Last week, a good man was buried.
I suppose that around the world as a whole, many people were probably buried, but the one that my heart is thinking of spent more years than I know coaching kids, including my Boy Child for 4 years of basketball.
We didn’t even know Coach was sick until we found out that he’d died.
From what I understand, he didn’t have much warning either. He was diagnosed with cancer, started treatment and was dead in just a little over a month.
JUST OVER A MONTH.
And he’s gone.
Just like that.
I still haven’t really wrapped my mind around the brutal speed and sudden ending, but I can easily share how much I appreciated that man’s influence on my Boy Child.
I never would have guessed that I would have a kid who liked sports.
We’re not in the least bit athletic or sporty people. We don’t watch, play or really give the smallest bit of care towards any of them.
Except, of course, if my kids are playing. Both of my kids participated in low key community leagues as little kids, mostly so they could burn off some of their crazy wild child energy, or because a friend was playing, but by the time he reached junior high, my son wanted to play in competitive ways with the big boys.
I don’t know why or what happened. Maybe my kid got some long lost recessive genes involving muscle and speed along with some inexplicable desire to compete? I don't think it came from me, that's for sure.
I never figured it out, but like a good deal of parenting, I just tried to point them in the right direction.
We were free ranging homeschoolers at the time, and while local charters could help with classes and books and such, none offered competitive sports.
Spending life energy and time equivalent to a full-time job in a classroom for a chance to play ball didn’t seem like a worthwhile proposition when we had an otherwise good thing going.
Thankfully, through our homeschool community, we came across a small private school that opened the door by allowing other homeschoolers to participate in their team sports program.
My Boy spent the next 4 years - spanning 9th through 12th grade - as a part of the basketball team. I was continually amazed by the dedication of the other parents, but most of all, the Coach.
We went to countless games, many of them hours away on winding mountain roads to towns in the middle of nowhere on long and stormy winter nights. Coach never made a big deal or made me feel like a loser if I couldn’t drive because of work and had to send my kid with him or another family.
I found out that Coach actually lived over an hour from where the kids practiced, and in the mountains where it snowed, so he was doing many times as much driving as any of the rest of us and often in unpleasant conditions.
But he was always there. Even in the offseason, he had open gym nights so the kids could still gather and work on their skills.
I can’t imagine he was getting rich off of this endeavor, as our fees were really reasonable, even for a single mom. All I could figure was that kids getting to play sports really mattered to him.
He apparently had been doing it for decades, and from what I saw, he was unique and different from a lot of other coaches out there.
He yelled, of course, but not in a berating way like I saw other coaches do.
He was actually a good sport, which I noticed is often missing in organized athletics. I never saw him throw a giant man fit or encourage dirty play, which I witnessed more than once from other men coaching other teams.
I sometimes took the opportunity to mom-style shame those bad sport / awful role model coaches because it seemed like someone needed to point out their awful behavior, and I’m OK being that person. But, that’s another story.
Our coach treated the kids, refs, and parents with respect. He called the boys out on nonsense, had high expectations and consistently pointed them towards the importance of having a positive character. I guess those are all the things you'd want in a coach.
While he also wanted to win, you could feel the focus on the boys growing into good men.
And, grow they did- both as players who won enough of the time to make it entertaining and as young men who were refreshingly nice to be around.
We watched the team develop from being so polite they practically handed the ball to the other team and moved out the way so they could shoot, to becoming a competitive force that went a ways into the finals by my son’s Senior year.
The first season was bizarre. I’d spent 13 years telling my son to be gentle, and I suddenly found myself screaming, “Take the freaking ball!!!!”
The time when the Coach came into our lives was right around the time of my divorce. My son was in full-on early teen boy mode, and his dad was out of the country, so I was especially grateful for the male role models we had.
The private school that sponsored the team was a really conservative religious one, and I wondered in the beginning if we'd be accepted at all or be deemed unworthy sinners and my son cast out because his mother is an “unmarried woman with children” who also happens to enjoy margaritas, occasional drops and F bomb and even though I consider my self a Christian, (or perhaps because) I had to alter the statement of faith before I could sign it so that it matched my actual beliefs.
While my personal understanding of Jesus is that he hung out with, supported and defended a lot of diverse people, encouraging us to be nice to each other, rather than judgey like Pharisees, I’m well aware that not everyone sees it that way. In some circles, not everyone is welcome.
For the first couple of years, in the back of my head, I felt maybe we’d somehow slipped through the cracks and would be outed from the team for not being appropriately religious (because that thing seems to happen) but my worry was for nothing.
The wonderful thing is that we never had any issues. The other families were kind and Coach seemed to stay focused on the thing at hand- playing basketball, with character.
Despite 4 years of games, I never really grasped all the rules and was often confused about what actually constituted a foul or why the refs were or were not blowing whistles, which often felt inconsistent to my untrained eyes.
I did learn that I was very wrong in thinking basketball is a non-contact sport, and that gangly boys will grow into giant-sized young men full of testosterone and bravado who smash into each other at high speeds.
I had to pop homeopathic calming tablets whenever I remembered to bring them and was thankful that I have naturally low blood pressure, because I may have otherwise had a heart attack watching the intensity of some games.
During the last game of the finals, a sweet old grandmother sitting next to me in the stands suggested that I might do better with Valium, which I found hilarious for several reasons. One, you can never tell who might recommend prescription sedatives, and two- maybe my relaxation methods weren’t working as well as I’d hoped.
Anyhoo, the main thing for me was that it was always a safe place where I felt like my kid could go and be with other young men being mentored by older men, and that’s something that’s missing for a lot of kids.
He got discipline in working his body and his character.
What Coach offered was something that I could not have provided for my son in other ways, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
I only knew him in the capacity of coach, so that's all I can really speak for, but he sure seemed to be the kind of man who actually acted like the Jesus he worshipped.
That in and of itself felt kind of revolutionary to me.
I don’t know what will happen with the sports program now, whether someone else will step up, or whether it will end with him.
I do know that we were really lucky to have had those 4 years with him.
Coach showed me a nice side of both sports and conservative religion.
I tried and can only hope I was able to express it while he was alive, but thanks, Coach! Your steadiness, dedication, and commitment to the kids made more of a difference than you could probably imagine and you will be missed.
Aside from the kids, you helped make my intro into being a sporty team mom as smooth as it could be for a rogue non-player like myself.
I can only hope more people get the kind of positive experience with sports and adolescence that we did.
I know your family and community have expressed their faith in what comes after death, and my wish is just that your heart is happy and that maybe you can play ball again.
Thanks Again Coach. You were a true mentor and a good man. I hope you know that the world is a better place for the work you did here.
For those of you who are alive to read this, if you happen to coach kids, thank you so much for that! Please be nice and focus on character too.
And, if you're a parent whose kids have a coach, please thank them. No matter what you do for your day job, coaching kids is work that matters.
Thank God for people like you!
Rest in Peace Coach Rust.
Writer, Artist, Empowered Living Advocate, Wanna-be Organic Gardening Foodie, Travel Loving Life Explorer, FunSchooling Facilitator / Former Goat-Herding HeadMistress for our Mostly Happy Homeschool, Semi-Crazy Chicken Lady and Mamacita Extraordinaire to a couple of Cage Free Kids.