I met Albert through football. We’re going out to play Blountstown a few years back and I hear “Coach, coach!” Most of the time I don’t even look up. I’ve got the upcoming game on my mind, “Coach, coach!” I’m trying to remember if I’ve explained to Sidney if they run that buck sweep and the guard pulls, he’s got to look for that tackle blocking down, “Coach, COACH!”
I stop and turn around. There’s Albert. Fourteen years old. Maybe 15. He’s got that neat flattop haircut. He’s wearing a T-shirt that is besmeared with our team colors. And he’s got his right hand, in a fist, raised high in the air, “Coach, coach.”
I closed my hand, made a little fist and stuck up my arm as I ran onto the field. He lit up like I’d just handed him $10 million. It doesn’t take much to please special people.
I don’t remember if we won the game or not. Here’s what I do remember. A week later we’re taking the field in Freeport. As I run though the gate I hear a familiar voice, “Coach, coach!” I turn and raise a closed fist in the air. Albert shouts with joy. Man, I think we could use a hundred fans like little Albert!
It got to be a ritual. If I didn’t hear him right off, I’d look for him. And along the way Albert wouldn’t settle for just a raised fist. He’d come running to where I was making my way onto the field. He’d stick out a hand and we’d bump fists and he’d give me his best “coach” greeting.
In parts of five decades of coaching high school football I’d never done that. I was aware of the people and the noise and the commotion. But I really didn’t notice them. I was pretty geared in on the contest that was in front of me. The team and the kids were pretty important to me. Albert didn’t worry about my coaching years. He was a bigger fan of this football team than I was. And he was pulling harder for Sidney to beat the down block of the offensive tackle than I was.
After the state championship game in 2005 the team invited Albert to climb upon the winners stand with them, and collect his medal. I not only thought it was right, it was most fitting. He had won a state championship. He had been a part of us. He found a “cause” and he jumped in with both feet. I defy you to find fault with that! He will always be a state champion in my mind.
But none of this is why I’m relating this narrative to you today. You follow the rest of this story closely. We lost last week. Well, you know how the naysayers jump in immediately. Nobody wants to step up and take responsibility for his or her actions.
I have heard all of my life how football mirrors life. I think that is especially true when folks start placing blame. It is amazing how quick we are to point out the other fellow’s shortcomings. It’s not a problem confined to the local high school. No one today seems willing to step up and accept responsibility for their actions, or the consequences of the same.
I ran into Albert in the gym on Tuesday after our loss on Friday night. He was still down. “I don’t know what happened coach.”
“I don’t know either, Albert. I reckon I just didn’t coach hard enough.”
“Oh no, coach, it wasn’t you! I didn’t cheer hard enough.”
I told you this young man is special.