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OTHER ITA SITES:
Coaching Sports For All The Right Reasons
It was during a March evening in 2002 that I received word that my grandfather was dying. I drove the four and a half hours to Ironwood, Michigan in a snowstorm to say goodbye. I was able to see my grandpa and he was able to recognize me and acknowledge that I was there.
The next morning, he was gone. The doctors said that they were not sure how he had survived for so long. He had many health conditions and a lot of pain that he hadn’t really shown on the outside. Yet, he had visited my grandmother every day in the nursing home where she had moved just a few months before. The staff marveled at the fact that my grandpa could even make it up the stairs each day. But, he did it. He was always there to help someone else.
I stayed in the town where my grandfather had been born, lived and now passed on. The funeral was scheduled for just a couple of days later. I thought a lot about my grandfather during this time. He had inspired me to be an athlete and coach. I remember him showing me the pictures and ribbons that he had won as a hurdler in track and field. But his real love was baseball. He was a great first baseman who played for a while with the Union City Greyhounds farm team and even had a try out for the St. Louis Cardinals. Rumor has it that he left baseball to come back for my grandmother. He continued to play ball in his home town. When times were tough and jobs were scarce, my grandfather was offered a job at the mine... if he would also play on the company’s baseball team.
Two days passed and the preparations for the funeral were made. I spent a lot of the time at my aunt’s house with the rest of my family. Late in the morning, there was a knock on the door. An older gentleman stood outside and carried a small object under one arm. My aunt answered the door and had a short conversation with the man. He then handed her the object, said goodbye and walked off.
My aunt entered the room looking sad but strangely happy at the same time. In her hands, she cradled a baseball glove. It was old and battered and some of the laces were missing but you could still see the words US ARMY branded into the leather. My aunt set the glove on the table and filled the rest of us in on what had just happened.
“This was Dad’s glove from the Army,” she said. “Remember that when he got back from the war, he helped to start the first little league here in town. That man was a member of Dad’s first team. His family didn’t have much money and he couldn’t afford to buy a baseball glove. Dad gave him his so that he could play like the rest of the boys.”
The man had gone on to say that he had never forgotten my grandfather’s generosity. He had kept and cherished the glove for over 45 years. He had seen my grandpa’s obituary in the newspaper and had wanted to return the glove to the family and let us know what a great coach, and man, my grandfather had been.
The glove was put on display at my grandpa’s funeral. And, of course, the minister’s sermon contained many allusions to sports and frequent quotes from A Field of Dreams. All this made me ever so proud of my grandfather who enjoyed coaching and passing on his love of athletics to the youth in his town. It also made me remember why I chose to be a coach.
How many times have you wondered, “Why do people coach? Why do they give up their time and energy for little or no money, sometimes even less respect and the opportunity to be targeted by parents and fans alike?”
That cold and snowy March day, I was reminded of the answers to those questions. We coach to touch the youth. To instill values into young people that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We coach to make a difference and to show the right way to play, work and live. We coach so that, even 45 years can pass without a man forgetting his coach and the impact that he had made on a young boy’s life.
Copyright, Tim Kauppinen, 2005
This article is protected by copyright, 2005,
Tim Kauppinen. All rights reserved.
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