house was a pale sky blue, and the water a bright grayish green washed up on the white sands mere steps from the back door.  On the horizon, the Skyway Bridge rose like a hazy mountain from the gulf flanked by St. Pete and Tampa which looked small and very, very far away.  Colorful Adirondack chairs lined the wooden deck. But the clincher for me was the supply of kayaks, paddle boards and bikes at the house.  I was tired from a long year of teaching, and all too ready for a rest rather than a serious adventure.  By my nature I want to venture out, but this time was different, and a new area with a beach, kayaks, and cold drinks offered enough adventure for me this time.  The Coach and I talked it over out on our porch one evening, and knowing that our friends wouldn’t lead us astray, we decided to take their advice.

After arriving in Anna Maria, we sat out back one afternoon enjoying the waves splashing against the shore, playing in the crystal water, and laughing as our boys tried balancing on the same paddle board.  Our entertainment was interrupted when our daughter asked for her book to read.  Seriously, she wanted to read?  Now?   I am all for reading, but we were in activity mode, listening to music, playing on the sand and in the water.  It wasn’t a time for reading as far as I could tell.  Then I saw two young girls at the house next door sitting in their swing chair reading.  My daughter had been watching them, and wanted to do exactly the same thing.  This got me thinking… how often do we become influenced by those around us?  Just as we had been influenced by our friends to visit Anna Maria, and scrap months worth of planning, my daughter was being influenced by the little girls next door .

I’ve been married to The Coach for over 18 years, and have learned many things about personal and team success.  One of the things that you need in order to be great at something, is that you should surround yourself with people who influence you to be your best.   Sometimes that may be an encouraging voice, but it can also be a brutally honest one.  Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Does personal success depend heavily on the company we choose to keep?  I would say so.  After watching The Coach rise over years of hard work to become the head coach, I have seen people and players come and go.  I’ve seen some achieve success, and some fall by the wayside.  When I look at what has made some successful, and others less so, I am intrigued by  how many of the successful have kept their focus, and surrounded themselves with those who pushed and encouraged them to grow.

Year after year certain players have a huge influence over the team as a whole.  These young men aren’t simply athletes, they are intellects.  They know the value of relationships, and they are pursuing greatness for themselves and their team.  Sometimes they are young men with a strong sense of character, morals and humility.  Some are more outgoing (to put it nicely), fun loving and willing to step into the spotlight and force competition among all of the players.  Many are willing to learn hard lessons for the benefit of themselves and the team.  There should be a good balance of personalities on a team or in an organization.  A wise boss once told me, “Surround yourself with people who are strong, where you are weak.”  I agree!  I also think you should surround yourself with people who are willing to believe in you.

The Golden Lion team is fortunate to have coaches and players who believe in each other’s abilities and talents, and aren’t always trying to “one up” each other.  Instead, I have heard coaches tell players to work hard and build on the talent they have.  I’ve witnessed players step up and defend one another, and encourage each other when they are discouraged.  Young men who have stuck together more like a family than a football team.  That’s not to say that always happens, and sometimes The Coach will tell me about players who almost came to blows, or a player who has made such a poor choice for himself, that he can no longer be a part of the team.

Some players and people aren’t willing to change or bend.  Some choose to remain with the same group of people who have dragged them down for years.  Those are the ones who usually don’t make it.  They don’t go on to better things.  They never dream bigger dreams for themselves, because they stay within the influence of a circle of friends who don’t believe in them, discourage them, or allow them to be complacent.  There’s an old story about crabs in a bucket, and it’s true if you ever have a chance to try it.  When one of the crabs tries to climb out, the others reach up and pull it back down with them into the bottom of the bucket.  Only the strongest and quickest ones, (perhaps smartest, but I’m not an expert on the intelligence of crabs) make it out.

This leads me to my final question: Why is the football so great in our county?  I think the answer is simple, you have four outstanding teams who play against each other and push each other to be better, whether that’s intentional or not.  The competition is heated.  They are willing to pull for one another when they are playing outsiders, but are bitter rivals when they go head to head.  The company we keep can make us greater, or can pull us down.  Who do you choose to be around?  And who do you choose to influence?

 

Five Golden Rings?

“That ring is crazy, what is it for?!”  I hear that comment everywhere we go when The Coach is wearing his state championship ring from last season.  It is quite impressive, teetering on the edge of gaudy.  Actually it’s ridiculous, but I can’t just tell him that.  It’s more like a finger trophy than a ring.  The journey to the ring begins long before The Ring is placed on a deserving finger.

