Time has a way of distorting perceptions.
An athletic career is probably never
As good or bad as a retired athlete remembers,
So making comparisons to the present in the past’s context
Are sketchy at best.

I’ve been coaching for awhile now,
Really a millisecond in the life of my career
As a physical education teacher,
But it’s interesting
Thinking back to how I was as I watch my players now.

The demands on today’s players are too much.
Year round, open gyms, specialty coaches
It’s ridiculous
Because all the special stuff
Doesn’t help kids know how to play better.

I couldn’t survive in this environment.
I liked the seasons,
Winter basketball, spring and summer baseball, and
Fall was mine to piss way,
To just be a kid.

Yet, somehow I got as far as I could
With an understanding of how the games are played,
A sports IQ if you will, and yet,
As I coach today, I know there is still more to learn,
Mostly how to understand what I don’t…arrogance, egoism, delusion…

Then I think, maybe I’m carrying that baggage
Thinking I know the best way
Wanting the kids to be something they cannot be,
Wishing this wasn’t a recreational stop in their careers,
But something that brought some pride to the school.

I think about wanting to play Bruton.
I think about warring against Denbigh or
Sweating it out against Hampton and how
We tried to do right by our school coaches
So our school would be respected.

We knew when to pick and how to roll.
We understood that baseball is dynamic and
Standing around only creates an attitude of passiveness.
Whether it was coaches or players
We were together.

Then I remember some players
Who rode the drama train when they didn’t get what they wanted
And they turned on the coaches or teammates
Robbing us of whatever unity
We worked so hard to build.

Now I see
Then was not so different than now
I understand how time smooths the rough edges
Yet I can’t shake the idea that I can coach “as we should be,”
Not allowing the existing culture that so many are willing to accept.

The turnaround starts when kids carry equipment.
The attitude changes when kids drop the comebacks after being coached.
Hustling, making the correct play, dropping the stat line,
All of these things matter.
Helping the kids understand that is the hard part of coaching.

Looking back,
I think my coaches made those priorities.
They all had their way, but togetherness, team pride, and accountability
All rose from the standards that they set out.
Those lessons mattered more than my launch angle at the plate or a three on the court.

The time has come for some Coach Jones confrontation.
The controversial one once took a cocky white boy to the side and said,
“Son, you look disrespectable.”
Maybe this was the wrong word, a malapropism, but the message was clear,
“Get your shit together and represent your team correctly.”

It took me “being me” to learn the lesson the hard way,
But I got the message because my coach helped me to understand.
My talent level didn’t change, but my attitude about what it meant to be an athlete did.
Perhaps we need a little of that Melvin mental chiropractic adjusting
To align some of our pasts with the curvature disorders of the present.

I sure hope my coaches remember me as a team player.
I hope they remember me listening to them.
I want my teammates to have thought me a good teammate,
Better yet, a friend, someone they could count on
To be in the right place at the right time.

Ah, that what then…

I don’t know what is the most important lesson a coach can share, but I know Coach Farrior said something that inspired me off the basketball court. I wrote an essay in his History class. I have no idea what it was about, but he took me aside and talked up my writing. I may or may not be any good at getting my thoughts on this electronic paper, but I know that the encouragement Coach Farrior gave me helped inspire me to write more at a time where I could have just as easily not written. Thanks, Coach Farrior.

Alvin Cauthorn opened the James Blair gym one day to let people play. I showed up and no one asked me to play. I didn’t know the routine of getting into a game. After sitting for a couple of hours, AC came over and told me I needed to speak up if I wanted to play. He told me what to do and how to do it. That was an important day for me because I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. The next two years on his team would be some of my favorite teams. Thank you, Coach.

Many a coach
Waxes on the benefits
Of common goals and the life lessons
Learned when people compete
On a team.

Many a poet
Writes eloquently of the rewards gained
When a man tests his mettle
In the struggle of physical effort
And competition against others.

I like to think I’m both
Coaching once again
And hitting these keys in the Han-ee style of free verse,
Looking back, both the coach and poet
Have it right.

My time playing high school sports
Oozed plenty of sweat,
But more importantly squeezed from me
All environmental influence of the times
About who people are.

