Diddlin’ Where You Ought not to Diddle

 

When I found myself in a position which allowed me to impart coaching wisdom acquired over my forty-five year career, half-jokingly I advised, in no particular order, “Don’t diddle where you ought not diddle, avoid messin’ with money, win over the Mommas while avoiding diddin’ where you ought not diddle, and wear good shoes, your feet will appreciate it.”  During my career, I only ran afoul of one…oh, so you want to know which one?  My feet hurt…a lot.

Since my last brush with a surgeon’s knife, I realized I should have added a fifth nugget of wisdom, “Big floppy hats and sunscreen are a must.”  Might even add long-sleeved tees and long pants.  I’ve found out your skin will appreciate it.  Unless you like doctors diddling in your calf with a scalpel and suturing you up after.

My fifth surgery to remove skin cancer!   Not a good way to lose weight.  One on an ear, three on my lower legs, and one I don’t understand at all…the sun ain’t evah seen my lily-white butt…ocks.  Well, there was the time a hornet flew up my short britches leg.  Shucking them, the sun wasn’t the only thing that saw my lily-white ass.  There were several cars and a church bus along with the various plants, animals and insects in my garden.  I didn’t get stung…well…nobody whistled or cheered their approval and that stung a bit.

Too many years battling the summer sun on the farm or the athletic fields in minimal attire has come back to bite me.  I guess I shouldn’t have diddled in the sun wearing shorts, tees and a baseball cap.  When I had a physique, I would bronze myself too.  Shirtless, skimpy gym shorts and kicks riding round and round on a tractor, hatless and brainless until I lost most of my hair.  A smart person would have put on SPF 50 or at least a hat.  I’m not sure sunscreen had even been invented.

My best friend chose the same vocation, is my age, and eat up with the same affliction.  Never believing in half measures, he might as well be a vampire.  He runs and walks in the dark to stay out of the sun.  Does his yard work in the early morning hours much to the chagrin of the people who are sleeping in.

If my friend has to venture out into the midday sun, he puts on so much sunscreen he looks like Bo Derek painted white in Tarzan the Ape Man…no that’s a lie and now I’ve got a mental picture I can’t get out of my head.  I think I’ll have to Google a picture of Bo just to replace it.  A bad excuse is better than none.

My grandmother worked in the sun all her life.  She wore feed sack dresses and a huge floppy straw hat  No sunscreen, no skin cancer.  A  farmer all her life, she worked side by side with her father, then my grandfather and continued to plant and hoe her beans, maters, and taters for forty more years after his death.  No skin cancer but a complexion resembling old shoe leather.  I guess I should have paid better attention.

It seems like there is more skin cancer these days than say fifty years ago…or am I just aware of it since being afflicted?  Are we losing our ozone layer, more pollution, and chemicals in the air?  Global Climate change?  Marvin the Martian’s Immodium Q-36 Space Modulator?  Probably I’m just more aware or they ignored it fifty years ago.

I should have worn floppy straw hats…my legs aren’t good enough to do justice to a feed sack dress.

Oh well. The damage has been done.  No sense crying over spilled milk, but I truly hate giving a little piece here and a little there.  Now Janis has joined Bo in my head, singing in my head, “Take it! Take another little piece of my heart now, baby! Break it!  Break another little bit of my heart now, honey.”

I need to stick another song in my head cause if the surgeon takes a little piece of my heart, I’m in deep do-do.  Maybe Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine”…can you get skin cancer listening to a tune in your head?  At least I didn’t diddle where I ought not to diddle…maybe.

Okay, ice and elevate.

For those of you who are concerned, don’t be.   I see a doctor every three months to keep a handle on it.   I’ve done better wearing my big floppy hats, long-sleeved tees, face shields and applying sunscreen.   Now if I can do something about my feet.

The featured image is from http://www.webesailing.com/activities.htm

Don Miller’s author’s page may be located at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

 

Confessions of a Coaching Fraud…

 

My induction into a former high school’s athletic hall of fame has me flitting hither and yon over memories from forty-plus years of teaching and coaching.  For some reason, I don’t feel very worthy of the accolades.

It was great to see former players now conquering their own lives and being successful by any standard applied. Former students, coaching peers, and parents stopping by and pumping my hand or hugging my neck.  It wasn’t great, it was wonderful.

Still, I wonder in the back of my head, “Why?”  “How?”  “Am I a fraud?”  Sometimes things were too easy…except when they weren’t.

Dozens have extended congratulations and well wishes on social media and email.  Despite my pride and delight…I don’t feel worthy.

The festivities were poignant, my plaque sitting alongside Tim Bright’s, a player who passed too soon due to colon cancer.  A player who was, along with hundreds of others, responsible for my success.  I wonder what he might have accomplished had he not left us.  His family is so dedicated to his memory.  His charity is still doing great things for those who suffered as he did.

My wife…a former coach herself and far superior in my estimation.  As always, standing by my side.  Always supportive, always ready with a meaningful critique of the last game’s outcome.  Greatest supporter and greatest critic.  “Just let them play and quit bunting so much.”  “Why did you do….”  I do miss her voice distinguishable from anywhere in a stadium no matter how large or loud the crowd was.  “Come on Coach, run your other play!”  I am so lucky and so unworthy.