Tomorrow is the first official day of practice, but the season starts many months before most people realize.  Spring practices are now scheduled two weeks in May.  The “real” season in my own mind, I always mark with one particular event that I deem extremely important…..bus washing.  Bus washing is a character building event for the team.  It’s the very core of where the team attitude begins.  The team must wash buses and put in four days of washing time in order to earn their cleats.  “Cleats” isn’t code for playing time.  Players earn a new pair of cleats by washing the buses.

This makes players take pride in their work.  They build a team mentality by realizing that they are working toward something they need, and earning it with hard work.  Those buses are dirty.  The insides have trash and debris left from the previous school year.  The outside is covered with road grime and dead bug guts.  The team earns money as they wash each bus, then that money is used for the team to purchase cleats for the season.  If the player works they get paid with cleats.

Summer workouts and “7 on 7” tournaments fill the remainder of the sweltering weeks until the true season’s first practice.  These are miserably hot days with immense competition against the very best teams in our region. On those long, hot days The Coach tells all of those players to enjoy the heat, and he reminds them that when you play at the state championship in December it will be very cold, and they have that to look forward to.

When our boys were little I would take them through the McDonald’s drive-through right by the high school, and we would sit in the parking lot watching practice while they ate their Happy Meals.  This was so they could see their daddy.  The Coach wouldn’t be home until after dark, after I had put them to bed and usually gone to bed myself, and he had left for work before they were out of bed that morning.  These are long days.  The longest in fact, but I have come to realize the pay off.

The hard work that goes into the months after the start of the season falls into a rhythm.  Every year is different, just as each championship ring has been different.  With the new season’s challenges, personalities, talents of the players, and circumstances off the field varying, it makes every year a fresh start.  A lot of pride goes into the work as each day becomes a consistent flow of films, practice, and games.  The rhythm of the team is set, wins create momentum, and like a machine the team pushes toward that next championship, and that next crazy- big, bodacious ring.

The Ring is a symbol for many things, it reflects the love, support and commitment of our community.  People and businesses are the ones who purchase those rings.  For the past four seasons there have been individuals and organizations who donated the money.  Some are recognized and some choose to remain anonymous.

When a player, cheerleader, trainer, manager or coach wears that state championship ring they carry with them the reminder of hard work and long days, but they also carry the reminder of how much they have been supported and loved by a community who believes in what they were doing….a community who believes that football means so much more than a game on Friday night.  It means teamwork, it means the idea of working together to make something great happen.  It’s the belief that we still have in our little town, that no matter where you come from, if you work hard, have a great attitude and believe for something more, that you can, in the end, achieve greatness.  Isn’t that what we all want to believe?

I used to get embarrassed when The Coach would be asked about that crazy big ring.  One year at the beach a guy in a restaurant asked him what it was for, and The Coach explained it.  Obviously the guy had too much to drink, and he didn’t really have a good grasp of what small town, southern football means to a community like ours.  I overheard him later laughing and telling his girlfriend that he thought it was pretty ridiculous for a grown man to be wearing a ring that big for coaching a high school sport.  I really wanted to say something,  but The Coach wouldn’t let me.  I’m a little more hot-headed and feisty than he is .

I think that was what got me thinking several years ago about what the ring really means, and all of the hard work, sweat, long days and nights, meetings, injuries, tears, celebrations, practices, laughter, bus washing, ice baths, cheers and chants, sacrifices of players, parents, coaches, families, community, that truly go into That Ring.  That Ring is a message to the world, about the love we share and the moments of our lives when we have found hope in one another, and in dreams bigger than ourselves.  While The Coach is at his meeting tonight (the first of many this season), I hope that tomorrow brings the start of something that will once again lead to greatness,  a road to knowing that we all carry a champion  inside, and when we come together we can see wondrous things happen.  So here’s to us, the Golden Lion Family, and here’s to a shot at Five Golden Rings.

#driveforfive

Sugar Bear

There once was a man who was larger than life, and was at times more like an imagined character from a movie.  Around his house Larry was referred to as “Sugar Bear”.  He had a thick head of wavy white hair, and a roundness to him which made him much like a burly bear.  There were barely believable stories he could tell about adventures at the courthouse,  interesting cases he’d heard, or some time from his wilder teenage days driving fast cars on the streets of Shelby.

He announced Friday night football games with a muffled, deep voice that seemed a bit congested, but charismatic none the less.  His laugh was raspy from years of smoking.  Mistys were frequently his cigarette of choice, creating the humorous scene with his large hands holding a dainty “lady” cigarette.   Chuckles of laughter mingled with his words when he spoke.  “It’s a Golden Lion first down.”  There was a smile behind that voice, and every listening ear in the stadium could hear it.  Why was he so happy?  He was announcing the games, his wife always by his side, there helping him spot in the press box.   His oldest son down on the sidelines coaching, or in early years he was “up top” calling plays over the headset.  His younger son dressed out ready to go in for a play.  It was a family affair.  I sat in the stands half-way watching the games, catching up with friends, and sneaking a cigarette in the parking lot during half time.