My teammates were friends
People to go to battle with,
People to break bread with,
People, friends,
Teammates.

I learned that opportunity comes in uncertain ways
But gift horse or not, opportunities should be taken
Because the world is a tough place
And it matters little who you are
Only that you seize the opportunities when they are presented.

I learned how fickle experience can be
One moment making life seem easy and fun
The next swatting at an ego with Tyson like efficiency.
The essence of competing is struggle
And learning to manage the experience is how we get better.

Coaches will rant, poets will weave stanzas of ahhh
And both know why sports participation is important
Learning to struggle brings us together
Creating bonds that cannot be understood
In isolated phone and tablet bound postures.

I owe a great deal to my coaches
Who set the laws that I learned to follow.
I owe a great deal to my teammates
Who showed me no favor, but allowed me to be part of the gang.

So are my lessons from basketball at LHS…

“Allen, this whole time I thought we were making our way from the west after seeing my brother and running into all these people from high school and throughout history was a dream?”

“Yep,” said Allen.

“What about Ali, Parcels, and crashing the debate?”

“Never happened.”

“Ester Rolle, the leprechaun, my horse carriage business?”

“Nope. Nope. Nope.”

“What the hell, man? Am I going crazy?”

“I don’t know. You’ve always been a bit of a receptive spirit.”

“What do mean by that, Allen?”

“You know that song, Telegraph Road, by Dire Straits?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re like that, full of linear development and Rory, you know you’re my boy, but if I were to go about deconstructing you, I’d say you’re in need of some demassification.”

“I must be back in a dream. I’ll play along, although, this conversation is a bit woolly.”

“We live in an era of technocrats and you’ve been wrestling with your place in this word for quite some time.”

“What do technocrats have to do with anything?”

“You’ve never been one for special effects. You prefer acoustic or simple electric guitar to crazy synthed up sounds. You never turn your phone on and Facebook is the bane of your existence. You are the anti-technocrat.”

“Still waiting…”

“I’m just saying that all this technology and social media has been a catalyst for you to understand what you are all about.”

“Go on,” said Rory.

“You wrestle with social, media or otherwise, so all of this pressure to be on this or that has become much too weighty. You went to sleep trying to find meaning and purpose in a world that for all of its connectedness is a testament to isolation and an abundance of trivial social interactions.”

Rory thought for a moment, “That’s pretty good for a guy who once argued that psychology does not exist.”

Allen bowed.

“So what do I do with all of these dreams? They must mean something.”

“How do you resolve complex issues?” asked Allen.

“I shoot hoops.”

With that Rory and Allen hopped into Rory’s grandpa truck. They turned on the radio and Telegraph Road was playing. The song was nearing the end with the great instrumental when Rory turned into Quarterpath Park. He kept an old ABA basketball in back in case he ever wanted to shoot baskets somewhere. There was one car in the parking lot, a lime green Toyota from the late seventies. It was clean, not a speck of dust or a rag streak anywhere on it.

“You know who’s car that is, don’t you?” said Rory to Allen.

“AC, cool old, Alvin Cauthorn.”

Sure enough, out on the court in his blue sweat suit was the man himself. AC had been one of the coolest dudes ever. He was a stud football player, went to college, and came back to teach in his hometown. He had been Rory’s coach in junior high for basketball and Allen’s coach in football. He could have been Denzel’s study for coolness and everyone’s model for treating people right.

“What’s up, coach?”

“My goodness, if it isn’t old Rory and Allen. What’s going on fellas?”

Allen answered, “Since you asked, Rory is having a hard time figuring out who he is. What advice can you give him?”

“First of all,” said Rory, “are you here or am I dreaming?”

“I’m here, just as you are. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know, coach. Life used to be so simple. Everyone told me if I worked hard and set ever challenging goals I could be something.”

AC stroked his beard and Rory wondered how there wasn’t a bit of gray in it. “You know, Rory, the idea that we keep getting better if we keep raising the bar is full of pressure. It’s too straight ahead for me. I think we move forward, test the boundaries, maybe fail, and try again. There are missteps, but we find a way that works. It’s messy, slow, and at odds with the establishment, but if we learn to think, we can to where we are supposed to be.”

