I haven’t played football since the tenth grade. I started playing when I was in the fifth grade, and pretty much played continuously through tenth grade. When I first started playing, I was pretty good, relative to the other scrawny kids playing. I was bigger and I was stronger than many boys were at that age, probably because of where my birthday fell which drove me into being older brother than mostly younger boys. In addition, it likely had to do with the fact that I was outside practically every minute I could be, from morning until night, other than for school. I spent a bit over four years living on a farm, where I had acre after acre to roam. Being outside with my dog, or by myself was just what I did every day.
So in the fifth grade, after playing baseball for a few springs, it was time to add a fall sport to the mix. I was already a fan of the game, and was a fan of the Baltimore Colts long before they moved to Indianapolis. I loved the game, and loved the scrappy play that fifth graders could dish out. Both the first and second year I played, I was elected by the coaches to the all star team. After sixth grade ball, I went on to play during all three years of junior high before high school.
To level set, my high school played football with some of the best schools in Pennsylvania. We were among the largest schools (AAAA), and this was back when Pennsylvania was the dominant state for football. It was only natural for anyone who played to continue playing into high school, so I played again in tenth grade. Back in the ’70s, we had three years of kids at the high school, rather than the four that are normal today. But, with three junior high teams feeding two high school teams, there was lots of talent making up the high school teams.
Our coach, Steve King, was a high school English teacher. He was a gentle giant, with a big, loud voice, but cared for his players. As I look back, he was actually smaller than I am today, but a giant in a tenth grader’s eyes.
Coach King was a good coach. I remember him being fair and equally tough on all of his players. While it was long ago, calisthenics and leg lifts were part of the daily routine. When I look back at those practices, I remember the physical exercises followed by practice of the basic moves. Coach followed the style of Joe Paterno from Penn State. The methodology was basically to practice and execute the basic moves better than your opponents. Move the ball down the field a few yards each play, then score. It was a simple plan that worked for PSU for years.
Over the years, I have talked about the coaching style of Coach King, drilling the basics into us over and over. We paid little attention to the fancy plays, but could execute hose basic plays better than anyone else. Basic blocking, basic tackles, and basic running plays. Most plays were good for 3-4 yards at a minimum, enough to get that first down with each series of downs. Did we win every game? No. But I remember a good season with players trained on the basics and ready to make solid contributions on the varsity team the next year.
While many people remember their high school sports with memories of a special game or special victory, I remember the experience of playing and the true leadership of Coach King. Those lessons have served me well throughout my life, and have been shared many, many times.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Coach King through Facebook. I loved sharing the memories of his lessons and the value they have delivered throughout my life. I’m thankful that I could pass that along, and thankful that I could let him know that he made a contribution to my life. It’s not often that you can tell someone that from so far back in your life, so when you get the chance to say thanks, jump on it. They deserve to know.