Monday, March 29, 2010

The Good Man Project - Coach Carter

He must have been very young to have been that trusting, or some would say reckless to allow a group of 16 and 17 year old journalism students to run free day and night through the streets of Manhattan in 1980. It was a much different city than today with it's sprawling retailers and clean streets. Back then, it was mean streets. Our hotel was located in the heart of the seedy porn district with prostitutes and drug dealers working the corners and theater owners barking at us like carnival vendors to entice us in to see their shows.

I first met Coach in the eighth grade when I joined the school newspaper staff. There was something about him that felt like home, not the kind of home I lived in, but the kind of home I wanted to live in. He was a mentor and a friend. On the last day of middle school, I started crying on the bus ride home and continued to cry for the rest of the night. It wasn't about leaving middle school, fear of high school or missing my friends over the summer, it was the realization this man would no longer be a part of my life.

Imagine my delight when I walk into the high school newspaper lab to find him sitting there with his ever present sardonic grin. He had accepted a new position over the summer, a promotion of sorts. He looked at the same rag tag group he had taught last year plus a few new faces and began to get to work with us. Calling us by our last names while he sat there with his feet propped up on his desk.

I was always afraid to let people read anything I had written.  Outside of the school newspaper, my writing was limited to my journals and poetry, both of which have never been shared with anyone. When Coach would assign me an article, I couldn't watch him read it.  I usually gave it to him on the way out the door.  It would then be returned to me with his edits, written in tiny, barely legible red ink scrawl. Among the edits, he would work in his own editorial comments, always positive, always building me up and always encouraging me to do more.

He saw something in my writing, something he wanted to bring forth. In my junior and senior years, he assigned me my own editorial column, letting me choose the topic and allowing me to print just about anything you could imagine. I wrote about Skylab falling from the sky, administrative policies I disagreed with, and an emotional piece about the death of one of my good friends who had been herded into a meat locker at the local steak house and systematically shot to death along with five of his co-workers. I discovered my voice during these years and I learned that others liked reading it.

I didn't have a voice at home. I barely spoke to anyone at school, keeping only unto my little group of friends. But with this column, I had a powerful voice. Coach entered one of my articles into a statewide contest, then stood by my side when I picked up first place in features writing at the annual convention on the University of Oklahoma campus. This was the first of many times he would be there to remind me to write.

I have tried to remember if there was a time when I might have told him I was an unhappy girl, surrounded by violence and chaos.  I don't think I did but he must have known. He placed himself in the role of big brother to me. I could depend on him for anything and he, in turn, learned he could do the same with me. He cooked up this trip to NYC to attend a journalism convention at Columbia, most likely because he wanted a free trip.

He essentially dropped us off at the hotel, ordered me to meet him at Columbia for the conference events and told the group as a whole to behave themselves as he would see them on the flight home. We rode the subways at night, drank in an Irish pub, hiked up and down the island, performed a song on stage in same Irish pub, giggled our way through Deep Throat, ate at Mama Leones, saw a Broadway show and made it back to Oklahoma City with lasting memories.

Coach was keeping tabs on us. He had practically raised most of us; he knew what we would and wouldn't do. We never allowed the boys in our room, except for the gay guy. We ignored the drug dealers, traveled in groups and stayed close to the hotel at night.  Both the Irish Pub and the Deep Throat theater were directly across the street.  Somehow that seemed safer. Every morning, I would report to the convention, update him on what we did the night before and what our plans were for the next evening, all while trying to hide my lack of sleep and scraped knees from performing our Russian dance routine at the Irish pub.

Thank you Coach for trusting in me, believing in my talent and providing me the wings with which I continue to soar.

Interesting to note: I remember thinking I was fat in high school. Also, pictured in the group photos are two of my best friends, Leaders of the Free World, today. Can anyone spot the little birdie with Farrah hair?


  1. Aw. :) Way to go, Coach.

    I like to think we all have at least one teacher like that... Someone to believe in us until we begin to believe in ourselves.

  2. Do you remember the article written about the lack of pep at the pep assemblies? I can still the pic that went along with it. No friendships made over that one! haha He did know how to sell the papers!
    He made a lasting impression on my life too!

  3. Wow! I hope when I finally get in the classroom full-time that my students will have such wonderful things to say about me! Coach Carter sounds like an amazing man!

  4. I'm still mad my mama wouldn't let me go on that trip!


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