As I look back, it seemed too easy.  I know I’m looking through the sands of time and the time is becoming a sandstorm.  Still, great assistant coaches, great players, and great parents made my successes.  I just walked around being me.

I’ve heard so many horror stories that I never experienced.  There were just a few bad apples, just a few obstacles…maybe they weren’t bad apples…maybe I just did find the key to unlock their potential.  I do feel like the king of frauds.

There were laughs and tears but the tears were minimal.  When we gather and exclaim, “Do you remember…?”, the question is always about the laughs.  It is easy to remember the good times.

Through the magnifying glass of retrospection, even the bad seasons were good.  Seasons we knew we were bad but managed to get better.  Sometimes a seven-win season could be as rewarding as a state championship season.  Seasons you really didn’t know how good or bad you were.  Seasons you just put in the work that didn’t seem like work and hoped for the best.  I believe I always received the best they had.  I hope they received mine.

When I first began my coaching journey, I was terrible.  Some might say, “Nothing ever changed.” It is a fact I’m comfortable with because I believe I grew despite feeling apologetic to those early teams.

I grew and turned a corner of sorts after a bitter loss. I lamented to the offending coach. “I don’t know what to do.”  His answer was, “You love them.  Remember, you’re not coaching football, you’re coaching kids.  Win or lose you love them.”  I tried to apply his nugget through the rest of my career.

Names and faces blur over time but I can honestly and unapologetically say, “I loved them.”  I didn’t coach football, soccer or baseball, I coached kids.  Maybe I’m not as big a fraud as I believe.

It has been three years since I last stalked a sideline or a dugout.  I honestly haven’t missed the practices or the games.  Every time I think I might return to a grassy field my body does something to remind me of the beating it has taken over the years and those feelings pass.

What I miss is the comradery.  I miss the interactions with my players, the coaches and the opponents staring back at me from the opposing dugout or sideline.  Those were good times and I miss them.

I still feel like a fraud.  It was too much fun, it was too easy.  Great players make for good coaches.  I had a cornucopia of great players. Thanks for the memories guys, thanks for the effort, thanks for my successes.  Thanks for letting me be me and letting me be a part of your lives.

HOF

Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image was lifted from https://eic.rsc.org/feature/coaching-for-success/3010068.article.

The whistle is the symbol of the coaching profession.  I find it interesting that I rarely used one.

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

 

 

FORTY YEARS AGO

Forty years ago, on a Monday much like this one, I stood on a practice field awaiting the start of football practice. There would have been great anticipation and nervous excitement this particular morning as there always was great enthusiasm on the first day of practice. By Wednesday’s afternoon practice, bumps, bruises, muscle soreness and “dead” legs would strip the some forty or fifty players of their enthusiasm…but this was still Monday morning.

The practice field, freshly cut low was adorned with sharp white lines. The grass would be moist with the early morning dew, as it always was for twenty-nine years. Before the end of practice, the air would become uncomfortably hot and humid. For twenty-nine seasons hot and humid was always this way. Football in the South begins the last week of “hot” or the first week of “hotter still” and no matter where you are in the deep South you cannot escape the late summer heat and humidity.

This would be the first of two practices, the second would begin with even more heat and the humidity would continue to rise higher as practice went on until it finally concluded with ten perfect plays and ten perfect forty yard sprints. Blow an assignment or a snap count, we started over at one. Forty or fifty young men dressed in orange helmets and shorts, with short, light gray tee-shirts, now dark gray with perspiration. This is the fortieth anniversary of Mauldin High School’s one and only region championship in football. Maybe being the only one is why it is so special.

For those not familiar with the city of Mauldin, located in the upstate of South Carolina…or too young to remember, it was more rural than city forty years ago. The town was a strip of businesses and industry laid out along a crossroads navigated by people on the road between distant Columbia and nearby Greenville. There was no “named” main street and only a couple of signal lights on US 276 to impede their travels. The population was scattered from the outskirts of the small town of Simpsonville to the south and north to Interstate 85. It is part of an area now known as the “Golden Strip.” A couple of years would have to pass before it attained the moniker. Little was golden about the strip in those days, just a few business and a citizenry primarily located in suburban developments separated by large tracts of land farmed by families who had been in the area for decades. We were so rural it was easy to be viewed by our rivals as the “Southern Rednecks” of the county. I would say, at the time, we took this to be a compliment.

The community had embraced this “newer” school, beginning its fourth year of existence. Because of its youth, athletic success had been fleeting, especially in the area of men’s sports. Everyone…community, student body, faculty and administration seemed to be holding their collective breath as the season began. It did not take long for them to exhale and our team’s enthusiasm seemed to be a transmittable disease. As the victories piled up so did the fever pitch of our fan base.

