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.


The Game

I find it curious how life seems to parallel itself with football in so many ways.  Sometimes I feel like I just got a first down, or even a perfect pass for a touchdown, and other times I am pretty sure I just got tackled by a 265lb. linebacker with a loss of yards on the 3rd down.  I’m sure we all have days like this, but lately I have had more than my share.  With pressures and struggles as a mom and wife, a teacher and friend, a sister and daughter.  I have certainly been knocked down, and fumbled a few plays.  I look to the football field and it gives me hope.  I know, it sounds crazy, but life is often like a fascinating game.

Many times people look at me and think mistakenly, “Wow, she  has it all together”.   Sometimes on my best days, I even look at myself and say that.  The reality is that I am very blessed, but I  if I don’t keep everything in balance things quickly become a wreck. Sometimes I lose focus, and I find myself in a mix of anxiety over things I can’t control, and deep sadness that eats at my soul.  I feel alone and misunderstood, whether that is truly the case or not.  We all go through this, I know.  It just seems that I have to fight a little harder than most against these feelings.  I am a highly sensitive person, as most creative people tend to be.

It gets intense this time of the year.  The playoffs have finally arrived.  We have completed all of our regular season games undefeated.  As the season progresses, the pressure starts to cook you.  Most people think that it’s easy to be married to a winning coach.  I have even heard people say lately that The Coach has it easy since he has so much talent to work with.  This kind of talk makes me cringe.  While the talent is present, hard work dominates the program at Shelby.  The Coach loves his job, but he also works extremely hard to be the best.  He and I are both this way.  We are people who believe for more.   We are both driven, even though we are driven in different ways.  We press on relentlessly.  We never stop growing, or stay satisfied with a mediocre situation.  The Coach is surrounded by like minded men who are gifted in coaching themselves, and work incredibly hard.  When someone tells me that The Coach has it easy, I want to correct them since I know that talent is a blessing, but hard work is paramount.

The pressure can be intense and exhausting.  I sit in the stands, and even though I have prayed, taken up the slack at home, and done my part for the week so The Coach can properly prepare for the game, I look on without the ability to secure the win.  I don’t get to talk with the team during half time.  This is something we coaches’ wives joke about frequently because frankly sometimes we would LOVE to have a word with the team at the half.  My hands are tied.  I sit and watch, at times in disbelief.  I have no control over what is happening on the field.  I can only know that I have played my part during the week to try to help the success of this team my husband loves.  Parents of athletes understand this.  You can’t control what happens on that field if your son drops the ball, makes or doesn’t make the kick, gets tackled, or runs the ball back for the touchdown.  I relive that each week of football season, every year.  My boy never graduates, he’s The Coach.

I try on every level to be the best person I can be, but I still feel the sting of judgement from people who think they know what my life with The Coach is like.  I try to take this lesson and realize that I have no idea what other people are facing in their daily lives either.  We all have our struggles.  We all face battles that no one, even our closest friends, know or understand.  This is where our compassion must force its way through.  I try to understand what other people are dealing with, but I am discovering that I don’t always do such a good job with that.  I suppose I struggle, just like everyone else with understanding on a deeper level.

When The Coach first became the head coach, things were not so pretty that first year, even the second year was a bit ugly.  People seem to forget that The Coach wasn’t always considered to have such an easy job.  Back then people were calling him Air Ware, and the screams during the game came from fans yelling “run the ball”, and harassing The Coach from the safety of the stands.  I gain strength from this memory.  I remember holding a baby and watching my two little boys wrestle on the sidelines during the game.  I certainly had my hands full back then.  Those trying times made us stronger.  They made us smarter.  They taught me to trust my gut even when everyone else might say otherwise.  Making hard decisions and pushing through the madness makes us strong.

At the end of the day I have done whatever I thought was right at the moment.  I know that The Coach is this way too.  We do things that are unconventional at times, and we are bold in many areas of life.  Living your best life doesn’t mean living a perfect life.  Don’t we all love to see a real, honest game down on the field where players work and struggle and play with all their hearts until that final buzzer sounds, and the clock is down to zero?  A game where fumbles are recovered and great plays are made, despite the mistakes and penalties?  The struggles we face make us more beautiful, not less.  The struggles we face make us interesting and intriguing, challenging and complex.  I love to watch a fierce game that makes me pray and shut my eyes for a bit because it is too intense for me to look.  I love a game that is full of surprises and unlikely heroes.  When you win that kind of game, it is more than extraordinary.  An easy win never makes a team better.  It never makes for a great story to be retold year after year.  An easy win in life never makes a person better.  The challenges are what make us amazing.  The comebacks are what make us great.   It’s all part of the game.