Rory looked at Allen, “He didn’t say anything about technocrats.” Allen made a face back at Rory.

“This time we live in presumes that continued improvement is the only way. Technology has fueled that because of the speed involved in everything. I’m guessing you want something that is more simple.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you have an ABA basketball. What screams old-school more than a red, white and blue basketball? I’d say the ball represents your gratitude for what sports once were and a bit of pessimism for what sports are. In your search for simplicity and finding out who you are you hold on to the ball because it suggests that the past is within reach.”

“Whoa, coach, you made us think when we played, but you are blowing my mind now,” said Rory.

“Nope, I’m just helping you sort what you already know. What do you think about the ball?”

“I don’t know. It’s got style. The colors make it stand out.”

“How about you go in the corner and show me that patented Rory jumper?”

Rory went to the corner, squared up, and let the ball fly. His wrist flicked and hung over the rim. The rotation of the ball was perfect and the red, white, and blue mixed into a purple as the ball arched and fell into the net.

“Money!” said Allen.

“No, it was more than that. Those three colors became one. All the parts came together to make a perfect shot. Rory, it’s time for you to put the doubt away and rejoin the rest of us. No need to bring the ball, you have all you need. I’ve got to go. It was nice seeing you guys.”

Rory and Allen watched as Coach Cauthorn drove across the dusty parking lot. None of the dust stuck to his rims.

“Come on, Allen, we’ve got somewhere to be.”

One problem with time is that way that it can mess with a man’s memory. Children grow up without knowing any better and naturally trust those who are in positions of authority. As we grow up, we rebel, we strike out on our own, and sometimes we look back and see the our pasts with clarity. What do we really know, though, because time can mess with a man’s memory.

Besides time, there is another problem we face as children. We don’t know anything about the people who are coaching and teaching us. Coaches and teachers speak with voices conveying a purity about life that we all should aspire to. They drive home lessons about team work, commitment, and unity. As kids we buy into the lessons and work to impress these guys who happen to be in charge because do so will get us more playing time. As we get older, we begin to see the faults of these once great men and I can’t help but believe there is a little disappointment on our parts.

I loved growing up in Williamsburg. I also struggled there. The town was small, so I think I was more bored with a life there than anything else. I had a lot of friends and got a good education, even though those who know will tell you, I really didn’t like school. I was also lucky with coaches. There was one guy who had a subtle influence on me, Coach Mo Weber.

On this day, I am racing to Virginia to interview my ninety-three year old coach. The last time I saw him we were both in different places. I was interviewing him for a final project in a class about careers in sports and he was about to enter as much of a retirement as he could ever stand. Rain fell that night and today the sky is threatening to drop snow, which would probably suit both of our gray heads just fine. I got to the Southern Kitchen at noon and stepped right back into my past.

“Coach Weber?”

He looked up from the booth with the same excited eyes I remembered from 1985. He was searching for anything that would help him remember me, but for a man who had evaluated and coached thousands of baseball players he was going to have to work real hard to place my face.

“Chris Hancock, Lafayette, first base, opposite field hitter… I’m glad to see you again.” He motioned for me to sit down and so would begin our latest lesson.

“How did you remember me that fast?”

“I called Jamal and he emailed me a picture. You are quite a bit grayer and life seems to have been good to you.” He patted his belly and shot me a thin smile.

“The years have been kind to you also, Coach. Are you still hitting the heavy bag?”

Coach Weber was a baseball diamond Bob Hope. He would hang out by the dug out and during the down time start riffing about being a champion boxer and graceful dancer. His routine was polished and to a group of seventeen and eighteen year old kids he was so funny.

“You know why I did all that stuff?”

“No.”

“I couldn’t help it. It’s just who I was.”

“Well, it was fun. I’m glad you did.”

We ordered. I went with chicken fried steak and a baked potato. He went with a small salad.

“You know I had two heart surgeries? Wanna see the zippers?”

“I’ve seen the first one,” I said. Back in high school after his first heart surgery, Coach Weber took pride in showing off his sixty three year old physique. On hot days he would go skins and tell us all to be careful about what we ate.