Forty years ago we played old school football; “butt blocking, put a hat on ‘em, slobber knocking, knock his d!@# in the dirt” old school football. We didn’t know it was old school, we thought we were on the “cutting edge” of football innovation with our “acid soaked” tear away jerseys. Like most schools we were a run first, pass “when all else fails” or as my wife, Linda Gail, continued to point out throughout my career, “The forward pass is not a trick play.” For us it might have been. We weren’t a “three yards in a cloud of dust” kind of team, we were a finesse, run the “veer option and get the ball on the corner” kind of team and we did it well.

There was nothing finesse about our defense. We did our best to intimidate on defense…which we did quite well…and yes maybe we were a little dirty. We taught “eyes to the throat” and “run through the ball carrier till you hear glass break” tackling. We used the face mask as a weapon. It wasn’t we wanted to intentionally hurt people…well, maybe we didn’t want to hurt people. We did give a “skull and crossbones” helmet decal for the “Hit of the Week”.

The ’76 Mavericks were ten gallons of fun poured into a five-gallon bucket. It was inevitable some of the fun would spill out and it seemed much of the fun was agitated by one particular member of the team, Bucky Trotter. Any time I talk to a former team member, Bucky Trotter’s name comes up. Who else would deliver a Halloween gift to the opposing team’s captains? A dead squirrel hanging from twine fashioned into a hangman’s noose. I recently spoke with the Greenville High coach from those days and he remembers it well…and not happily I might add. An intimidating HELTER SKELTER chant after quick cals dissolving into something resembling a bar fight, a Wednesday night meal followed by a “fake fight” held in different areas around the community, one so realistic the police were called out. Thursday practice “war games” were followed by the coaches meeting at Jay’s for steak…for eleven straight weeks. Every Friday the coaches had to go to the principal’s office to rub a good luck charm we called “the little man with the big d!@#”, a small brass figurine with a big d!@#. These were a few of the rituals we employed to feed our superstitions and to keep ourselves amused.

Yep, more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Friends and former peers always ask if I miss coaching football. I miss the game night competition, I miss the bonds formed with players and coaches but I have not missed many practices. This group might be the exception because they made it fun. Everything was a competition, a chance to prove themselves. It didn’t matter if it was a game or practice, every play was a chance to excel or grow. I remember the daily linebackers versus offensive linemen board drills, three on three drills and the now banned Oklahoma drills. There was no going through the motions. Fun but also special AND NOT JUST TEN WINS SPECIAL.

I hope we have a reunion. I have put a few bugs in a few ears. A chance to rekindle old friendships and a chance to relive old memories. 1976 was a special year, in a special place with a special group. It would be fitting to have a special celebration.

Don Miller has also written three books, including “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”, stories from forty years of teaching and coaching. They may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

LOVE CONQUERS ALL ‘COMERS’

I don’t think Virgil, the originator of the quote “love conquers all,” had baseball in mind when he made it. He was dead several centuries before Abner Doubleday was “credited” with inventing the game but ‘love’ appeared to be the big equalizer in Coastal Carolina’s unexpected and unprecedented run to the College National Championship in Omaha.

Coach Gary Gilmore had his own quote which he just managed to choke out as tears rolled down his face. “We may not the most talented team in America but we are the champions.” Talent is a funny thing. Too much talent may not be enough to get you to the pinnacle of a championship if there are too many egos to deal with. Too little talent may not even get you into the same zip code. There has to be enough talent but talent will only take you so far. There has to be more and the Chanticleers displayed not only talent but all of the clichés we coaches have a tendency to use. Tenacity, heart, and hustle were but a few that I thought of but one that is often over looked, especially when it comes to men’s athletic endeavors, is the love that was apparent when these young men and their coaches took the field. It is a love only “championship” athletes and coaches can understand.

I had no expectations when Coastal took the field against the “Juggernaut” that was Florida. I remember telling my wife how small they looked compared to the Gators. By the time they recorded their last out against Arizona I found they had grown just a bit, at least in my estimation. Being able to continually find a way to “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” takes much more than talent. I am reminded of a Lew Holtz story he told early in my coaching career when he coached at NC State. When questioning an undersized defensive end about his ability to “whip” a certain all-American offensive tackle, the young man exclaimed, “No Sir…but I’ll fight him till I die.” This was a mentality shown repeatedly by the Coastal team. Thankfully, no one was able to make the kill shot.

I only met Coach Gilmore twice during my career and I doubt he would even remember who I was. I remember him well from a clinic I attended and later when I got to coach the South Carolina team in the North Carolina-South Carolina Challenge held at the Chanticleer’s stadium. I remember he displayed two major attributes. Passion and Humility. I get to add another, love for his players. From listening to his players in their postgame news conference, his love was returned tenfold.

When I think of my most successful teams I can’t help but draw parallels. They were all talented enough to overcome bad coaching, mistakes, and poor officiating. All of them had a love for the game and a love for each other. They wanted to do whatever needed to done to win…not for themselves but for their teammates. Many times it is not the “nine best” that wins the championship. In Coastal Carolina’s case it was the “best nine,” or best twenty-five that came home with the gold. Congratulations Chanticleers. For this season at least, fairytale rooster or not, you are the “cocks of the walk.”

More humorous nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

GAME, SET, MATCH!