Friends and Football

Proverbs 18:24 The Message    
 Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

The first time I met the Devines we were in the receiving line at my father in law’s funeral.  As they were approaching The Coach turned to me and said how lucky we were to get David to come to Shelby.  I had heard about his talent, and intelligence as a coach.  The Coach admired him, and I could tell by his tone that he was excited to get to work with David.  It was such a difficult time for The Coach.  I was happy to see him with something positive to look forward to.  David was coming from Burns, and had been expected to be the next head coach in line when through a turn of interesting events he was overlooked, and a different coach was hired instead.  We got lucky, or in looking back it was cosmic to say the least, and the creator of the universe was at work doing things we could never have orchestrated on our own.

For seven seasons they were family to us.  There are those people who come into your life just when you need them.   That first season together was a season of healing and new opportunities for us all.  Kim and I had babies two months apart.  We took beach vacations every summer.  We grew very close over the years watching our children grow, and giving each other support when The Coaches were busy with their business on the field.  She understood me.   When you spend time with someone for weeks at a time, it can be maddening if you don’t get along with them.  I got along with Kim, and she could put up with me, which is saying something.  I am what you might call “quirky”.  I  have the mind of a creative person which can be flighty and reactive, and sometimes I tend to be a little feisty.   I admired her ability to do nearly anything, even clean chicken houses in 110 degrees in summer.  She is kind, funny, and genuine.  She may be one of the toughest women I have ever known, and for sure she made me a better person through our friendship.

We made great life memories together.  We celebrated victories, and prayed each other through hard times.  I believe the most profound relationships are not just built on conversations or similar opinions, they are built on experiences.  When you experience life and its everyday events with someone, you develop bonds of trust and levels of understanding that transcend the limits of the world.  You develop inside jokes where a moment can be brought back to mind with a simple word or phrase.  We  flowed like a river, and we didn’t have to struggle to get along, because it just happened.   This was the way we were.   Even when the two coaches would “have words”, they were like brothers and any hard feelings were soon forgotten.  They had a common admiration and respect for one another.   The Coaches are both smart, but in their own ways.  Lance is charismatic, and is a maverick of sorts on the playing field.  David is intensely strategic and methodical.  Their personalities and coaching styles complimented each other to create such a dynamic team that they pulled off 3 state championships in a row.

Last year after the 2015 State Championship we celebrated with friends and coaches at our home.  In our kitchen we talked to the Devines, and we knew at that time that Burns would probably offer David the head coaching position.  I remember him being incredibly humble, like he usually is, and I told him they would be crazy not to offer him the job.  We hugged him and Kim.  I think at that very moment I knew that our seasons together were ending.  I felt different after that night.  I emotionally protect myself at times by means of withdrawing.  I think I began to pull away, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when they inevitably had to go.

David was offered the job, and accepted the call to lead the Bulldogs.  He left by spring to go back to Burns.  We understood.  He had to go.  It was his  destiny.  He had to return home to rebuild, and lead his team to victory.  In the months that followed I didn’t talk to Kim very much.  I suppose that we knew it would be best since we would now be living separate lives with our husbands coaching for rival teams, and she would take on her new role as a head coach’s wife.  Coaching is so much more than just a job.  A great coach is a leader who is teaching people to believe in something bigger than themselves to achieve a common goal.  A great coach builds more than a team, they build a community. We knew that Coach Devine was supposed to do this for Burns.   Lance and I prayed for who would take his place.  There were such big shoes to fill.  Coach Hawn has stepped in nicely, bringing his own style and savvy, but the family is different now.

In preparing to go to the game this week, I felt very emotional.   The friends we had spent summer vacations, and almost every weekend with have been gone for half a year.  Even though I have tried to move past it, something has been missing.  A hole has been there that nothing else could fill.  Why does life have to change in these ways?  It must, if we want to grow.  Growing is an essential part of life, but it can be so very painful.   I didn’t let myself cry for so long, but I have been deeply sad because my friends had to move on.  Friday night wasn’t just a game.  It was a pivotal moment in time for The Coaches.  With the giant moon looming on the backdrop of the Burns field, it was orchestrated by a force beyond us.  It was more.  I hugged one of the dearest friends life has ever provided me with, after a game where our husbands had to coach against each other.  It was a place where I never wanted to be, but had to be.