When I began dating The Coach he took me one night to meet his parents.  This was “The Night of a Thousand Questions”.    Larry, being the magistrate he was, grilled me.  I held up, but it wasn’t easy.  He wanted to know who my daddy was, and where I had come from.  He wanted to know my future plans, and who my friends were.  He asked me whether or not I knew certain people.  Community and connections were important to him.  He passed that love of community along to his family.  He passed many parts of himself along to us.

The Coach loved his dad even though they often times would butt heads and argue over decisions.  I butted heads with Larry even worse than The Coach did.  Larry always had a strong sense of what should happen, and how it should happen.  He would let you know what he thought, even if you didn’t ask.  “You know what you should do Cat?”  He would say to me.  No.  I didn’t want to know what he thought I should do.  I was as stubborn as they come, and sometimes I still am.  I have softened a little bit over the years with lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

Even though he frustrated me at times, I would go to him for advice when I sincerely needed a wise opinion.  He never steered me wrong.  He knew I had a mind of my own, and I think he respected me for speaking up and not simply going along, or taking things at face value.  Sometimes I’m not sure how I ever made it into the inner circle of the Ware family.  I’m not so much like them, but Larry came to love me anyway.  He truly loved people, and wanted to help them make good decisions.  The Coach would call his dad daily to tell him all of the good things that were happening, and to ask him how he should handle difficult people or situations.  I see Larry each time The Coach works with a player, assistant coach, or a parent to help them, or when he meets with players or parents to talk about predicaments or future decisions.  He has such a way with people, and that came directly from his father.

I see Larry everyday.  Certainly not the way  I would physically see him when he was here with us, but I see his character.  My oldest son has a great understanding of sports, and has done some announcing of games for the city park.  He takes after Larry, who he called Papa Shug, in that way.  My middle child is charismatic and charming.  He loves fast cars, and much like Larry he can persuade and talk his way into and out of things with ease.  My little girl is so much like Larry that we often joke that he sent her to us.  She loves people and the kind of social situations that fueled him.  She smiles and laughs with her giggles mingled into  words just like he used to do.  She has a true love for life.  The Coach reminds me more and more of his father with every passing year.  Don’t get me wrong, he is his own man, but we often laugh at how he will try to tell me what I “should do” on a regular basis.  He drags me to hear beach music at every opportunity.  The same beach music Sugar Bear would be listening to each evening as he sat on his stool at their kitchen bar.  The Coach loves people, he loves our community, and he is always ready for a social event.  Through all these things, Larry is alive with us, and carried with us.

He left us on July 9th of 2009.  I remember the doctor coming to the waiting room to tell us that he didn’t make it through the surgery.  I was shaking and my teeth chattered.  I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time.  It was like being smothered by every emotion simultaneously.  Jolts of pain for those of us left behind, and promises of hope for Larry to be carried on wings to heaven.  “Be Free!”, the words echoed in my mind over and over, “Be Free”.  That was all I could think.  His body had imprisoned his spirit those final years.

I think of him always in July.  It is an interesting time for a football family, because it’s the start of a new season.  It’s as if he knew this, and went just at the time when we would need to be reminded every year of new beginnings and feel hopeful for the upcoming season.  We would be busy with football.  Too busy and occupied to feel sorry for ourselves for very long, because Larry would never want us to feel sad.  He would want us to have a fresh start, a new adventure, and to love life just the way he did.

After he died I had a dream of him driving up in a race car that had number 57 painted on the side.  The window was rolled down and he looked great, younger than I had ever seen him,  fresh,  with a big bright smile.  His handsome thick, white hair was combed back and blowing gently in the breeze.  He wasn’t sick.  In the dream I looked at him and said, ” I thought 56 was your number.”  He laughed that same laugh that I had known when he was alive.  The carefree kind of laugh that he had, even though his life should have been full of cares.  He looked at me and said, “No, that’s Linda’s number on her race car.”  That was terribly funny to me, and I laughed as he drove off and out of my dream.  In my heart I believe it was him.  Speaking to me from the other side of that thin veil that separates this life from the next.

