A hard lesson to learn about being part of a team. Mercy and fairness and consequences....
|I don't know why I thought of you today after thirty years. Perhaps it was because my daughter asked what college was like for me. I didn't tell her about you, but you were on my mind as I drove home today.
I remembered back to my second season with you as my head coach. I was experienced and a success story. I had a C on jersey to show for it. The team was confident in our abilities and felt we could hang with anyone.
You were so proud of us, I could see it every time we took the field be it practice or a game. Our reward was a trip to Maryland to play two division three schools over spring break. I was so excited, and couldn't wait to go.
We were a small school in New York with just eleven of us on the team. So we set out in two of the school's white vans. I remember the trip, everyone was so excited. There was chatter about the games and maybe girls would come see us play.
I remember going the wrong way on a highway. You came to a stop and couldn't back up as the Assistant Coach was right behind us in his van as well. The police car showed up about thirty seconds later. He tried to cross the median to get to us. There was a taunting voice that said "coach is getting a ticket." You shot that down quickly and told us to be quiet.
Luck was on our side as the officer's car got stuck in the soft grass. "Help him." you said. Eleven athletes jumped out of those vans and pushed the officer's car out. His lights still on, he stopped traffic so we could turn around and gave us a wave of thanks. No ticket for Coach and we got out of there quickly.
I remember eating at Shoney's and being pissed that someone peppered my sundae when I went up to get a spoon. Little pranks and bits of teasing seemed to be the fare that day. It was fun and I was loving every bit of it.
The coaches were sharing a room and we all had to partner up at the hotel. I remember a few teammates brought beer. I had never had one before. I drank one and threw it up towards the roof to get rid of the empty. I laugh about it now as I didn't know the coaches room was right above the room I was in.
The empty can landed on his balcony and the assistant coach came out and looked down at me and shook his head and pitched it on the roof for me. It was dumb but you do dumb things when you're 19 or 20.
Later I was in a hot tub with some girls from a karate invitational when the assistant coach came down to find me. I remember his words like it was yesterday. "Pack your things up, we''re going home."
I was stunned as he went on to tell me that they had gone to check on the team and caught five or six of them smoking pot in a room. I pleaded with him to let me talk to the team, but the decision had already made and we were forfeiting and going home.
Our gear was packed and we were on the road back to New York in less then twenty minutes. It was obvious who had been smoking by which van they selected to go home.
I was in your van and sitting in the front seat next to you. I could see the hurt and disappointment in your eyes. I felt awful for you. All the pride you had for us was gone. It was an embarrassment for you to cancel the games and you were so hurting.
There wasn't a peep coming from the back of the van on the ride home as you and I talked. I begged you not to cancel the season. I was so scared that something I loved so much was going to be taken from me.
You were in a hard position and you told me so. You were honor bound to throw them off the team, but at the same time it would cancel the season as we wouldn't have enough to play. Which responsibility was greater? There would be a lot of collateral damage.
At the school, I told you the team would accept whatever punishment you decided and implored you again not to cancel the season. I remember how upset you were, disgraced, disgusted and hurt all in one.
I don't think you slept that night. I know I didn't sleep either. I went to bed and lay there wondering what was going to happen and if our season was over. I didn't pay attention in class and none of my teammates knew what was going to happen.
We showed up early on the field not knowing if we would be practicing or playing any longer. You told us that you had made a decision and you weren't sure if it was the right one or a wrong one. You said you were going to go with your gut and only time would tell if it was the right call or not.
I still remember your words after all this time. "There are eleven of you and I caught five of you doing drugs. Lacrosse is a team game and if I throw the guilty parties off there will be no team. You practice as a team, play as a team and you will be punished as a team."
You told us to drop our gear, helmets included and we would be doing full field sprints the entire practice. One of the offenders, a little attacker nicknamed Zeke protested and said we had a game tomorrow. You told him in a raised voice, you didn't care about the game or anything else except this practice.
Running those sprints was the only time I have ever heard you angry. I could tell who had been smoking by how hard you were on each individual. The non offenders were allowed to jog as time went on, you weren't on us.
Our one sub quit. He said he wasn't smoking and he didn't get to play much anyway. I didn't feel bad for him, no one likes a quitter I remember thinking.
As I ran I was grateful to you. It was a lesson in discipline, but also in mercy and fairness. Some of the others got sick but there were no protests from your starters. We all knew we had messed up. A lesson was learned that day and it was a hard one.
I know you were embarrassed. I was embarrassed too. Several times different professors asked me if I had been one of the players who was smoking. They would look at me and it was almost like they were pleading with their eyes that it not be me.
I would answer them that no, I was in the hot tub with a few girls as it wasn't lights out yet. But I told them I got punished with the team, we all did guilty and innocent together. It's just the way a team works.
I reached out to him a few years back. I told him that I was still playing and I was coaching at the high school level now. I never mentioned that trip or his decision. But of all the things he taught me that one experience and those earned consequences stands out the most.
What I learned from that weekend:
1) Be merciful and make sure when your handing out a consequence that it
doesn't fall on or involve an innocent party.
2) Be proud of your reputation, it takes just one act to tarnish it.
3) You're known by the company you keep. You can still be affected by someone
elses actions or words. (Good or bad)
4) Value things and people while you have them and not just when you are in
danger of losing them.
5) Honor your word always.
6) The team is bigger then the individual.
7) It's the little things you do which can and will be remembered. Choose
kindness and fairness at every opportunity.
Thanks Coach you were a great one, it was the right decision....