A Memory

My junior year in high school, Paul Neal’s retirement as principal caused a domino effect as my football and baseball coach, Bennett Gunter was named principal and his assistant coach, Randolph Potts, became head football and baseball coach.  Two more hats to add to an already crowded resume.  He was already the basketball coach, as in girl’s and boys’ basketball coach.  Oh, he taught science and physical education too.

This was fifty years ago when coaching staffs were just a bit smaller than they are now.  We had two football coaches…total.  I coached high school football for twenty-nine years and even our junior varsity staffs had more coaches by then.

Coach Potts passed away this weekend which is causing me to reflect on the strange and wonderful relationships between coaches and their players.  I feel honored to have been on both sides of the equation and honored to have been coached by Coach Potts.

Coaching and the game of football have changed drastically since the late summers of 1966 and 1967. For thirty-three years, through many of those changes, football was an integral part of my life either playing or coaching it.  I had many coaches and mentors who helped teach me a philosophy of coaching.  As I think back, Randy Potts gave me my first building block.

I was not totally unfamiliar with the new head coach.  He had been a fixture since my first season as an aspiring player and my position coach those previous years.  I remember a tall man with a blond flat top, a prominent nose, and a cheek stretched wide with a “chaw” of tobacco.  A blue wool baseball cap with a gold IL on the front.  A gray tee shirt over khaki pants, rolled up to show white socks and black coach’s shoes…oh, my god, he was my coaching fashion icon too.

I was a terrible athlete, an even worse football player, and fortunate to play on a team with a small number of players.  It gave me a chance to play and I had the opportunity to display my ineptness on many occasions.  One example stands out more than others and drew the deserved wrath of Coach Potts.  At home against Pageland, I met soon to be South Carolina standout Al Usher on the five-yard line with time running out in the first half.  I brought him down ten yards later in the middle of the end zone.  I’m glad halftime was just seconds away, had Coach Potts had any more time to percolate over my effort he might have killed me.  Instead, I got my ears pinned back, shoulder pads pounded, a spray of tobacco juice and a face full tobacco breath to go with it.  No, he was not happy.  Years later, as I began my own coaching career, I would understand.

The following year, also against Pageland, we played in a miserable, torrential, game long downpour.  We moved the ball up and down the field but managed to only put a touchdown on the scoreboard.  We missed the extra point.  Backed up, late in the game I snapped the ball over my punter’s head for a safety.  Pageland scored after the ensuing free kick and despite missing their extra point try, I was lower than whale poop.  We lost eight to six.  It is the only game score I can recall.

I have clear remembrances of sitting in the visiting dressing room, uniform running in water, afraid to look at any teammate eyeball to eyeball.  I wanted to cry but back then real men never cried.  No one said they blamed me which wasn’t the problem, I blamed me.

Coach Potts ambled over and sat down, creating one of those defining moments in a young man’s life.  He said, “Son, don’t blame yourself.  If we had done the things we were supposed to do, that snap wouldn’t have mattered.  Tomorrow the sun will shine…if it quits raining.”  This time he patted me on the shoulder pads.  It did quit raining.

I referred to the moment as defining because as I began my teaching and coaching career, his statement helped guide me.  A game may hinge on one play but if everyone does their job, no one play should matter.  If it does, it’s everyone’s fault, a team sport.  I had a couple of occasions to pass his statement on to needy players.

Some twenty-five years later I got to tell him what his warmhearted and compassionate comment meant to me.  For some forgotten reason, he was in Greenville and asked if he could stop by my office at Greenville High.  I was in the middle of finding out I was not football head coaching material and he was trying to sell life insurance, but we were able to spend some quality time together.  I didn’t buy any insurance, but I do remember telling him what the effect of his words was and how they helped shape who I was.  Today I am thankful I had that opportunity.

Rest in Peace Coach Potts and thanks. The former player whose error kept us out of the state championship thanks you too.  He just didn’t know it was you.

Don Miller’s author’s site may be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

 

 

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JOCKSTRAPS and OTHER DIGRESSIONS

 

Sometimes the derivation of words gets lost over time…and sends me down a rabbit hole.  I don’t know why I felt the need to research the history of the jockstrap…I just did.

There was a time I would not be caught dead without an athletic supporter once I knew what they were and what they were designed to do.  This was not due to the science behind the jockey strap but in response to my naivety in the1960s and certain scare tactics employed to make sure we were wearing them.  Our coaches would explain in a very serious and hushed tone, “You do want to have children when you grow up don’t you?” or “If you don’t wear that thing your ding a ling will fall off!” or “If you keep doing that you will go blind!” … oops, the wrong scare tactic. This leads me to the less than extensive research I have done about the athletic supporter or what is known as the jockstrap, jockey strap or just plain ole “jock.”

It would be a logical leap to believe that the athletic supporter became known as a jockey strap because jockeys wore them. Logical yes, but that is not correct.  Jockey simply means rider.  Jockey straps were invented for Boston bicycle riders and not the diminutive munchkins riding horses in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.

In 1874, the first jockstrap was invented by Charles Bennett, a worker for Sharp & Smith, a Chicago hosiery company.  He created it to remedy what he called “floppy man parts” as cyclists rode over the cobblestone streets of Boston.  In their advertisement, our little friends were referred to as “floppy man parts.”  There were so many complaints about jiggling jewels the jockey strap was invented to keep our little man friends tucked safely up and out of harm’s way.

I have to digress.  The first jockstraps used in team sports was by hockey players, also in 1874.  It would 1979 before helmet use would be required in hockey.  Took a while to figure out which head was important.

The first jockstrap was a type of bike jockey strap, not to be confused with a type of Bike Jockey Strap.  The Bike Company, producer of over three hundred and fifty million jock- straps bought the patent and went into business.  If you are thinking there is a tie-in between the Bike Company and bike riders, again you would be wrong.  The Number One manufacturer of athletic supporters began life as the Bike Web Company years before.

The lineage of the jock strap likely can be traced back to when Babylonian men “girded their loins” before a battle in the Fertile Crescent some five thousand years ago or as Roman soldiers using a leather belt with flaps hanging over their “danglies” conquered an empire.

The history gets a bit bizarre in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when European men were men and women could not help but notice it.  During this time, men liked to flaunt their packages even if their packages were lacking “flaunt-ability” by use of a pouch-like accouterment called the codpiece.

Cod means, and since I really don’t care if this is in good taste or not, scrotum as derived from the Greeks.  From this word derives the slightly off-color description, “cod sack.”  In some cases, the codpiece was used as a false advertisement somewhat like the modern “Wonder Bra” or “falsie” but stopped short of being like the “fake boob”.  Can you really call something like a boob fake?  I really need to do some hands-on research on the subject.  The codpiece of old gave you an impression of more where there wasn’t necessarily more.  It was like driving a big four by four to compensate for certain “little man” inadequacies.

You might have seen codpieces and not known it.  They seem to be a part of costumes associated with Heavy Metal bands in the Seventies or singers like Gene Simmons of KISS, along with male ballet dancers.  Dancers I understand but who knew singers had to worry about jiggling and flopping.  Maybe they reach those high notes by using too tight codpieces or felt a need to be protected from all those teen groupies.

No matter how bizarrely Heavy Metal bands dressed, none were as bizarre as the actual codpieces produced and worn in what I thought was the less brazen period of the fifteen and sixteenth centuries.  I was mistaken at least when it came to men.  Men adorned the front of their armor or trousers with what resembled…ah…well…very large…erect…man parts.  Some were adorned with angry heads resembling serpents, animals and my personal favorite a plumed bird.  “Want to touch the birdy?  It might chirp at you.”

During the Seventies, the use of jockey straps seemed to decline.  It wasn’t that we weren’t still concerned about our little friends or because it was the era of “free love,” it was just that technology had advanced to the point that they weren’t needed as much.  Compression shorts, football girdles and baseball sliding shorts all made appearances and kept your man parts out of the way.  I have even traded my jock strap for what a female friend of mine calls “Mandex”, compression shorts made from Spandex.

