Coach John Camp would get right in your face. He could be a bit intimidating. And you talk about relentless…
When he realized I couldn’t dribble worth a flip with my left hand he went to guarding me himself. He stayed on my right side… not telling me to use the left hand, not hoping I would…. MAKING me use it!
I’m telling you, he didn’t have a backup gear. For a young, slow, short sophomore trying with all his might to make the high school basketball team it was about more than a body could bear.
Until you realized how much he cared. About the game. About life. About me! And he for darn sure wasn’t going to take anyone’s second best effort… ever!
I would run through a brick wall this afternoon if he asked me to.
Miss Barbara Clark, that same year, was just as adamant about us grasping the rudiments of Charles Dickens, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Ernest Henley and that “Highwayman” guy that clattered and clanged his big horse over the cobbles…
I preferred Willie Mays and Stan “The Man” over Shakespeare and Percy Shelley. But Miss Barbara opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even know existed. She put poems in my heart and stories in my head that have been like old friends down through the ages.
I will be forever grateful.
Chick King would yell, “Run, you can’t never tell” when I’d hit a one hopper back to the pitcher. He was the eternal optimist. This was American Legion baseball. The pitcher could field… and the first baseman could catch. I ran as hard as I could. They got me out every time.
Chick would teach baseball and life all day long. Every day! He’d get a life lesson in during a rain delay in the dugout. He never missed an opportunity to pass “something” along.
He could make a baseball player out of a Dominicker chicken. And a decent kid out of the most pig-headed, thoughtless, stuck-on-himself teenager.
I’m not sure where I’d be today without him.
I became a teacher and a coach hoping that I could influence just one young person in my life the way I had been touched by those special people God placed in my early path.
About halfway through my fourth year of coaching I was demonstrating to a group of defensive ends how I wanted them to squeeze down and hit the pulling guard. I had Bruce Nixon “stand in” for the guard. I hit him with a running start with every ounce I had. He didn’t move. He didn’t even flinch! It was like he didn’t know I’d run into him.
You talk about a strong guy! Bruce was kinda on the quiet side. Just a super young man! I would get all over him at practice, trying to exact one quicker step out of him…
“Coach,” sweat was pouring down his face, we’d been practicing for hours, and the running and tackling wasn’t easy for a big guy, “I am trying as hard as I can!”
What a joy to be around him for a whole season. By his senior year, he’d talk to you a little bit. He was from a great family. I got to know his mom and dad; his brother and sister.
I was fortunate to coach a thousand like him. They were all unique and individual but there was also a commonality - a goodness, an innocence… and even an openness once they trusted you.
Wanda Kirkland walked into my classroom talking. And went out the same way! I called her Wander from the first day because she’d “wander in” and I’d immediately start to “Wander” what she was going to say next!
She was always upbeat. Happy. Never down or moody. I learned quickly to appreciate that. My day got better by her just showing up.
Again, it was my good fortune to teach a thousand like her. Well, almost like her, most were a tad quieter… if you don’t count Janet Murphy and Danny Tankersley - who were professional talkers!
Somewhere along the line Bruce and Wander found each other. Two of my favorites married. I was so happy for both. And they have truly been a match made in Heaven.
I think about them, and all the others, way more than they could ever imagine. I got into the teaching-coaching gig to make hopefully a lasting, positive impression on a bunch of young people.
Turned out, it was the other way around…