Remembering An Old Coach
Remember my recent post where I said that most of the upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament happen early, and then the cream rises to the top? Well…never mind. The upsets continue to happen beyond the first weekend in what will be remembered as one of the wackiest NCAA tournaments ever. Already in the “Sweet Sixteen” games, Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Nevada have been shown the door by lower seeds, while teams like Loyola-Chicago are still alive. And, of course, the stunning upset by 16th seeded UMBC over Virginia (the tourney’s overall number-one seed) will be talked about forever. Hold on for a wild and bumpy ride to the Final Four!
Now on to today’s main topic. It is with sadness that I learned this week about the passing of my old track coach at North Junior High School in Martinsburg, WV, Charlie Scott. Apparently, he had been diagnosed with cancer, and faced with a dim prognosis, drove to a K-Mart parking lot and took his own life.
I am not going to write a revisionist look-back at Coach Scott. I have no flowery remembrances of the man, so I cannot say first hand what a great man he was. My track experience at NJHS as a miler was brief and did not continue beyond junior high, and Charlie Scott was part of the reason why.
At North Junior High, we didn’t even have a track. We used the asphalt school bus loop in front of the school to run laps. On the first day of track practice everyone ran 20 laps (5 miles) at the start of practice. I had no idea I was going to be a miler, but I knew I had a blend of speed and stamina, and I was determined to win that 20 lap race and be noticed.
And I did. Upon crossing the finish line I remember Coach Scott saying to me, “you are going to surprise some people this year, ” which made me feel good. And I did win my first-ever mile race against Shepherdstown Junior High in a time of 5:16.
But that was the high point. The next week I finished a distant third behind the great Chris Fox of rival South Junior High (and now a coach at Syracuse), and a runner from Frederick, Md., who passed me at the end for second.
Then came the injuries. Running that asphalt track in front of the school in sneakers (the running shoe industry was in it’s infancy in the early 70’s) day after day led to shin splints and a knee injury that required cortisone injections. In our third meet I tried to run with those injuries and could only limp around the track as lesser runners passed me by. It was the only time my Dad ever came to see me run, and I remember Coach Scott blaming my performance afterward on my lack of practice time.
And that was it for track. My real passion was baseball, and as luck would have it, the big County Meet happened to be on the same day as a scheduled Senior Little League game. I chose to play baseball instead of showing up at the track meet, where I would not be able to compete. Coach Scott found out, and as a result did not receive my letter in track.
I was bitter at Charlie Scott for a long time after that, but in retrospect he did the right thing. I made a choice, and the lesson learned is that there are consequences for those choices. Had I simply shown up for the County Meet and shown loyalty and support to the team, I probably would have lettered.
Good coaches make us see the life-lessons in our sports experiences, both good and bad. It may take years to understand, but what seems like being “slighted” at the time might just be a coach trying to make you a better person down the road.
Maybe that’s the best thing I can say about Charlie Scott. RIP, Coach…
Until next week from the Booth…GO HORNETS! RW