I have watched with great interest the current controversy over physical punishments handed out by football coaches in high school. I was and always have been a team player and truly believe in the concept of team as being the most powerful of weapons, but I also have often had a problem with letting bologna lie where it falls that sometimes causes me to say things in what, I have been told, is an unfeeling and insensitive way that may offend people in authority and everyone else as well.
First some background: I tried to be an athlete in high school, I probably had slightly better than average athletic ability and loved to compete. Individual and group punishments were common back then as a part of the team concept. Wind sprints, lines, laps, hills, pushups and burpees (look it up)
I can remember the best actual teaching coach I ever had, trying to teach me to get off on the snap of the football by standing behind me and when the ball was snapped kicking and not gently at where my butt would be if I hadn’t moved it when the ball was snapped. I was never really hurt and his lessons worked. At times the penalty for fumbling was to run down a line carrying a football with the whole team lined up on both sides of it hitting at you and the ball. If you fumbled again you got to go through the line again. Football by its very nature is not a gentle sport. I understood that then and understand it now.
In sophomore football, everyone had their names written on adhesive tape and then taped to the front of their helmets as it helped the coach identify players so he could “gently correct our deficiencies in a more personal manner.” At the half-time of one game, in front of the team, the coach removed my adhesive tape name from the front of my helmet and replaced it with the word, “BABY,” while offering a somewhat forceful technical critique of my play during the first half. It hurt emotionally but it didn’t hurt that badly and as I remember I played with a little more enthusiasm during the second half. That same coach who was also the PE teacher would often give me a 10 foot head start at the end of the PE period and for everyone who passed me in the gym class during three laps of the basketball court I would have to run another lap.
My senior year of football, after starting some games as a junior, I played 34 seconds and that playing time happened only because the coach noticed there was only 10 players on the field, reached behind him and grabbed the first player he could find and told him to get out there. I played 34 seconds in a pre-season benefit game in my senior year.
How did this happen? It was a combination of several factors, my inability to put up with bologna or malarkey if your a Joe Biden fan. and the coach’s inability to understand that I played and concentrated on baseball in the spring instead of attending “captain’s football practices.” This oversight on my part was exacerbated by me wearing my hair longer than the coach liked outside of the season ( which in fact was part of the team concept). It was common practice for coaches to occasionally function as barbers back then. I also had a little bologna problem I had with the baseball coach concerning team motivation and whether I was a team player, after which I was given the choice of running 5 miles before practice or quitting the team. I did the run but the cumulative damage within the coaching staff had been done. The football coach was mostly upset because I had failed to attend the illegal and theoretically non-compulsory captain’s football practices in the spring. I was told, after a reaming out in the coach’s office in May, with all of the coaches from all sports present, that perhaps it would be best if I not come out for sports the next year. I went out anyway and busted a gut to do my best the whole year even after one of the football team captains had taken it upon himself to sit on my chest and beat my head around a little bit right after the first fall practice. (He is still a friend as he was doing, without any malice, what team captains thought they were supposed to do). I did play quite a bit of baseball my senior year although lost my starting position, but that was probably only because I was more needed in that sport.
Coaches did not back off of positions back then and I was never really given any chance to play football my senior year. I’ve often wondered what my father thought about me not playing( he was a high school and college football player) but it was my business, not his and we never discussed it. In the end I did stay out the whole year and at the end of the year when it was all said and done I felt I had won because I didn’t quit.
Around 30 years later I wrote a letter to the editor about a subject that i I felt was educational claptrap. It had nothing to do with football, and surprisingly I received a communication from my high school football coach. He pointed out, without any apology, that I never was a quitter, and after that I felt like a winner all over again.
You see, I am sure that, he was doing what he thought he needed to do to maintain his team and I was doing what I needed to do to maintain my self-respect. Unfortunately neither of us could find common ground in our positions.
Was what happened 40 years ago fair? No, but as most of us have now realized life isn’t always fair and it’s what you do with your failures even more so than your successes that define you as a person.