 

 

 

 

The Guts and Grit

“There’s no substitute for guts.”  Bear Bryant

Being married to The Coach for almost 18 years has taught me a lot about guts, and even more about grit.  If I had to self-define guts from what I’ve seen play out on the football field, I would say that it’s taking chances when it looks like you have nothing left to lose.  If I had to define grit, it would be how the nose guard can drill a man into the ground  on the first down, and know that he has it in him to do a hundred more times if he needs to, because he has learned what hard work means in practice, and what winning tastes like in a game.  I have admired these qualities for quite some time.  I told The Coach once, that I would love to be able to play just one game, to see what it’s really like.  I know that I never will be one of those players down on the field, but I do have my own game that I play each day of my life.  As we all do.

Some days just stink, like sweaty socks that have been worn for multiple days in tennis shoes you wore to mow the grass.  It’s that sickly sweet, overly dirty, almost dead animal in a barnyard smell, they stink up a storm.  Some days give you that stinking, sinking feeling because they are just so bad.   On those days, you aren’t a winner, or a champion, or someone important or special, because you are just trying like hell to keep your head above water.  You are making it, but barely.  Those days aren’t the days you want to remember, but they are the days which build your character, and make you, and hopefully don’t break you.  They build a strength inside you.  It tears you completely down, but you come back up, like a phoenix from the fire.  You come up.  Stronger than ever.

The Coach is enjoying the “off season” now, and while that can bring joy and some fulfillment, it also brings a big bag of confusion.  I get to rework how we have been doing things for six months without him.  I am a very independent soul.  I have learned to be, and maybe I was just one to start with, but I have been doing everything, and bothering him with little to nothing for half the year, and now here he is.  What am I supposed to do with him?  Luckily, The  Coach keeps himself pretty occupied.  He has had two trips to Florida (the ProBowl in Orlando, and his yearly trip in a motor home to the Daytona 500) , coaching clinics in Chapel Hill and Greensboro, and he continues his run with a coaching clinic in Columbia, followed by one in Winston-Salem the next, and Virginia Tech after that.  During the week when he is “home” he works at the high school by day as Athletic Director, and by night working  games of various sports which are taking place.  Tonight that just happens to be baseball.

This year, I had the bright idea that I should start my Master’s degree.  This seemed to be a brilliant plan at first.  I have waited many years to get my masters, and I considered several different avenues of study.  Would I want to get it in design, or fine arts, or education?  I have always loved writing, with a passion that I have never been able to shove aside.  With all the things that I love to do, I have loved writing the most, so I decided to make a go of it.  What could it hurt?

I went in January for my first residency at Queens in Charlotte.  I met with people from around the world with my writing, which I thought was reasonably good, only to find out that it utterly sucked.  It was criticized for being far too emotional and sentimental.  I found that I wasn’t special at all, and that my writing may never be worthy of the respect of those who are “academically superior”.  I was ripped apart for including my faith in my writing, and one woman blatantly told me to “cut that part out”, when I had written how I believed that God had placed me in a certain situation.  It wasn’t great.  My dream of writing, and finding kindred spirits who shared my creative dream, was not at all what I thought it would be.  I cried.  I felt terrible, and totally, utterly stupid.   What was I doing?  Who did I think I was?  Obviously I was out of my league.

I contemplated quitting.  Some days I still contemplate quitting.  Why wouldn’t I?  I have a challenging teaching job where I teach both art and AIG (Academically and Intellectually Gifted).  I come home to three kids, who play sports, take lessons, and are involved in a variety of enriching activities; two dogs, two cats, and The Coach.  I have family members who are dealing with a multitude of problems, sicknesses and issues.  My plate is way too full.  Why should I continue this journey into something that makes me shift out of my comfortable, habitual life of monotony?   I am not satisfied with a life of “okay”.  I want more.  I don’t settle.

The Coach is still busy with football, just not in the same way.  He finds time to be  supportive of me, between clinics, presentations, and planning the upcoming football banquet.   He listens to my concerns, and tries to talk me up when I’ve had enough.  Days that stink, hard times, and challenges make me want to quit.  They make me want to throw in the towel and give up on hoping for something better.  The problem is, that I have guts.  Sometimes I don’t want them.  I just want to be that person who is sweet, compliant, and satisfied to smile in the stands down on her husband living out his dreams, and on her kids who are doing great things, but I’m not her.  I have guts to do and try new things.  I have guts to take what life gives me and not feel satisfied until I have challenged the status quo, and found solutions to problems, and creatively dealt with life.  I have the grit to get up every morning and push myself to be just a little bit better than I was the day before.

As Bear Bryant said, “There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and guts between dreams and success.”  He was right.  Dreams take guts, whether they are on the football field, or in everyday life.  They take grit, and hard work, and standing up when you are getting knocked down every single time.  Just like on the playing field.  I must keep picking myself up, and plucking all that grass out of my face mask.  I won’t stay down.  I just won’t.

