Keeping Things in Perspective

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As a coach in Missouri, we have the distinct pleasure of wokring with Coach Hayes. He is Missouri’s unofficial track and field grandfather.  He writes our state association on a regular basis to keep us up to date with history, rule changes, and other aspects of life. In one of his recent newsletters, he shared with us a story about how we need to keep perspective. Coach Hayes is an excellent writer, and he has given me permission to share one of his stories with you. It might leave you teary eyed, but it helps put things into perspective for all coaches.

The story is enclosed below.

I write from the “study” of my Hardin mansion.  Old timers would call it a summer sleeping porch.  Thirteen windows in a 20X20 room with a hand-laid wood parquet floor.  Four windows each on the east and west sides and five on the north.  French doors on the south that lead to the upstairs landing.  A family of cardinal chicks is soon to hatch in the magnolia stiletta on the east side.  Got a picture of a current world series trophy in one of the windows for them to look at.  Sorry, could not help myself.  Anyhow, a great place to be if you like a good summer thunderstorm.  Not so great a place to be on a winter day with a north wind blowing at 30 mph. 

My desk is in the NW corner of the room and if I swivel my chair to right I can see part of the track at Hardin-Central.  A track that I built about 30 years ago.  (If you did not know or want to know, I live beside the school.)  If I swivel it to the left, I can see the front entrance to the school and the flag pole close by.   A concrete bench is at the base of that flag pole that was put there as a memorial to a student by the name of Nicki Wilson.  Because of a decision I made, I helped put that bench there.

On a Saturday morning in early October a little less than 20 years ago, I went to my home town of Monroe City for the funeral of my aunt Emma Jo, a younger sister of my father.  Because my parents came from families of 12 and 11 each, I have had 40 people I could call uncle or aunt so no big deal.  We are people of faith so those funerals for the uncles and aunts are celebrations of a life well lived.   

I was able to go because we did not have a CC meet that weekend.  After several years of going to the Savannah Invitational, I decided that year not to go back.  I forget why, but we did not go.  When I got back home later that afternoon, the first words from my wife were, “Nicki’s dead”.   

Instead of being at a CC meet that morning as in the past several years, she was with her boyfriend jumping levees that foggy morning -it is a river bottom thing – and this levee had train tracks on it and a train was on those tracks.  She was killed instantly.

I drive over to her parent’s house on the south side of town to offer condolences because this funeral would not be a celebration of a life so short.  Her parents, Tom and Patty, were alone at that time and we spoke.  Do not know what was said and it does not matter young pups.  Just the fact you said something does.

Nicki was a little bitty thing with a lop-sided grin.  She would probably have scored a 30 on the ACT but she may never have broken 30 on a 5K.  Tom had talked to me after a meet early in the year and said, “Dean, she’s doing the best she can.”  I said, “I know she is, Tom.  Don’t worry about it.”  And she was and I did not.  My ego trips had all been taken by then.  If all I had was a team of kids like Nicki, no problems.

We buried her on a Tuesday morning with the funeral held at the school.  I helped carry her to her grave.  Best I could do.

I made a decision one day and because of that, somebody died.  It was not a capricious decision and it was not a vindictive decision but it was a decision made nonetheless that had a tragic consequence.   It is not something I dwell on nor does it control my life.   It is what it is.   I live with it because of the way the decision was made. 

This is a story some of you have heard from me before, but it is a pertinent story.  I know from looking at the data that the median life of a HS coach is three years.  If you are coaching track this spring, you will make thousands of decisions in the next three months.  Most of your athletes will perform better because of those decisions.  Some will not.  Some will do better in spite of anything you do.  Nature of the sport and of coaching and training.

From when I started coaching, after the first meet of the year, no matter what, I was always so danged ticked-off after it was over.   Good thing I was driving the bus – no telling what might have happened otherwise.  I have mellowed with time although the Hardin-Central athletes might say otherwise.  Thing is, since 1998, I brought them home to sleep in their own beds that night. 

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