I don’t much like birthdays. I more or less celebrate mine as another year avoiding the alternative. “One more trip around the Sun!” It seems to be too hard to get people together to celebrate and then there is the memory of a heart attack on the birthday I survived in 2006. This is the first birthday after my “complete” retirement. Age does not look good on me! Even when you look up historical events occurring on April 9, you find out it is pretty dismal. Lee surrenders to Grant, the Battle of This, the Battle of That, Babe Ruth is rushed to the hospital…I wonder if it was too many hot dogs or too much beer?

This birthday was a little different. I got a letter on April 6th three days before my birthday. It was addressed to both Linda Gail and myself with a note on the back instructing us not to open it until April 8th. Really? That is almost like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I consider Linda Gail to be the stalwart person in our relationship when it comes to following instructions like “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL….” But out of her beautiful mouth came the question, “Are we really going to wait until April the eighth?” We did with much difficulty. I knew it wasn’t birthday wishes to me or someone was confused about my exact birthdate. It turned out to be just that…birthday wishes…just not mine. It was still one of the nicest birthday presents I could get.

The return address included only a last name, Bryson, from Charleston. Who do we know from Charleston named Bryson? Mandi Copeland now named Bryson! Mandi was turning forty on April 8th and had taken the time to write and thank everyone who had had a positive effect or influence on her life. Despite my disbelief of a forty-year-old Mandi, I was honored to have been included and her recognition of my contribution made both my day and the next, the tenth anniversary of my heart attack and sixty-sixth anniversary of my birth. It was a beautiful tribute, not only to us but also to her.

Mandi Copeland was one of my wife’s tennis players and a student trainer who graduated from Riverside in the mid-nineties. Mandi was MORE than just a player and a trainer. She had all of the outward signs of a happy-go-lucky extrovert, which she was, but her huge smile covered a competitive streak “river deep and mountain high.” She was a bull “in a china shop” in the way she approached tennis, playing in a manner more in tune with one of my defensive linemen than the “Quiet Please” tennis crowd. With her powerful serve and overhand it was “ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK” and if that didn’t work she would revert to “ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK” AGAIN!

As a student and player, Mandi’s career at RHS was very successful. The tennis team went to the high school version of the “Final Four” all four of her years and played for a State Championship. They should have played for another one but sometimes the “little gods” controlling sporting events throw monkey wrenches into the gears and the team was upset by a Clinton team they had defeated handily just weeks before. The weather “gods” had also gotten involved and the semis had to be postponed requiring both teams to be prepared to travel to Columbia as soon as the match was completed in order to play the finals the next day.

What do you do with a packed van filled with weepy young tennis players? What else, you bring them to “Casa de Miller” for a weekend of “wound licking” courtesy of Coach Porter-Miller and her loyal “Indian companion” Tonto, I mean Coach Miller. I knew something was up just by the way Coach Porter-Miller approached me. How could I say no? No one could ask for a better coach’s wife and I was bound and determined to be a good coach’s husband.

An evening filled with games, gossip and pizza followed by sleeping pallets on the floor, if we slept at all. The next morning a true country breakfast that might have included Hardee’s biscuits was served before a morning spent hiking up and sliding down the “gently rolling” ninety acres of land around our house. I don’t know who had more fun but I am sure the wounds had been healed by the time they all departed. I also don’t know who the brains of the team were but I know Mandi was the heart and the foundation. By Linda’s own description she was the “rock upon which the team was built.” When Mandi graduated and went off to Florida State it was almost like losing a family member. You may be gone but you certainly are not forgotten.

Mandi would become the first person I NEVER wanted in my dugout…a female. I had withstood request to bring on “batgirls.” Once I had even taken “applications” for batgirls but at the last moment chickened out. Girls in the dugout equal major distractions for teen aged boys. I know I used to be one. With the changing landscape of athletics, I did not have a choice when it came to trainers. Trainers and student trainers WOULD have access to your teams regardless of their gender. It turned out that it was a good thing, something I got used to quite quickly and later wondered what the big deal was about. Mandi made it possible because of her maturity and her professional attitude. It did take some getting used to…for the head coach not the team. I also had to mind my tongue, something I needed to do but only had moderate success in doing. A nickel for every time I turned my head, whispered an “expletive deleted” and followed it with a “Sorry about that Mandi.” Usually she would say, “It’s okay Coach, I’ve heard it before.” Yep, probably about a minute ago.

Mandi was one of the special ones, one of many special ones who would define what Linda and I did for most of our thirty-year marriage. For me it would take retirement to realize that I had coached kids and not just a sport. Linda Gail realized it much sooner. Not having kids around due to our retirement has been challenging…until you get a letter from “a Mandi.” Mandi who has followed us into athletics herself, not that Linda Gail and I take credit for it. We are just happy we didn’t screw up and kill her desire.

The Mandis of our life made teaching and coaching worth the long hours for not enough pay. It is usually many years before a former teacher or coach finds out what effect we had on someone’s life and in some cases it is too late when we find it out. Thanks for letting us know before it was too late. I would say it arrived at exactly the right time.
We both love you.
Coach Miller and Coach Porter-M.

For more FEEL GOOD non-fiction by Don Miller go to http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

MEMORIALS

Memorial: something, especially a structure, established to remind people of a person or event.

I was approached over a year ago about tonight’s memorial and until a week ago I was able to keep all my memories locked safely away in my secret little lock box in a corner of my brain. Until a week ago…and its Michael Douty’s fault. Looking for a hat, the hat we wore in his memory the year after his death fell out of the armoire and into my hands. Upon seeing the number thirteen on the back there was an immediate flood of memories, most of which made me smile.
In my first attempt at writing badly, “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…,” my aim was to write a collection of humorous stories related to my forty years of teaching and coaching. It was Michael Douty’s fault that my purpose changed with the first story I actually sat down and wrote…his story. Michael’s antics were humorous and my intent was to begin the book with his story.

Unfortunately, his death wasn’t very humorous. No matter how I rewrote the story, it always ended badly, as did the endings to stories involving Tim Wilder, Heath Benedict, Tim Bright and Jeff Gully. While writing Michael’s story I found out Tim Bright was battling Stage IV colon cancer and realized my book was not beginning well. I ended up writing about them all, more about their lives than their deaths and the sweet memories they left for me. Later, after I had published the book, I was forced to write another story with a bad ending when Brian Kuykendall left me. All were former players and Brian gets the double whammy of being a former player and the father of a former player.

Jeff and Tim are joining Michael tonight. Plaques are going to be dedicated and theirs will join Douty’s plaque behind the backstop on the field they played on not so many years ago. I believe in ghosts and wonder if their spirits will visit our old field of dreams…I know they still visit me, especially on dark, moonless nights. For the last week, nightly they have also invaded my dreams.

I have an unshakable belief there is something more than death, that life simply just does not end. During a depressing early morning walk I came to a reality of sorts and found a bit of peace and comfort in a strange, cold and unlikely place…science. I came to this truth while standing in front of a cross. There is a scientific law that states “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Energy can only be changed.” I have taught Conservation of Energy thousands of times, but this cool morning it became more of an anodyne than just a cold scientific law. Call it heaven, Nirvana, a “wheel inside a wheel” or crossing the River Styx, their energy does not die.

I do tend to think of them on dark and clear nights when the stars seem close enough to touch. I described Tim’s light as the “brightest star” in the sky, Jeff as a photon flying in and out of our lives at light speed. Douty? I never described you. You would have to be a comet streaking through the sky, showing his tail in the reflected sunlight. There may be a hidden meaning behind that description and I am sure I just heard you laugh in the gusting wind. Gather them all together

CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY: LOUIE GOLDEN

I have been fortunate to have had great relationships with all but just a few of my administrators and athletic directors. Most of my administrators were great people. Louie Golden was one of the great ones but I had to mature and develop some wisdom to see it. When some of these stories were taking place it did not seem so. It was never smooth sailing and some people might have thought Louie’s first name was either “f@#$%^&” or “g#$%^&n” as in that “F@#$%^& Golden!” You might have thought I had the same first name.

For those who do not know who Louie Golden is, he began his career as a head basketball coach at Beck High School during the days of full and token segregation. In 1970 at mid-year, full desegregation was implemented during semester break and Louie lost a basketball team so good its players were purposely split among four area high schools. All four schools made the state playoffs and a previously mediocre Wade Hampton team went on to play for the State Championship. Louie went on to win state championships at both Riverside and Southside High Schools. If you count his days at Beck, Louie retired with over seven hundred victories, five state championships, and another four upper-state championships. In 1993 he was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. As an athletic director, Louie started the program at Riverside from scratch and retired with nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the athletic account. He was a success by any standard of measurement.

Because I had been in the area for about fifteen years, I was familiar with Louie. I had also heard many stories about his obsession with saving money, his eating habits and the accusations of recruitment. Money and eating I can attest to but will not go into the recruitment of players because I don’t know for sure anything illegal took place. Despite all of the stories that I had heard about “Big Boy”, nothing in my life or any other life prepared me for him. Three or four inches taller and a good and conservative seventy pounds heavier, he reminded me of a big brown jovial bear. When you talked to Louie you got the idea he wasn’t the brightest light on the tree. It was an act. Louie cultivated his sometimes laughable persona the same way John Wayne cultivated his trademark walk. Louie’s attitude about spending money or the lack thereof, grew as a result of his childhood. Louie had grown up in St. Mathews, outside of Orangeburg, and like most black youths from the area and the time period, he grew up poor. Growing up poor would cause an economic philosophy to develop that could be said to be miserly or downright frugal. His wife Betty will swear it wasn’t just about spending school money.

When he became athletic director at Riverside, Louie was given an athletic budget of zero “monies”. No equipment, no uniforms and no start-up money. Louie had to go into debt up to his eyeballs and as he told me later felt he had been put there as a “token” who was expected to fail. The “Greenville County Way” was to pay coaches stipends and to put down fertilizer on fields and not much else. At Riverside, topsoil was bulldozed off of what would become fields, fences and a press box put up, stands erected and that was it. You could not play a football game without a whole lot of equipment. Somehow Louie was able to get it. Louie begged, borrowed and went into debt but somehow kept his head above water. There was an unconfirmed story that he gave the golf team a dozen balls that were labeled “Fished from the Finest Lakes in South Carolina.” I would say Louie fooled the powers that were and became the success they were not expecting.

