Almost every star athlete has a story about a coach who was a major influence in their success. But what about the kids who aren’t even good enough to warm the bench?
Growing up, I was always the undersized, bookish kid, with terrible hand-eye coordination. I was routinely picked last for teams. In my early years, I avoided athletics whenever I could and hung back when I couldn’t. That all changed when I went to Auburn High School and encountered coach Tony Higgins.
At the end of my first semester sophomore PE class, Higgins took my friend Mike and I aside. He informed us that we graced the bottom end of the curve in the class and would each be getting a D. The coach set up an appointment for us with the special ed PE teacher, so we could consider transferring into that class for the next semester. We met with him and came away with the impression that it could be fun and maybe the right idea. Mike opted to transfer, but I decided there was no way I was going to be labeled as special ed in PE.
I stuck with the regular class but now, I threw myself into it. I was still small and uncoordinated but at the end of the semester I had earned a B. Most PE teachers have no time for the athletically un-gifted, but Coach Higgins encouraged me and rewarded my efforts.
That gave me enough confidence to turn out for both track and diving. I regularly came in second to last in my track events but in diving scored some points in meets. To my own surprise, I lettered in both sports. Coach Higgins coached neither sport, but when he saw me in the locker room he often dropped by and asked how I was doing.
Thanks to the sophomore year challenge and subsequent encouragement by Tony Higgins, I learned to enjoy athletic activities. I’m still no star but have started and finished two marathons and run dozens of long distance races. Last spring my wife and I hiked more than 500 miles across northern Spain. Kayaking, biking, and backpacking are a regular part of my life.
In my experience, most coaches pay attention mostly to the true athletes and ignore the bench warmers. Fortunately for me, Tony Higgins took an interest and gave me a lifelong appreciation for athletic activity.
Auburn’s Dennis Brooke retired from corporate IT management and is now a novelist. His first book, “The Last Apostle,” was a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers Debut Novel of the Year. He and his wife now travel and write about their adventures at WorldRovers.com