When crisp fall air begins to stir, many Americans turn their hearts again to their civil religion, which is football. But whether it’s football or any other sport, I enjoy the game and delight in seeing young athletes perform; however, I catch myself all the time watching the coaches. I suspect the reason for this is that for over three decades I taught alongside them during the week, posted hall duty with them, ate lunch with them, talked the game with them, so that by game time I was pulling for them with every ounce of passion I possessed. I wanted my buddies to win and be successful coaches.
I owe a great debt to coaches, and so do all other non-coaching teachers, principals and parents of the athletes. As a regular classroom teacher, I have watched coaches on the field, on the court, in the halls at school and in their classrooms as they masterfully mixed psychology, simple love, and a pinch of grump to yield thinking, self-disciplined youths.
In Georgia, coaches are also classroom teachers, and I have seen them use their coaching skills for great advantage in teaching academics.
I have been helped and inspired by coaches. One thing I like about them is that they are always teaching team work which, in effect, means they are teaching athletes or students in the classroom to minimize themselves a bit and think about the good of the team or the class. Believe me, today’s youth need a good measure of such guidance.
Over the years, I was always able to tell when a class of mine had just come from a class taught by one of the school’s coaches. There was always something students wanted to tell me — about content — that the coach had taught, and there was always evidence of engagement and joy in the class they had just left. There was also the occasional account from a student who had just been humbled by his teacher-coach.
Marietta and Cobb County have been fortunate to have so many coaches who know how to win while teaching character. In high school athletics, the name Corky Kell will continue to be remembered for a long time throughout Georgia. After his successful coaching days at Wheeler High School, Corky moved into administration at the central office level. I had taught with him at Wheeler, but the most special memory I have of him is from a teacher-recruiting mission to Clemson University.
As Cobb Teacher of the Year and Georgia Teacher of the Year finalist, I was asked to help recruit, and Corky was assigned the task of showing me the ropes. His expert dealing with prospective teachers at Clemson was notable, but his dinner-time, tender remarks about his family and all the athletes he had coached were memorable.
Other coaches whom every parent should wish their youths could learn from were Wheeler standouts Dave Westerfield, Jim Mau, and David McDonald, as well as Terry Poor, who became a principal in the Marietta system. Two other outstanding coaches who became Cobb superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively, were Fred Sanderson and Gordon Pritz.
My neighbor Van Jacobs coached basketball at North Cobb High for many years. He was also the Advanced Placement economics teacher and a stabilizing figure at the school. Harvey Cochran of North Cobb was a legend long before he left the school. A rarity, Cochran was also an English teacher, and an effective one. At Harrison High, head football coach Bruce Cobleigh coached my son Jeff, and basketball coach Jerry Meuschke coached my son Reagan.
These coaches and so many others are the type of men young people need to be around. Through the years, male coaches have been symbols of masculinity for all students. Sorry, but I still believe schools should teach and foster masculinity and femininity, not the senseless androgyny that is in vogue.
Of the 80 or so male coaches with whom I’ve worked, two did not finish well. All of the others were men of character who steered students down a good, productive path. Often — too often — discipline problems fall on the shoulders of coaches, but that’s a backhanded compliment. Good coaches usually know how to scare students and make them shape up.
Most of the coaches I’ve named have coached athletes who also became coaches. Perhaps that is a coach’s highest compliment.
I’m wishing all of my younger coaching buddies well this season. I’ll probably still be watching them more than I will the game.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator