The Season of the Girl….

On my knees, burying a rose bush, my train of thought suddenly derailed. I thought about something I had shared celebrating International Women’s Day. A memory formed in my head. I’m sure it is a symptom of my advancing age…or the Commodores singing about a “Brick House” over my ear buds. I went back to the future to the early Eighties and a season I titled, “The Season of the Girl….”

I spent most of my forty-five years in athletics coaching young men. There were two occasions I was called upon to coach young women.  One was thrust upon me by a lawsuit…not against me, the other a favor to a fellow coach.  Both were learning opportunities for the male chauvinist that used to be me. 

In the middle Seventies, I accepted the position of head boys soccer coach at the high school where I taught.  At the time Mauldin High School was as country as a cow patty and the kids that came out for soccer had no idea what soccer was. Most were American football players looking for a ball to kick around and a body to run over.

The appointment was my first head coaching position at the varsity level.  It should have been a joyous occasion.  The culmination of hard work and accomplishment but it wasn’t. I was a warm body, available, and could drive a bus. I also needed the six-hundred-dollar stipend the position paid. 

Soccer was a sport I had never played or seen played which was not unusual for the time.  I was a blank slate as were most of my players, especially the first year. The first year I only had two players who knew how the game should be played, the rest looked for a body to block and toe kicked the ball as far as they could. Even they knew more than their coach. Truly the blind leading the blind.

 We jokingly referred to the game as “communist kickball” which for us was not far from the truth…the kickball part. We were starting from scratch.  The first soccer match I saw was the first soccer match I coached in. It was the same for most of my players.

This was when Neanderthals roamed the earth before video tape and well before YouTube.  There was nothing available for me to “research”.  No access to computer vids or DVDs with instructions on “how to change the pull cord in a lawn mower” or “beginning brain surgery.” None existed on soccer either, they hadn’t been invented.

Somehow, I learned.  Like the “blind hog who root hogged until he found an acorn” we tied our first match. I was a blind and stupid hog, but I did root-hog hard to get ahead of the curve.  Luckily, it was a shallow curve.  For seven years, especially the last four, we were one of the best teams in the state with many acorns to be found.

In the early Eighties the South Carolina General Assembly steepened my curve.  Our General Assembly finally decided to acknowledge Title IX, enacted in 1972, but only because a court case forced their hand.  The legislative train runs slowly in the South when it comes to equal rights, and the politicians had drug their feet until just before the season began.  Avoiding the lawsuit, our governing body, The SC High School League, decided women would have a voice in high school soccer, but it would not be a chorus of voices, it would be a solo.

The chickens had come home to roost and we were told that for one year, until women’s teams could be formed the next year, girls could try out for our men’s soccer teams. It was a hollow victory with only one school in the state with a woman on their team. We had just gone coed, and the Mauldin High School soccer program would become a very tiny footnote in history.

Girls couldn’t compete with guys, could they?  I was about to find out.  Laena and Cathy showed up for the first day of practice along with a couple of dozen of their male counterparts.  Too many bodies vying for twenty-two positions.  Cuts would have to be made.  Cutting a team is never enjoyable but this one had the added effect of a feminist’s minefield.

I sought knowledge from our girl’s PE teacher and primary girl’s coach, a wonderful old battle-axe who if she reads this will smile at the reference…I hope. I say battle-axe with all the love and respect I can muster.  In 1980 I was terrified of her and as I’ve found it the later years, my fear was unjustified. 

Seeking understanding of the feminine beast, I asked, “Anything you can tell me about coaching girls?” 

She gave me a squinty eyed look, and in her gravely voice minced no words, “Miller…you ain’t stupid.  You coach ‘em like boys.”  I was fairly sure the first statement was untrue which made me question the second. 

As I watched practice, attempting to evaluate the talent, I was reasonably sure Lena could make the team.  She was athletic…I’m sure in my mind I added, “for a girl”. Laena was a blond Norwegian who had moved to Mauldin from one of the Northern states with ice and lakes and had played soccer most of her life. She had a skill set on par if not better than most of the men.  She didn’t have the speed or strength but was smart enough to read what was occurring and put herself where she needed to be for success.  She was also a tough nut who played with a chip on her shoulder. 

Cathy was a hardnosed goalkeeper but didn’t have the quickness or strength to compete with the men.  I thought I was about to step into the Mars-Venus minefield, but she took herself out of the mix. Cathy was smart and read the writing on the wall and approached me about becoming a manager and bookkeeper. I was happy to oblige and happy to keep her.

There were other cow patties lying about waiting to be stepped in, as with any team, men, women, or coed.  These were different.  Slapping players on the butt immediately went out the window along with certain language nuances.  Being given homemade cookies before practice was a pleasing difference, not a cow patty at all.

As I look back, I smile because of the respect Laena earned from the men.  It was earned and I include myself.  Some of the more immature didn’t know how to act and quite a few got their noses out of joint.  They were verbal out of my earshot in their criticism of “the girl” until she took them out with a hard tackle or hacked them up in a drill.  After an early season discussion, Lena decided it would be best to take care of her own problems and she did…sometimes as violently as her Viking forefathers.

We did get our collective noses out of joint over our media coverage.  During those days, soccer competed with basketball for newsprint with soccer coming in a distant second.  When local news broke that Lena was the only girl participating in SC high school soccer, our coverage increased but it wasn’t about the team and Lena and I grew tired of answering the dreaded “What’s it like…” question.

In our first match, against our closest rival, when Laena went in the game it was as if someone had muted the volume until an opposing player took her down with a hard shoulder tackle.  The poor boy.  As play continued he stopped and offered her a hand, fine Southern gentleman that he was. She took it, and as quickly took him down with an illegal tackle that drew a warning from the official.  She giggled as she ran back to her position in the midfield.  She had made her point. Soccer players giggling? They shouldn’t giggle.

It was our best season, “the season of the girl”.  Unless I’m confusing years, we were 13-3-3 and went on to win an Upper State Championship before falling in a close match in the State Championship.  A memorable season by anyone’s standards.  Lena was more than a team member.  She was not a token and contributed many quality minutes.  She was also a teacher because I learned a great deal.  I learned not to coach them like men, or women, I learned to coach them like people.

My daughter went on to play soccer, also at Mauldin High School, a couple of decades later.  I can’t help but think maybe we laid a little of the groundwork for her own State Championship in her “season of the girl”. She was the hard-nosed goalkeeper who made me cringe every time she came out to attack a break away.  She turned out okay and lost no teeth.  My grand daughter is now playing, hope she looses no teeth.

Athletics are important, no matter what the gender.  Athletics teaches life. Hard work makes you better as both a player and a person. Players learn sacrifice, resilience, how to deal with success and failure, and how to play well with others. Athletics stresses taking worthwhile risks, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It teaches that in life, you won’t win all of the time and that’s okay.

Celebrate “the season of the girl”, Women’s History Month, and the International Women’s Day.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jCNAuN3Z8dNPesZwZtTn0bQHkZG8G6HgAbbZlv-rpjKH_Cn4aPmvbZKA

Celebrating the “Dreaded” Black History Month.

In the middle of the Obama years, I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question.  Tomorrow, February 1, two administrations later, I’m sure I’ll see some of the same.  I will be disgusted because many will come from folks, I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism.

Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”

An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly Anglo-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading.

During the course of a year, Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist.  I almost forgot Korea and Vietnam. That makes five and six.

Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one didn’t we? Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from an Anglo point of view.

Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by Anglo America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team cured all those ills this past season. (said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS.

Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to one aspect of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. 

As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books that my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction with a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic but I was a teen boy, it didn’t take much!

As a young adult, I was looking for more of Yerby’s books not realizing he had died and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia…which meant, because of the “one-drop law”, he was black. Who knew and should it matter? No it shouldn’t. Just like celebrating Black History Month should not matter if you are white, green or multi-colored. It should be a positive educational experience for all.  Postscript on Yerby.  He fled his native Georgia, first for France and then Spain, where he lived for the rest of his life.  I’ll let you research why he fled.

Three of my last four years before retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history, all year long.

In a paragraph I wrote about a former student turned preacher I said, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc…. My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life-ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize that I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of white conservatism and make no excuses. I believe that the rights that someone else is given don’t take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.

Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc

I’m Havin’ a Birthday….

 

Seventy years ago, today, April 9, the world was blessed with a bouncing baby boy…me.  Said with a big grin, “I remember it well; it was a clear and crisp Easter Sunday”…I actually don’t remember anything about it.

If family stories are to be believed, my father went to bed on April the eighth moaning about an early morning Sunrise Service he really didn’t want to attend.  Ernest got up earlier than he intended.  I got my mother up quite early.  I was weeks ahead of my arrival date.

True to form, I have little patience, but I did make them wait until I was ready to emerge and conquer the world.  I understand it was a long day, especially for my mother.  I was worth it, I’m sure, but I am still waiting to conquer the world and time is running out.

Freaking seventy?  Where did the time go?  Wasn’t it just yesterday I was standing to wait for the bus to take me to my first day of school?  When it comes to birthdays, time flies whether you are having fun or not…I’m having fun right now, I’m just having it slowly.

As I sit typing away, I don’t feel seventy…until I get up maybe.  The fibrous materials holding these old bones together will protest the rapid movement associated with standing and walking but compared to many of my peers I’m doing okay.  I’ll run (eye roll) and walk three and a half miles as the sun creeps above the horizon.  I’m pretty proud of that but in the back of my mind, I hope I survive the day.

The mirror tells no lies.  I look at peers and wonder, “Why do I look so much younger than they do?”  Then I’ll look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is that guy?”  Maybe it’s the harsh light…of reality.  Wasn’t it just yesterday I was the good-looking kid with the crewcut?  Now I’m the old balding guy with the big nose and ears.

Did you know the only body parts that continue to grow as you age are your ears and nose?  If I live long enough, I’ll resemble Dumbo the Elephant.  A little boy points, his voice shrills with fear, “Look, look Mom!  The old man just tripped over his ears?”

I expect I might trip the light fandango through the memories of previous years.  I try to be forward-thinking and there are plenty of warm and fuzzies but I’m thinking about family and friends I have lost over the years.  They flash across the face of my mind.  Snatches of people, some in black and white.  The problem is as you get older, the list grows longer.

No!  I’m not lamenting my birthday.  The alternative is not good.  My memories are all happy ones, a young boy surrounded by family, blowing out the candles on his cake.

I am lamenting the quarantine.  It’s been six weeks since I’ve seen my daughter’s family except in pictures.  I remember the last time I saw the grandbabies.  I can feel their arms wrapping around my legs…maybe I shouldn’t go there.

So, it’s my birthday.  One of those momentous ones.  Born in a year ending in zero it’s too easy to keep up with them.  I’ve heard all the trite sayings about age being just a number,  I’m not old I’m a classic, etc., but the fact is the road ahead is much shorter than the road behind.  The Bible says I am living on borrowed time so once more I’m going to try and make this trip around the sun a bit more momentous…I’m not going to jump out of any airplanes.

Happy Birthday to me and a bit of Jimmy Buffett.

“Trip Around the Sun” is a song by American country music artists Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride in August 2004 as the second single from Buffett’s album License to Chill.

Don Miller writes poorly at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0uOIommkv9nnhPm29GnLeOczmiq5eFTsr_nl-20jF2_0Bt_8fAOyIqkT0