Holiday Momentum!

I guess I always love beginnings a little more than endings.  The holiday season signifies the end of the football season for us.  I do love the holidays, but I also know from years past that the weeks leading to Christmas are filled with an array of interesting events, mishaps and a mixture of football practices, games and holiday hoopla.  The Coach and I aren’t perfect planners when it comes to the Christmas season, possibly because we have used up lots of our energy (and quite a bit of our sanity), in the months leading to the championship/Christmas season.  We don’t do a very good job of getting everything in order and beautiful, and my family usually isn’t ready for Christmas until…well Christmas.  There have been very few years when The Coach helped to decorate the Christmas tree.  The Coach likes to tell me how many teams would kill just to be in our shoes.  Playing in December is a big deal!   He has what some people call “tunnel vision” this time of the year.  I compare it to looking through a toilet paper roll at the world.  Either way, he only has one thing on the brain.  I guess that’s what makes him a pretty good coach.

Really, I just need to find some holiday momentum.  In football when your team makes a good run, gets a first down, or especially when they make a big play for a touch down, your team gains momentum.  It’s a real thing, trust me.  I have seen it at work.  Momentum is key in a successful win.  If your team loses its momentum, you had better do something quick to get it back.

I’ve tried to get my Christmas momentum going by listening to endless carols, and watching the yule log on youtube during the school day while I have children glue glitter and sequins to hand painted Christmas trees.  It’s not working!  Why can’t I get ready for the holiday season and begin feeling festive?  The Coach isn’t home this time of year.  He’s still coaching.   It is truly wonderful.  It’s amazing and crazy, and it is a feeling like no other when you win, but it is also the last leg in a very long race that began back in July.  It’s the home stretch.  It’s the big finale.  It is the pressure to win another championship mixed with the pressure to give the best gifts, host the best parties and look the part while doing it all.  My emotions are on a football playoff-holiday style rollercoaster.

This time of the year is magical for most people.  The parties and gatherings, parades and plays are all exciting and involve fun, food and friends.  While all of that is going on for most families, and even for my family, we still aren’t really in the holiday mood just yet.  Right now, I have a 12 foot tall tree that is on my back porch crooked in its stand.  There are no lights or ornaments adorning it.  We did get a tree up in the foyer last weekend for show.  I literally took the final two pumpkins to the compost today.  We are almost half way through December people.  The whole Christmas card thing isn’t  looking very good for this year, and if they ever get made and mailed it might be a miracle. Day by day I pull out Christmas decorations from the attic, while what I truly need to be doing is cleaning the leaves out of our gutters, and figuring out what the heck has happened in our garage.  This should have been done weeks ago!  Some things must be postponed until the last play is called, and the players walk off the field.

Tonight we play our final game of the playoffs in hopes that it will be a big win, and we will head to Raleigh on the 17th.   The end is there in sight.  It is both bitter and sweet.  Perhaps we play for one more week and come home as champions again.  I know that when the season comes to a close we celebrate.  We don’t just celebrate wins, we celebrate life.  All of the imperfections in my decorations, my lack of meticulously wrapped presents, followed by my exhaustion and need for quiet forces me to focus on the true meaning of the holiday season…  family, friends, community, faith.  We appreciate time to just be together and reflect on how we made it all the way to the end of this magical road we get to travel each year.  We feel blessed and fortunate that our team played all the way until the Christmas holidays took over.   We celebrate the fact that we weathered one more football season together, and in looking back we realize that we have grown stronger. We feel the true meaning of the holidays all around us in this community we love, in the team we love, and in friends and family who managed to love  us even at our worst moments of the season.

We have a game in the freezing cold tonight.  It should be a good game, and probably a late night for us all.  The kids have been preparing by finding their long johns and gloves.  I will stop by Tractor Supply this afternoon to pick up Hot Hands in the jumbo pack.  When I sit and look out over our Shelby field for the final time this season, I will be looking for the Christmas star high above the crowd, the players and cheerleaders probably won’t even notice it shining  above them.  The smoky smell of hamburgers on the grill and warm popcorn will linger in the brisk air.  The sound of the drums and the laughter of kids playing their own game on the hill will hum and rumble in the background of the night.  The sight of The Coach down there on the sidelines pacing and waving his arms  with all of the assistant coaches, players, trainers and managers, will remind me of all the people and hard work that have gone into this moment.  This time of the year is a mixing and mingling, but not the kind in Jingle Bell Rock.  It is a mix of finishing a great football season, and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It is all right here in a delirious mess of bells and lights, glitter and glue, and football.