I should point out that I do not run around in Spandex.  I have taken the time to look at myself in a mirror, notice what other men my age look like in spandex running or bike shorts and have mandated the use of running shorts over my “Mandex.”

During my years as a football coach, our players wore what were called girdles which resembled the ladies’ apparel of the same name.  In addition to keeping our player’s “jewels” in place and out of harm’s way, they had pouches where their hip and thigh pads were inserted.  Despite this technological advance, some of our players would still wear jockstraps, some in interesting ways including over their girdle.

When stretching before practice I noticed one of my defensive end’s posterior had pink hearts showing through his white practice pants when he stretched.  Because I have an inquiring mind and am easily distracted I could not help wondering why he wore his jock over his girdle and then decided to put his underwear on top before putting on his football pants…I still wonder.

From the book “Floppy Parts” by Don Miller.  It can be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Olympic Lows….

I’ve enjoyed the Winter Olympics…not the actual Olympics but the backstories.  I’m not much into cold weather sports…or just cold weather.  I do enjoy the stories of what the athletes have overcome to get to where they are.  The Nigerian bobsled team, an American soldier who had to train for the bobsled while serving in the sands of a far-off land…you get the idea.  What I haven’t understood is the hatred directed at some of them.

My case in point is Lindsay Vonn.  I admit I haven’t really followed her career, hanging on her every run.  I did make note that she was a pretty, blonde haired girl who liked to go fast and live on the edge.  She reminded me of all the pretty blond girls who wouldn’t give me the time of day…back in the day.  I didn’t hold it against her and watched replays of her more memorable moments.

I held my breath watching some of her more cringe-worthy crashes.  A mutilated knee or a broken arm, being airlifted from the slopes.  Injuries that could have ended many careers but not hers.  She chose to work to overcome and compete in one more Olympic game…and dedicated it to her grandfather.  You would think people could cut her a little slack.

I admit to cringing, too, when it became newsworthy that she was dating Tiger Woods but then again, he is the Tiger.  I’ve made a few missteps when it came to affairs of the heart…I think.  At my age, it’s a bit hard to remember.  I do remember that none were newsworthy.

But oh my, she made the worst mistake of her life.  When asked a question, she told the truth.  “Well, I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the President.”   She further went on to disparage the President by saying that she wouldn’t go to the White House if she won.  How bold and audacious…how completely unpatriotic, to tell the truth when asked the question.  She was racing for her country, herself and her recently deceased grandfather…but, not the President.

Can we not overlook a little faux pas?  Can we not overlook not racing for our President or visiting him if she won?  Can we not give her some thumbs up for standing by her beliefs even if we disagree with them?  Must we boycott or cry out for cancellation because someone doesn’t agree with our position?

Was it so egregious, we cannot give a pass to a woman who has been an inspiration to other young women…and men I would guess?  Can we not give her a participation trophy for doing her best?  Can we not just say “Thanks for the efforts?”  No, she was refusing to go to the White House, and for some reason, it is an unpatriotic travesty.  Many are happy…an ungrateful US athlete failed.

I wonder if any Olympic athlete woke up this morning and said to themselves, “This one’s for you Donnie T?”  Another question might be, “Should they?”  Are we so filled with hatred we must glorify OUR athletic failures for answering a question with truth?  Should all athletes just give up their First Amendment rights, just because they are athletes?  I would say our friendly Russian trolls have done their jobs well…or maybe they didn’t really have to.

Don Miller writes on varying subjects, not all are subjects that bother him so.  If interested you can find him at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

“PLAY BALL, CHUCK!”

Baseball coaches and umpires seem, at best, to have contentious relationships although to “toot” my own horn, I really attempted to cultivate umpires rather than alienate them and most of the time I believe I was successful.  Yes, I’m happy to say Tommy and I buried the hatchet before he died and we didn’t bury it in each other.

