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A good high school coach is hard to replace

POSTED June 30, 2009 11:09 p.m.
I never met Ed Thomas, the Iowa high school football coach who was shot and killed last week. I never had the chance to go through one of his practices. I never had the privilege of being chewed out because I goofed up. I never suited up for him or rode the bus with him to a football game or enjoyed victory with him.
But I’ve met people like him.
When news broke that a former player allegedly killed this small-town football coach from Aplington-Pakersburg High, I felt the pain. Anyone who played high school sports would understand.
High school sports are more than stepping stones for some. They’re more than giving students the opportunity to do something after school. They’re more than allowing a bunch of teenagers to live out their dreams on a football field, basketball court, baseball field, tennis court, swimming pool, wrestling mat, track and field course, golf course or soccer field.
You’ve heard the cliché: Sports are life. And it’s available in the truest and purest form in high school sports. For a lot of these kids, high school sports are the closest thing to their goal of playing professionally. Only a small percentage of them move on to college sports. And even a smaller percentage get to play for money.
And high school coaches know that.
They know a lot of these kids have these nearly impossible dreams of playing at the highest level. But most of the time, they’re too small or too slow. So, this is the perfect opportunity to groom them into better individuals, people who will make a larger impact on the world once they start having careers, families, houses and cars, in addition to making their own decisions.
I wrote three retirement stories since the end of the school year. I wrote about Denair High’s Ron Cornell and Turlock High’s Steve Feaver and Ben Culala. These living legends combined for about 100 years of coaching. Sure, the coaches experienced a lot of wins and helped produce All-Americans. But there’s one thing that stands out among all the things they accomplished: They value a student athlete’s growth.
They enjoy kids coming back years later and saying, “Thank you for what you did” — meaning taking the time to help them grow as a human being. They enjoy knowing that the kids became parents, and have careers and homes now.
So that was why Thomas’ death hurt a lot. A good high school coach is difficult to replace. I know this because I owe a lot to the high school coaches I came across. Donnie Wallace of Modesto High stands out. For awhile, I hated this guy.
He cut me from freshmen basketball.
And then I made the junior varsity team the following season under a different coach.
And then Wallace cut me again after I tried out for the varsity team my junior season. But he didn’t let me go. He let me stay. He gave me the opportunity to be a team manager, someone who took care of the dirty jerseys and the loose balls during pre-game warm-ups. I stuck around. He told me if I stuck around long enough, maybe a roster spot might open up.
So, I worked on my game and did my duties. One day, he said there’s a uniform available. I took it, of course.
He never gave up on me — and that’s all you can really ask for in a high school coach.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail csun@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.

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