The Devines are coming for dinner soon.  I can’t wait to catch up on the last six months to find out how their new lives have been.  Growing is so hard.  We used to grow together, and now we grow separately.  I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they will do.  I want to be able to pull for them at every game they play, except the one they play against us.  I never want to see a friend lose.  It is so very hard.  Much harder than people can imagine or know.  I have often compared the last several months to a breakup.  We knew it was time to move on, but it hurts.  We want the very best for them, and want them to be successful because we love them like family, but it pains us to see them with another team.  They have another family now who needs them, but I pray that our friendship will never end even if now we are on different teams.

It’s Football Season, Have You Seen My Husband?

Last week when I was on my little “me-cation”, I came across a gift shop in Sylva where I found some cute brown cocktail napkins that say, “It’s football season, have you seen my husband?”  Initially I just had to laugh because it is so very true.  Of course I bought the napkins so I can continue to laugh, and wonder where the heck he is sometimes.  During football season I have a good idea of where I could find him if I had to.  He is at some football field somewhere.  The coach got home around 7am this morning from his trip to the Alabama game.  I haven’t seen him for more than 20 minutes at a stretch since Wednesday.

People often think that being the wife of a coach must be fun and somewhat exciting, and it can be.  It can also be extremely lonely and tiring.  I can’t tell you how many times a week that I hear, “Where’s Dad?” from my kids, or “Where’s Lance?” from friends I see around town, or even his own mother.   They should know the answer to this question by now, but I can remember when I too was like them.  I would prepare dinner and wait for The Coach to come home, and I would wait, and then I would wait a little more.  Then I would call him (back before texting) at the field house.  One of the other coaches would answer the phone.  I would finally get to talk to him, and I would discover that they were going to watch another hour of film before they headed home for the night.  I would then eat an angry meal alone with my dog.  Life was hard.  Has life changed since then?  Yes, but it has gotten more difficult, and The Coach works a lot more now than he used to.  It’s okay, since I have learned what you call coping skills.  Adaptation.

If you look up the word Adaptation, you will see that it means: a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment in order to survive.  This is what I have had to learn to do as The Coach’s wife.  This is what all coaches’ wives must learn to do.  It is a process.  When I see a young coach get married, I know that it can go one of only a few ways.  The first possibility, is that the young couple will work through challenges together adapting and getting stronger as people and as a couple.  There will be massive knock down, drag outs, but they will survive.  The second path of possibility, the young coach will stop coaching.  Why?  Because it is freaking hard to be married to a person who loves a sport as much as they love you.  Most women understandably can’t take it.  Compromise won’t happen, and the coach will quit coaching.  Third, and this is the worst, the coach and his young wife don’t stay married.  I have only seen this a few times, although statistics say that the divorce rate for football coaches is between 60-70%.

How have The Coach and I survived?  I either win, or I learn.  That is who I am.  I never really lose, and I am happy with that.  The Coach is not that way.  He is a competitor by nature.  Many times I have had to learn hard lessons in our marriage.  One is that football will come first much of the time between mid July and the Super Bowl.  Another lesson I’ve learned is that if I want time with The Coach I must plan it, or it must involve a football game.  The Coach spends all his planning talents on coaching, so by the time he gets home he doesn’t have any planning abilities left.  If I want a date, or want him do a family related activity, I must plan it.  Most of the time this must involve football oriented activities such as, but not limited to: tailgating, lying on the couch watching football, grilling on the patio watching football, hanging out with friends and watching football, going to dinner in a restaurant with big TV’s and watching football, or attending a football game.

I mentally prepare myself to spend loads of time alone, or with the kids as a single parent.  Sure, that sounds harsh, but the reality is that I have had to learn exactly who I am as a person.  I’ve developed the independence of a single mom (I have ENORMOUS admiration for single parents who take care of everything on their own), but I have the privilege of a part-time partnership where I can cherish the moments we do get as a couple or as a family.  I have a gargantuan “alone muscle” built from all my training being married to The Coach, but  I also have incredible friends, lots of them coaches’ wives, who are supportive, and independent minded as well.

