I was looking through some friend requests on Facebook, when a smiling face jumped out at me. Before I confirmed it, I looked to make sure it wasn’t Spam. I also checked out the mutual friends we shared. There were five, a couple of the names looked familiar. A closer look, and I discovered that I recognized three of the five. I looked again at the request, the name and the photo. I grinned a big grin. The kind of grin reserved for those who have touched your soul.
Robert! He was one of my guys. Back in the 1970s, after graduating Auburn and moving back to Birmingham, I worked as a supply teacher at the legendary Parker High School. I subbed in the classroom. The legendary principal, Bubba Thompson also made me his B-Team football coach. The Facebook request was from one of my players. Our mutual friends were also my players.
I only coached that one season, the siren song of television beckoned. We went 2-2-1. I can say as a coach I never had a losing season.
What has stayed with me and really matters are those guys and the relationships we built. They were young men searching for the person they would grow into, the way we all do at fifteen. They gave themselves to me.
Robert, a running back, always wore a smile. He was pleasant to be around. I wonder if his voice has grown into his body. He had a high-pitched voice. He loved to run the football. To be good, or great, a running back has to love to run the football. Robert wanted the ball.
The other guys on the list, Drake a linebacker, was smart, a thinker. Hardy, an offensive lineman, also very smart, a leader. Harrison, was a big kid, a running back, who would grow into a young man that could continue playing after high school. He was also smart.
I see Jake at Niki’s West in Birmingham. Niki’s has to be the most popular meat and three restaurant in Birmingham. Jake is a server. He was tall and rangy and played safety for us. His real name isn’t Jake, we renamed him after the Jake Scott who played at Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins. It is always good to see Jake.
The one recurring theme in my descriptions of these young men during their High School days is their smarts. They were good athletes, very respectful and also pursued their academics with the vigor of a big game against Carver.
They were wise enough to wonder what was next for their lives. The lure of big time college football was just spreading to the masses of southern black athletes. That was not in the picture. There was not the carrot of the NFL. There were no all-star camps to attend. ESPN was a thought in someone’s mind. My guys accepted this time in their lives for what it was, a wonderful season of life. One that would keep them bonded.
I am proud that I got to spend that year at Parker. Its reputation is outstanding. At the time it was a community public school. The black students who attended there would come from all over Birmingham. Most of my guys lived in the nearby community.
Whenever I am in Birmingham and I hear the word “Coach” directed at me I know it’s one of my players or students from that era. They are the only ones who call me “Coach.” It’s special!
I’m proud of my guys. They are all productive citizens doing what they can for their families, their communities and each other. I am so honored that they would want to keep in touch with the old coach, who only coached one season. My grin grows. They gave me one of the most wonderful seasons of my life.