“Oh yeah. You know, it hasn’t really been that tough living with a broken heart.”

I was taken aback by his comment because that was kind of why I was there. I had learned a little about my old coach. His father was the great artist, Max Weber. After moving from Williamsburg, I had become more interested in art and here I was sitting with the son of one of America’s greatest artists. I was hoping he and I might talk a little about what it had been like to live with such a famous father. I wondered if his broken heart comment might be an opportunity to bring up his father.

“Why do you say that, coach?”

“I’m not sure. Medicine…doctors…they have this whole thing figured out at least in terms of managing our health. They opened me up, changed some stuff around, and I listened to their advice.”

“How did your life change after the first surgery?”

“I got back to what was important, which was being at home and baseball. Being a stock broker was tough living and baseball was a joy to me.”
“What was it like coaching in Williamsburg?”

“I don’t know. Like anywhere else I guess. Some people liked what I did and some people didn’t.”

I decided to go for it.

“Like your father’s art?”

He paused for a moment and took a little time to size me up. I knew right away I was out of line. For whatever reason, Coach Weber had not talked about his father to us. After learning about his family, I had wondered why he never mentioned that his father was such a great artist, but it was the stare from his normally welcoming eyes that let me know I had touched a nerve.

“I suppose you could compare the two, but why do you ask?”

“I guess I’m wondering why you never mentioned that your father was such a famous person. Were you proud of him? Was he proud of you? I’m just curious as to what that was like.”

The sparkle came back to his eyes. “I know your father. What was it like growing up with him?”

“Good. We are very different, but in many ways the same.”

“That is true. Your father is a good man. He’s not famous, but good nonetheless. My father and I were the same and different also.”

“Could you relate to him?” I asked.

“Not so much when I was young, but when I look back now I think I understand him better. You?”

“We are different. He is a hands-on guy, a tinkerer. He’s able to see things and build or fix them. I don’t have that 3-D creativity like that.”

Coach Webber leaned forward, “But you write, don’t you? You are creative just like him, only the creativity expresses itself differently.”

I had not thought about it that way. I am like my father, but with different abilities.

“I wish I had some of his skills, though,” I said.

Coach Weber stopped short with his next bite, “Then you wouldn’t be you.”

We ate in silence for a minute and I felt like I had made a big mistake asking Coach Weber about his father. The relationship he had with his dad was really none of my business. Throughout our brief time together, Mo had been so generous with his knowledge and time that I began to believe he would have shared more about his father if he had wanted to.

“You know, Chris, there is a simple reason that I never talked about my father with you guys.”

He paused.

“There was no point. How would that have helped you hit better or make the team play better?”

His answer was as stripped down as his batting instruction.

He started again, “My father was a great artist, according to some, not so much according to others. On some days he was a great father. On others, well, we didn’t see eye to eye. But he was my father and I love him for that, not for his artistic ability or celebrity. As for my life, I made my choices based on my goals. I wanted to be Maynard, not Max’s son.”

It was my turn to size him up. What I saw was a man who had lived a full life. He lived it on his terms and would continue to so with all of the time he had left.

“I’m sorry if I crossed a line in asking about your father.”

“Not at all. He and I are linked for better or worse. How’s your father? Still in Williamsburg?”

“Good and sort of. They moved out of town, but they’re close enough that I tell people they are still in Williamsburg.”

“You know, Chris, kids are a little of their mother and a little of their father. Mostly though, they become who life pushes them to become. Themselves.”

He excused himself and headed for the restroom. As he walked away, I could see those short, middle infielder steps he used to prance around with on the field. I had sought out Mo to learn about his relationship with his father and I would be leaving thinking about mine. He had turned the conversation on me and taught me another lesson. Always the teacher.

When he returned he had his hat and jacket on. “Okay, let’s go. I’ve got to get home before the snow and you should be heading on to Williamsburg.”

He was right, I wanted to make a detour home to see my parents.

“I’ll get the bill, Coach,” I said.

“I already did. What did you think, I had to go to the bathroom? Come on, young fella, you’ve got a lot to learn.”

Yes, I do.