My son came home from football practice a week or so ago with a look on his face that I knew meant he was upset. When you have a child who plays high school football, you are used to bruises and blood and foul moods from time to time.
But this was different.
His usual procedure when he comes home from football practice is this: first the refrigerator and then the shower. But that day, he stopped short, standing in the living room smelly and hungry and answered my question of what was wrong.
“I made Coach Teague mad,” Scotty said.
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I have watched football practices for a long time, starting when I was a little girl and my brother and I would stand at the fence eating orange push-ups and watching Bear Bryant coach the Crimson Tide.
So I am well aware that at football practices every day some coach is mad about something, and said so to my son.
“This was different, Mama. I disappointed him.”
Scotty left the room still downtrodden, and I was left alone with thoughts that carried me back 25 years ago to my brother and a similar story.
Seems when Eddie was a Demon, they were playing Lowndes County and were down at the half. Coach Richard Fendley gave Eddie a talking to about his performance in the locker room at halftime.
“It was terrible,” my brother told me that night after the game with the same look on his face that my son had last week. “I had let him down. I never wanted to let coach Fendley down.”
Inspiration comes in many forms. On a football team, it might come from the competition after watching another player. It might be a pep talk about your crosstown rival.
But sometimes it comes from the beginning of a lifelong relationship with a man who hollers at you when there is grass under your feet and puts his arm around you near a white line. A man who will listen to you, counsel you, laugh with you and scold you and above all else, love you for the rest of your life.
For Scotty, Coach John Teague is such a man. For Eddie, Coach Fendley is such a man.
When Eddie came in the door at the Demon football players’ reunion held back in August, the first words out of his mouth to me weren’t “Hi, sister” but “Where’s Coach Fendley?” I imagine that Scotty will look for Coach Teague 20 years down the road as well.
I love the game of football. I consider high school football the purest form of the sport. Yes, it is played for the points on the scoreboard. It is also played for the sheer love of the game. And it is played for the Coach Teagues, for the Coach Fendleys.
When I say my prayers at night, I thank God for Coach Teague and Coach Fendley and for all the men called coach who help take boys and direct them on the path to their own manhood.