Because of Louie’s childhood and Riverside’s indebtedness, to say Louie squeezed a penny is like saying a two hundred and seventy-pound hungry anaconda is giving you a little hug. You never got anything from Louie without a battle. The process seemed like begging and forcing you to beg for money was Louie’s way of finding out how much you wanted something. It was tiresome and more than just a little demeaning. I have this mental picture of Oliver asking “More Please.” I don’t know how many times I heard “Miller you likes to spend too many monies.” That is the way Louie said it. “Monies” with a face all scrunched up like those gross little babies in a bottle. Some people quit asking, some people went to raising funds to support their own programs, some people seethed in anger, while others openly battled him. As far as Louie was concerned the first three actions were great. They did not cost him anything. If you opted for battle he was going to make you give up a pound of flesh.

As a basketball coach he was extraordinary. He could teach the game in simple, uncomplicated terms, was a great game manager and motivator. Louie also understood people and knew which buttons to push. The late Steve Kahler told a story about Louie cutting his C team. Kahler had so many kids trying out he needed help. Louie came in and brought the kids trying out together. He asked who the best seventh grader was. Fingers pointed at one of the kids. Then he asked the eighth and ninth graders who could beat him one on one. Hands went up. Louie turned to those who hadn’t raised their hands and said: “You’re cut!” That took about thirty seconds and took care of too many kids to work with. Louie did not get one phone call from a disgruntled parent.

After a bad scrimmage, instead of the normal film breakdown, Louie loaded his team on a van and told them they were going to get fitted for shoes. He drove them toward Duncan lecturing them about running the flex offense, playing with hustle on defense and not working hard enough to be in shape. Five miles out on a rural highway between Greer and Duncan, Louie pulled the van over, ordered them all ot of the van. He told them they better be back for the official start of practice and anyone who didn’t was cut. All of them got back and they went on to win another state championship for Louie and Riverside High School. I do not think he could get away that in today’s legal climate.
Humor aside, you have to give Louie credit for what he accomplished. He took kids at a predominantly white, economically entitled school and was successful. He then went to predominantly black, economically depressed school and was successful. Louie even took a girls’ team that had not won in over a decade and took them to the playoffs. Why? Obviously he knew basketball. Most importantly, he coached kids and never put the game ahead of them, which is a testament to his character.

This is an excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing” which can be purchased at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

IT AIN’T BRAGGIN’…IF YOU’RE DABBIN’

I am old school…although I “fully” admit to be having embraced my “hippy” gene in my old age. Despite the discovery of this hippy gene, I am sure my former players and coaching chums will be somewhat surprised to read the view I am going to express. “Act like you’ve been there before” was a mantra I used or have heard used a thousand times that had been expressed by the immortal Bear Bryant. If you are in athletics you understand, “Act like you’ve been there before,” is an old school statement about celebrating…a score, or now, even a first down. Old school was all about anything other than “self-expression.” “There is no ‘ME’ in TEAM!” Whether it is the “Ickey Shuffle,” “Lambeau Leap” or “dabbin’,” I still would like to see them score and just hand the ball to the official but we are in a “hey look at me world,” in a game that should be about having fun. What’s so bad about that?

Cam Newton has re-defined the definition of “having fun” …and the position of quarterback along with the word “polarizing.” Loved by Panther fans and hated by everyone else, I would predict that he could care less about those who use detractions like, “showboat,” “braggart,” and “classless,” which are some of the mild ones I have seen. In fact, by his own admission, he uses the detractors as motivation. With the frame and strength of a linebacker, a strong arm and better than average “pro” speed, he is the “freak of nature personified” and probably does not need any more motivation to be successful. With good looks and a “million dollar” smile, I do admit to a bit of a man crush.

Do I wish Cam would just hand the ball to the official when he scores? Once I did, but seeing the faces of the youngsters who have received his game ball “gifts”, I have to agree with his particular brand of “having fun” even when he goes into his Superman pose. I once described a very good high school baseball player as having a “little league” mentality. This description was not a putdown. I was remarking about his ability to “have fun” in the same way as a “wide-eyed” little leaguer despite the pressure to receive a college scholarship or becoming a draft pick. He received both and had a career in the major leagues, both as a player and as a coach. I see Cam the same way, as in playing as a youth league player. There seems to be a “child-like” wonderment along with the “million dollar” smile. Yeah, he makes a boat load of money playing a child’s game but I would bet “his” money that money is not his primary motivation.

