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…

“Um, hello, is this Chris Hancock?”
Said the voice,
Soft as velvet and raspy from living well.

“Yo, Heard, what’s up?”

Thirty years were gone, but I was in tenth grade again,
My old, yes, still older, mentor,
Was putting in a call.

We laughed about early practices
And getting stuck in one on one.
We laughed harder about Maurice who was
The police, prosecution, judge, and jury
In pre-practice study hall court.

Then it got sappy,
Because that year was so important to us,
Because Heard had let me in
Making sure I never felt alone
Or out of place with my difference
From the rest of my brothers,
Who, treated me better than I’ve ever been treated.
They made me earn their respect.

They allowed me to appreciate everyone.

They were all more important than those who weren’t there can understand.
We endured sprints.
We survived a Thanksgiving practice.
We spoke about being there in moments of tribulation.
We spoke of hanging at each other’s homes and
Our families accepting us because we made it clear
We were friends and that black-white bullshit wouldn’t be tolerated.

“You know, you were like the only white kid on the team,” said Heard.

That was kind of true,
Although that first year there were three of us.
Two quit, playing time disputes I think,
But whatever, I was a skinny kid with brown hair then,
Sitting at the end of the bench
Hoping to get a couple of minutes of court time in practice
And maybe even a few seconds in a game.

“It was cool, though, Heard. I loved being on that team.”

I don’t know what the color of ONE is.
I suppose it’s somewhere between blue and gold
Because black and white came together
Under the uniform of Lafayette High School’s basketball team that year.
We won some, we lost some,
Not getting as far as any of us thought we should have,
But for me, the life lessons were more important than any win,
Any Monkey drill, or all the splinters I picked from my butt that year.

Thanks, Heard.
Thanks, Chris.
Thanks, 22. (Say that loud and enunciate the two’s with gusto and respect!)
Two years would follow,
The lessons being the same
The shared experiences being the same

Man, I miss that…

Really, everyone, thank you.

A list of what friendships are built from…

Mile runs.
One on One full court.
Monkey drills.
Defensive shuffle drills.
Early Saturday practices.
Bus rides in silence.
Thanksgiving horrors.
Study hall courtroom hilarity.
Car pooling. (Especially Grove to school…)
Dinner with families.
Hanging in the lobby.
Tim Mac singing “Jack and Diane.”
22 ready to get in the face of anyone not hustling.
Acceptance.
Togetherness.
Team.

Being judgmental is easy.
Betrayal seems so simple.

We three stood for nothing of social importance
Only similar in the pale complexion of our skin.

Tokens or talent, I’ll never know
But we we’re part of a team wearing that blue and gold.

First, the shooter walked away
As I remember it, indecision being his game’s fault.

Then, the bruiser took leave
As I remember it, he got yelled at.

I never thought of their example
Being all that important. They walked.

If they didn’t want to be there,
They shouldn’t have been there.

Toughness does not come with color
Toughness comes with attitude.

So does a lack of…

Congratulations to the 1982-83
Lafayette High School basketball team…

“Ahhh, they kept three white guys.”
“Tokens.”
“They had to keep you. It’s a rule.”

I walked the halls,
Sometimes on the stairs
And other times on the ramp,
Listening to the cat calls
From ignorance
On both sides of diversity’s fence.

I went to practice
Never thinking I was a white guy
Benefitting from affirmative action.
I only wanted to win
And be accepted by the guys on the team.
Funny how I would be the token before the season ended.

“Ahhh, I made some great friends who weren’t white.”
“Haters, don’t hate.”
“We were a team and it was awesome.”

Congratulations to the 1982-83
Lafayette High School basketball team.

It is 7:59 on June 5, 2016 and I am writing this as a tribute to my old basketball coach, Jerry Farrior. Why 7:59? That is because for three seasons, Saturday morning practices started at 7:59am. One more minute, 8:00, and sprints or some other unsavory ridicule would be gifted to anyone who wanted to get there late. Here’s how it went:

7:30: We started arriving and shooting jumpers. If the balls weren’t out, Tim Marsh would start singing John Cougar songs.

7:59: “Let’s go. Lay ups.” That would be Coach Farrior. He would be rocking a Fayetteville Polo, tennis shorts of early 80s appropriate length, low cut Pro Keds with mid-calf socks. We quickly got in lines and started with lay ups and jump shots.

8:09: Monkey Drills: These were the worst form conditioning next to whatever CrossFit would throw my way years later as an adult. I hated the drill. Essentially, we made a figure-8 around the gym using the baselines and sidelines as our Spirograph while tapping the floor with each shuffle. Yo, Johnny Wallace, did you have to go so fast?

