Saturday, September 19, 2009

I am a Legit Coach, Thanks to My New Shirt

“Hey Coach, how much time before class starts?"

Kids used to say things like that to me often during my eighteen years teaching high school in Gwinnett County. The funny part, of course, was that I was never a coach. Not even close, not even an assistant coach for a 9th grade team in a marginal sport. In fact, one look at me would suggest the most unlikely coach imaginable, more Gilligan than Lombardi. But if you’re a male teacher and kids don’t know your name, they feel comfortable addressing you as “coach.” It just goes with the territory.

Coaches – especially football coaches - are a breed apart in Southern high schools. They carry themselves with a sense of mastery unavailable to the mass of ordinary teachers. The head football coach rivals the principal as the most prominent adult in the building. Coaches are often suspected of neglecting their teaching duties for the sake of their first passion, whatever their sport happens to be (I have found that the suspicion is sometimes founded, but usually not). The coach is a go-to person when you’re having a discipline problem with one of his players. Often he can clear the trouble right up. At times fate placed me alone in the company of a group of coaches, perhaps at a faculty luncheon or in the mailroom, and at those times I always felt like a dork at a fraternity party: “So, you guys talking strategy? How 'bout that spread offense, huh?” A sense of masculine insufficiency swept over me.

Demeanor alone will usually serve to identify a coach, but the wardrobe helps, too. When I was in high school, coaches were known for too-tight polyester shorts, polo shirts with team logos that barely covered their ample girths, and white turf shoes with black soles. At my high school, the paragon of this ensemble was a portly but spirited fellow known to students and faculty alike as “Coach Bow Wow." Contemporary coaches dress somewhat more stylishly, though they still have a fondness for pleats. The key coach fashion item today is the shirt, an expensive meshy thing with cool piping and a stitched-on team logo.

Last Monday our school athletic director came over to a group I was helping lead at our athletic fields. He was distributing this year’s school coach shirts.

One of them was for me.

I have a coach shirt, a for real coach shirt, and I did not get it secondhand at a thrift store.

My coach shirt is not mere “spirit wear.” Anybody can obtain spirit wear, the logo-emblazoned polo shirts that faculty are allowed to wear on Fridays. Coach shirts like mine are available only to actual coaches (and perhaps a few well-connected team fathers).

My coach shirt gives me special powers over others. I might find it necessary to instruct you to drop and give me twenty. If so, you had better do it. If I tell you to take a knee, you better take a knee and listen attentively. I might remind you – without irony – that there is no “i” in “team,” and if I do you will reflect with shame on the many ways your selfishness has detracted from the team’s success in achieving team goals.

Oh, sure I can hear the skeptics pointing out with a smirk that I am in possession of this shirt because I am a junior varsity ULTIMATE FRISBEE coach. So? I am an official coach, I have coach shirt to prove it, and I expect all of you to give 110%.


kaleidoscopeyes said...

Haha. COACH Veal?! Awesome.

Tash said...

Ah, Jim, you have truly arrived. You now qualify to "talk shports" in the teacher's lounge. I will look at my magnetic faculty name tag now with a bit of a sigh. My only moniker "counselor." So paltry. So uncool. So un-coach-y. I think I'll slink out of the locker room now and stare blankly out the front door of school waiting for my mom to pick me up. I simply can't compete.

Aleena said...

Hey now, I know some kids here on the ultimate frisbee team who could use a coach like you. You know, one with a real coach shirt and all.
Congratulations on your newfound coachiness - in sports that is, because otherwise, you're a pretty great life coach and Language Arts coach, if that counts. You could coach the Olympics of Intelligence, you know, just in case (God forbid) ultimate frisbee doesn't work out. :)

RamblingsFromAtl said...

1) I want one;

2) In the words of Mike Weems "There is no "I" in "We Suck" either.

John said...

I hope you are alerted to this comment:

As the football coach who married in to your family, to the girl who made you choose Cabbage Patch Kids over Flutie's Hail Mary no less, I swear to never wear too-tight polyester shorts in combination with team logo shirts that barely cover my girth. However, I may still wear them separately as a means of subtle textile intimidation.