By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
In the hierarchy of men in our lives, the list usually reads God, father, and coach. Each teaches and molds us in a different way with great direction on what we become.
You should never depart from your God or your father, but most do not stay attached to a coach through their adult years. Maybe they should.
Coaches do not seem like real men. They are larger-than-life characters pulled from a movie script or written about on the pages of a book. They are always right, always true, and immortal, until they are not.
There are a lot of people still hurting with the loss of G.J. Smith. There is a void that cannot be filled by any other person if you played for coach Smith. I guess that goes for any coach. I still hear people talk about names from the past. Names like Glenn Polley and Charlie Bell are followed by great stories. Stories about state championships of Roy Bowling, Rex Fredricks, and even Chuck Broughton already seem like they compare to titles by the New York Yankees and Ali vs. Frazier. They seem mythical. You can scan the wall at Weaver’s and see faces of coaches years before your memory. They still command respect in black and white, surrounded by boys that surely would have followed them anywhere.
The coaches that played a role in my life are the same. I still think Jack Cupp can dismantle you with one stare. I cannot address Bill Carson by his first name because he was and also will be “coach. “ I still wonder when I see my Little League coach, Mike Hensley, if he remembers errors I made.
That is why it still seems like I let down coach Smith. I quit baseball my sophomore year. I always wondered if he remembered that. When my duties at this job brought me and coach Smith together we never visited the past. I don’t think it crossed his mind, but I always felt like I let him down.
If a player cannot treat his coach with respect, he needs to pack his bag and find something else to do. You are doing no good for your team or yourself. And coaches, every player that does gather in that huddle and listen to you will be affected. The words you say today will still ring through their memories when they are broken down old men or sportswriters.
The coaches that win games are revered above all others, as they should be. Sports are about winning and losing. Coaching at the high school level and below is also about something much greater than winning a game. It is about influencing a number of lives that you will never be able to see or count. Lives of people that will not even know you changed them until it is too late.
Goodbye coach Smith. You will never be forgotten.