8:19: Passing Drills: In this one we shuffled from one end of the gym to the other while completing whatever pass with either a basketball or a weighted basketball. If the pass was not complete, the duo had to complete another trip. Two hands, Russell…

8:29: Shuffle Drills: Take a defensive stance and shuffle as quickly as possible across the lane on the basketball court. 10x, 9x, 8x…

8:39: 1v1 Full Court: Two guys go out and play one on one. Loser stays. Hey Me, why did you go so early? It makes for a long morning when you lose the first game played. Heard, we survived, brother!

8:59: Free Throw Practice: Groove them now or pay later.

9:09: Game Practice

9:39: Sprints/Suicides: Everyone had to run whatever number of sprints in the time that coach called out. Sometimes I think his clock was wrong and he just made us run to run. The worst episode of this conditioning actually happened on a Thursday night, Thanksgiving 1982 or 1983… Come on, Ozzy!!! Everyone, quit cheating!!! I nearly lost my dinner on that one.

9:45: 2 or 20: Take two free throws. Make them both and practice is over. Make 1, take 10 laps. Miss 2, take 20 laps.

10:00: Practice is done. Hardees, home, shower, nap…

Sometimes the Saturdays got to be hard. As a sophomore, I didn’t get to play much. As a junior, I played a lot. As a senior, my playing time decreased as the season went on. To be fair, I was an average player. I had a decent jump shot and played good defense. I had no handle or hops and I made bad decisions with the ball from time to time. I wasn’t scared on the court, though. Coach Farrior got me to be tough with loose ball and boxing out drills. Even though I was not gifted with the backside spread of coach, I understood how to use my butt and elbows to hold my position. None of the teams we faced had players that scared me. I probably should have been scared of the kid from Denbigh who got taken from a college class we were in by the Newport News police. I’ll also admit I tried to stay away from the Hampton coach. I’m not sure what he said to me on the sidelines once, but I know it was the one time in my life I felt compelled to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, I think that toughness came from my coach and in part, his unique start time for practice.

Thanks, Coach.

When I re-meet people from home
They are surprised to know
That I teach and have run ten marathons.
The shock for them is too much to believe and
Nearly sends them into cardiac arrest
As they laugh with a lung busting gusto
At the thought of me,
The one who had no time for high school
And the one who barely survived
Three quarters of a cross country season,
Being found in a classroom
Or logging the miles to run
A few long races.

Few know the story
Of the four greatest laps in my running journey.
Surely modest by the standards of more accomplished LHS alums,
For it was only one mile, but
It would be the burying of a demon that haunted me
Due to a failure as a sophomore.
It would put in place an understanding that failing motivates
And it taught me that time is the ultimate measure of accountability;
Especially when sprints at the end of practice
Await those
Who dawdle on the track
Or failed to mentally prepare for Coach Farrior’s favorite trick,
Doling out lots of sprints to test
The heart of anyone who might want to play basketball
For the Lafayette Rams.

Two years previously,
I missed the cut time by one or two seconds.
Russel Bridgeforth said something like,
“One second? You didn’t want it.”
That hurt because he was right.
After the tryout,
I would never “not want it” again
Partly due to Russel’s leadership, but mostly
Because of how Coach Farrior kept calling for sprints,
Which in the early days of political correctness
Were really suicides.
After a card deck full of twenty-four second sprints
The jokers would quit and
The next day things could get basketball serious.
Somehow I survived,
Playing that season from the pine.

The following year was better,
But the mile still hurt.

No sprints, though!

Barely…

As a senior,
I hated the demoralizing distances of Cross Country,
After all, baseball players don’t run,
But the shortened season served it’s purpose.
As we all stepped to the line
For the tryout mile,
I was sandwiched between
Carl Brown and Randy Dickerson.

We ran together
Passing all the early sprinters
Who gassed out early.
They brought their football toughness,
I brought something from my fall sports experience,
Pacing, determination? I don’t know…

The three of us kicked it around the last turn
Crossing the finish line
With nearly half a minute to spare.

It sure felt good…

I can only think of one mile that was close
To bringing the same satisfaction as
The one from senior year brings me.
It was a cold, rainy day in Jersey
And I was alone
As I fought to make a marathon goal in Ocean City,
Just me, the pelting rain, and the time.

I made my goal with about the same buffer
As the senior year gallop,
But it didn’t feel as good,

Solo experiences rarely do.

The mile on the Lafayette track
Was with teammates,
Two friends,
Which made our accomplishment all that much sweeter.

Be well fellas…