For years, and sometimes still, people will get a little question behind their eyes when they see me in public alone.  I go to parties alone, I grocery shop alone, I workout alone, and I even take vacations alone sometimes.  “Where is The Coach? ” people will ask.  I explain that he is at a football game, or maybe he’s talking with recruiters, perhaps he is watching film, or he may be in a meeting.  He could be meeting with parents, taking a player on a college visit, painting the field, or mowing a field.  He is possibly on the phone with another head coach,  and he might just be in the bed sleeping because he drove all night to get home to me after a big game in Alabama.  I’ve learned that if The Coach shows up, or gets to be around for a bit, I count that in the plus column.  I don’t try to keep up with all the time he spends on football anymore.  He’s happy, and doing what he loves.  As his wife I think I should be happy about that.  We have wonderful times when we are together, but I don’t hand him my happiness as a weight to carry.  I carry it for myself.  It took me a long time to learn that lesson, but I have, so don’t be concerned if you see me around without The Coach.  I’ve adapted, but I may ask you if you’ve seen The Coach.



Lessons From Football

A quote by Norman Cousins stood out to me this week.  “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

Life can be so wearying at times.  This week has been especially hard for our little community.  There has been a heaviness in the air that makes me fidget, and gives me sleepless hours of turning and tossing in the middle of the night.  It has felt like having lead in your shoes, and an anvil sitting smack in the middle of your soul.

How do you take a loss and make it a win?  There are so many lessons I have learned from football over the years.  Lessons that may not be obvious on the surface, but are there when you peel back the layers of a  game more complicated than it appears to be.  I have come to love this game in a way that I never thought possible.  It is a metaphor for life.

This week we experienced a loss in our community.  I’m not just talking about the loss of a very beloved officer for the Shelby Police Department.  I am also talking about the loss of a father, a husband, a friend of many, and a community member.  And….I am also talking about the loss of another father to children who also live in our community.  A young man who has become the victim of his choices.  Can we really look at one without looking at the other?  In the eyes of God, they are equally important.  There are two men who were lost to us.  The children of these men are truly the ones who bear the brunt of this loss.

On Tuesday afternoon I took my little girl in her pink fluttery ballet costume down the street from where she takes her dance lessons.  We were busy counting the blue ribbons around the court square and down the block when we found ourselves looking at the car that was covered in flowers and surrounded by candles.  I explained to the little girl what was going on.  We had been praying for him and his family after we heard the news on Saturday.  “My heart just hurts Mommy,” she said with her tiny voice crackling under the weight of her tears.  She’s like me in that way, but The Coach can be like that too.  It was so hard to hold her little hand and know that my little girl will be lifted into the air by her daddy after Friday night’s game, but Officer Brackeen’s little girl will never be lifted into the air by her daddy again.  At least not in this life.  I choked on tears, and hid behind my sunglasses as we walked around the car looking at all the gifts and flowers that lay on the black and white vehicle that a hero once drove.  It was important for her to see it.

In football whenever you have a loss things can go one of two ways.  Players can start blaming each other and pointing fingers.   The players turn against each other, fight in the locker room, and never recover the team mentality that it takes to win, or … the team rallies together.  They choose to learn from their loss.  They decide not to quit or stay defeated.  They look at the mistakes that were made, and figure out how to get stronger as a team.  The coaches encourage the players and build them up, or occasionally take some down a notch and help them get in touch with reality.  The players don’t let themselves get down mentally, they put forth more effort the following week.  They allow the loss to fuel their desire to be better and stronger.  Sometimes changes must be made.  They study film and make a new plan of action.  Never does the positive attitude of a winning team disappear for very long.  They believe they are winners above everything else.  Believing is more than half the battle.  How will they win again?  By believing, by working to find a middle ground, and by coming together as a team.  Blaming others, spiteful words, fights and constant judgement never create a winning team.  Players may not agree, but they work it out.  They find ways to play together even if they disagree.

In our little community we have had a great loss.  What will we do now?  I have heard words of hate this week, but I have especially heard words of hope.  Loss is tough.  We will overcome our loss with teamwork.  We have to get past our differences in thoughts and opinions right now. Sometimes we have to put the team before ourselves.   If you have ever played a sport, you know this to be true.  Yes, perhaps one side is right and the other is wrong, but a quote I began using with myself, as well as my children is, “It’s more important to be kind than it is to be right” (Anne Lamott).  This is a time when it’s more important to be kind.  I have heard lots of talk about forgiveness this week.  Forgiveness is supernatural for sure, but what can we do in our daily walk to make this community better, and to create healing?  There are so many questions.  There are some who are angry.  There is a division.  What do we do?  We take a lesson from football.  We work as a team.  We play as a team.  We win as a team.  #Shelbystrong.