Chuck Eaton has passed away.  Another of my adulthood friends has gone to his reward.  Chuck and I began our careers in baseball about the same time, he as an umpire and I as a coach.  I can’t count the number of times he called games involving one of my teams but it would have had to be in the dozens.  I can remember the first one and the last one and over forty years, I’m just not sure who cultivated whom.  My problem with Chuck was he reminded me too much of my dad, somewhat in looks but more in his quiet and respectful demeanor.  I guess maybe he cultivated me.

I remember when I first ran afoul of Chuck.  It was one of my first games as a JV coach at Mauldin, a high school outside of Greenville, South Carolina.  Chuck was behind the plate, a young umpire but not a young man.  At the time, I did not realize he had retired from twenty years of military service.  I believed the opposing catcher had interfered with my batter’s attempt to bunt the ball.  Chuck quietly said, “No coach, the pitch was too high to be bunted anyway.”  Ordinarily, such a comment would not have been a good start to a relationship between a coach and umpire but somehow, we were able to get by it.

I learned of his military service on a cool moist night at Riverside High School.  We were both older and wiser but I’m sure my interaction with him was somewhat subdued because of the fact we were well ahead.  He was behind the plate, and even though it was late in the game, Chuck had still not settled on a consistent strike zone and my fans were unmerciful in their criticism and accused him of changing his strike zone from pitch to pitch.  Walking to the batting circle to make a lineup change, I decided to engage him in friendly banter.

“Chuck, my fans are pretty vocal about your strike zone.  I’d like to apologize for them but to be honest, I agree with them.”

In his quiet voice, he explained, “Coach, I know they think they are getting to me but I flew single engine props for the Forward Air Control during Vietnam.  This is nothing compared to that.”  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Forward Air Control, they flew unarmed, slow moving propeller driven aircraft called “targets”.  One of their functions was to attract ground fire so the fast moving, armed guys could swoop in and get all the glory.

Chuck was that kind of guy, not looking for the glory.  He enjoyed being a part of the game of baseball and the game called life.  During our many phone calls rescheduling games, he never failed to ask about my family and was quick to offer tidbits about his own, including the daughter I taught at Mauldin.  He was, as we all should be, quite proud of his family.  When we met for the last time on a field of play some three years ago, his first question was, “How is the Missus?”

It was always comfortable to know Chuck was somewhere around and I’ll miss him.  As usual, I wish I had kept in close contact.  I do feel comfort in his strong faith and I’m sure that if heaven exists, he’s already trying to organize a game.  I’m sure his strike zone will be a bit more consistent unless he just misses those coaches and fans yelling at him.  “Play Ball, Chuck!”

THE SIREN’S CALL

A week and a half before high school football practice will begin and I am already hearing her song. The siren’s call of heat and humidity, the smell of freshly cut grass, the scent of over ripe athletic socks and ammonia from sweat soaked practice uniforms. As bad as it sounds, it is still the perfume of a sexy and sultry mistress from long ago. Our affair ended years ago but I still feel her caress on my skin and her call in my head. She tempts me today as she did all those years ago.

It’s been sixteen years since I broke off the relationship, in favor of family, friendship, and health. I hung up my rarely used whistle and shoved my over-used coaching shoes into a closet. I do continue to temp myself, watching football on TV or attending the occasional game. My senses say, “It can’t be that long ago that I last answered her melody, can it?” The calendar proves it is. Somehow, I can’t quite believe it…the desire to answer her call is just as strong today as it was those not so long years ago.

There is something seductive about the call, it’s more than the potential glory of a successful season. It is more about the people…it’s always been about the people. Relationships forged in the fire of competition. I miss those people, those I left behind and those I never got to meet.

There is something destructive about her song too. The unbelievably long hours, too little time with family. Arm chair coaches who have all the answers. My own loss of religion when plays or games go badly.

A week from this coming Friday I will face the day as I face all days, probably with an early morning walk or run. Despite my endeavors to keep my mind off my former mistress, her song will call to me. I will relive those earlier days and think about the young men I had the honor to coach. I will mull over great wins and heartbreaking losses. The pull will be strong but I’ll make sure Linda Gail ties me to the ship’s mast before I destroy my ship on the rocks.

HAPPY FOOTBALL SEASON to all.

Please take time to visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or like his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/