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%.
Posted by Jim at 1:31 PM