I try to live by, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” or at least keep my mouth shut and only “sin” in my mind. With many of our sports idols and “role models” I find myself asking, “What were you thinking” when it comes to some of their “off of the field” activities. As Johnny Manziel is finding out, Social Media is not your friend when you, yourself, are your own worst enemy. When one Google’s Cam Newton, there is very little “smut” to dig up. No arrests, no drugs, no spousal or girlfriend abuse. Yeah Cam had the wreck with many assuming incorrectly it was drug or alcohol related, and there is an “out of wedlock” child that he recognizes and takes responsibility for despite the lack of wedding band on his hand. He brought some baggage with him from Auburn, but was it his fault or the fault of an overly involved father or the climate that is college football? Not as tame as Tim Tebow but a far cry from Johnny Manziel. More importantly is his foundation for disadvantaged kids and his many activities giving back to the Charlotte and Atlanta communities. Not only does he provide money but he also invests his time. Gee, I hope he is a good guy…did I forget the “Santa Cam’s Surprise Sleigh?”

Professional athletes have the opportunity to do much good and it is heartwarming for a retired teacher and coach to see a young man who GETS IT and DOES IT. Johnny maybe you should go talk to Cam about what you might do with your time. Is Cam perfect? No way! Most twenty-six-year-old men will have skeletons in their closet that, in twenty or thirty years from now, they will wish weren’t there. I am sure Cam will be no different…than I was.

Viewing this year’s Super Bowl will be interesting and a win-win for me regardless of the outcome. I will pull for the local Panthers and their brash young quarterback but can’t help but pull for “old school” Peyton Manning and hope he gets to ride off into the sunset with a second ring. I will be disappointed whichever team comes up short and I guess I will be pulling for both offenses.

When I watch Cam Newton “having fun” I think of a brash pitcher from the 1930’s who was once quoted to have said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Dizzy Dean had predicted that he and his brother would combine to win forty-five games in 1934. He was wrong…they won forty-nine. Win or lose on Super Bowl Sunday, Cam ain’t braggin’…but I guess we will have to wait and see how the game plays out to see if he is dabbin’.

Don Miller has written and self-published three books that may be purchased through or downloaded on any device with a Kindle app.

Inspirational true stories in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING by Don Miller #1.99 on #Kindle goo.gl/DiO1hcX

“STUPID MAN TRICKS” explained in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle http://goo.gl/Ot0KIu

“Baby Boomer History” in Don Miller’s PATHWAYS $3.49 on Kindle http://goo.gl/ZFIu4V

LIBERATION

I read that the Buffalo Bills have hired a new assistant coach. Ordinarily news like this would not find its way out of the city of Buffalo but today it is nationally news worthy. And why would that be? Their new, full-time, specialty teams, quality control coach is a female and the first of her kind. Kathryn Smith is the first full-time NFL assistant coach. This comes on the heels of Jill Welter’s internship as she served as an Arizona Cardinal linebacker coach during the summer. Back in April of 2015, Sarah Thomas became the first female NFL official. I guess these would be major steps in women’s rights. It doesn’t seem that long ago women newscasters were arguing with the league for access to the side lines and, GASP, the locker room. My guess is, once the furor and the abusive and stereotypical comments die down, they will be successful in this bastion of testosterone. I do find it interesting many men still believe that “A woman’s place….”

I have been involved with many firsts when relates to Women’s Rights. I taught for the first female principal in Greenville County, South Carolina, coached the first female to be allowed to play high school soccer and the first coed to play football at the varsity level. I was looking for none of these firsts and had the media not made an issue of it I would not have known. Title IX now that’s another story.

I wrote the story “Liberation” for the book FLOPPY PARTS and with the news of the day decided to dust it off. I hope you enjoy.

LIBERATION
Even though Charlotte, NC was close by, we were sheltered from the rapidly changing outside world. It was a long twenty miles to the Queen City on a two-lane blacktop and, by the way we grew up, possibly a decade in time removed. We had gone through the duck and cover drills that assured us that any textbook would protect us from a nuclear attack provided we took all sharp objects from our pockets. We were raised to be stoic and to be seen and not heard. In some ways we were raised to be “un-included.” Words like duty, reverence and respect were a part of our vocabularies. We still believed in the “American Exceptionalism” of the post-World War Two United States despite the warts we tended to ignore. We were decidedly Republican and my grandmother openly worried more about having a Roman Catholic in the White House than a democrat.

Still, being typically male, I was more aware of my floppy parts than world affairs, and, beginning in the late Sixties, they both got tied in knots.
Even though any available female was fair game and a target for our raging hormones, we had been taught to respect women. It was okay to pursue, but you didn’t lay a hand on a woman. You gave up your seat to women and you opened doors for women. As males, we did this not because we viewed women as weaker but as a sign of respect, the same way we were taught to say “Yes, Ma’am” or “No, Ma’am.” Most importantly No Meant No and not maybe. It was easier in those waning days of the Sixties because the girls had been taught the same way… and they didn’t have The Pill. I admit I may be looking through “rose-colored” glasses because I had been surrounded by such STRONG female role models. I believe with all my heart that women who grew up in rural settings during the depression and World War Two were taught to be stronger than their urban counter parts. I remember asking my grandmother to describe the changes she experienced during the Great Depression. She laughed and said, “We were farming on the lien and it was so hard already we never noticed.” That would be that she was out in the fields with my grandfather doing hard “man’s work.”

Regardless of my beliefs, all of them began to change as I welcomed the new decade and my address changed to Newberry. There were many movements spawned by the period. Native American Rights, Gay Rights and environmentalism were a few that joined Civil Rights during the “Age of Love”. Also, there was my favorite – Women’s Rights. There was one positive about the Women’s Liberation Movement – bra burning. Whether they were wearing a bra or not, women deserved to have the same rights as men despite the chauvinist argument “I don’t know why they want to climb down off of their pedestals?” After watching MAD MEN I wonder how high that pedestal actually was and who really had the power. I am sure this portrayal was “exactly” the way it was in the Sixties.
Liberation was a battle ground where if you picked sides you were either labeled a eunuch, if you agreed with the cause, or a chauvinist pig if you didn’t. Most of the Newberry coeds were southern gals (Is my chauvinism showing?) and had grown up under the same Biblical tenants as mine. The “times they were ah changing” and it wasn’t unusual to hear discussions about “Who should pay for the cost of birth control?” or “Who should make the decision about getting an abortion?” Fifty years later I still avoid expressing opinions on those questions because to do so would be to spoil for a fight.

Women’s Lib finally tied me in knots in the early Seventies. I remember walking up to the campus library door and seeing the reflection of a coed approaching me from behind in the door’s polished glass. Her reflection was dressed in bell bottoms and a pea coat, fashion staples of the period for those individuals who took political positions somewhere left of center. I also had time to notice her really short dark hair and the narrow, hawkish shape of her face. Nevertheless, I paused and opened the door for her. Smiling, I nodded my head and then got my ears pinned back. With a face that truly had turned hawkish she spat, “What are you asking me to do? Inviting me into to your male-dominated world? Baby Dicked Chauvinist Pig!” If you are waiting for my snappy comeback, hell may freeze over first. I still don’t have one. I should add, she still managed to enter the library ahead of me through the still-opened door but then so did the next fifteen people as I stood with jaw “slack and agape.” Baby dicked? Where did that come from?

Despite wearing khakis, oxford cloth and penny loafers during most of my adult life, I find myself embracing my “Old Hippy” side with flip flops, blue jeans and tee shirts to accommodate my move to the center left of politics as I have retired. Hawaiian shirts are a far cry from bells and pea coats but I wear them proudly. I believe in equality above all else. Equal rights, whether racial, gender, sexual, religious or economic, should be our goal as a country or as a people of that country. Women should have the same opportunities to succeed or to fail as men and it should be for the same pay. I was again sheltered when I chose teaching as my vocation. Teaching opportunities and pay were always equal and, as far as pay was concerned…Sorry, wrong movement. Now, I don’t know about upward mobility into administration but I do know that if I were ranking principals, women would take the top two positions as the best of the many I have had. The best one asked me during my interview in 1974 if I would have a problem working for a woman. She kind of leaned in as if she were going to tell me a dirty joke when she asked me. I thought, to myself, “I want this job so badly I would work for an orangutan.” To her I simply answered, “No problems whatsoever, I love women. My mother was a woman.”

I think there might have been a price for the equality so deserved by women. I read more about the rise of attacks against women or spousal abuse and see that doors are not opened and seats not given up nearly as often as they used to be even here in this hotbed of Southern chivalry. I guess I should add despite a little hawk-faced witch from 1970. Could that be the price that women pay? Maybe they did knock themselves off of their pedestal.

During the late Seventies, athletics were equalized due to Title IX legislation…except it wasn’t, at least in the school district in which I toiled. Rather than add resources to girl’s athletics, resources were taken away from men’s athletics which left a bitter taste in most male coaches’ mouths. I remember being told that, as a baseball coach, half of any money raised by my baseball team could be spent by the softball team whether they participated in the fund raiser or not. Luckily I had great relationships with my softball coaches and this never happened. Everyone didn’t have those great relationships that I fostered with malice and forethought.

While sitting quietly in a graduate course that included a study of the distribution of monies for athletics, a young female coach commented that it did not matter. “God Football” gets it all and until they fire all of the football coaches, girls would get nothing. At a break I could not help myself and strolled over to advise her that, while her feelings might be warranted, expressing them in an open forum might not be the best idea, especially if she were looking for a job. I also pointed out that football paid the bills and probably was what allowed her to have a job. She said something about having to “audition instead of interview” and that she was not “giving up the cause” just to get a job and that “maybe I should wait until my advice was asked for.” Her bell bottoms and pea coat were showing and no good deed goes unpunished. Several months later as we were looking for a girls’ softball coach, I received a call from my principal informing me that he was sending a prospective coach to be interviewed. Yeah, it was her and the look on her face was priceless. No, she didn’t get the job. Instead, we hired a softball coach who was also an offensive line coach. To her credit, she didn’t back down either, but then I am sure she knew she was doomed from the start. Does this make me a chauvinist? I don’t think so… but I do admit to being a realist.

If you enjoyed this story you may download it and other “STUPID MAN TRICKS” in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle http://goo.gl/Ot0KIu