By PHIL BLUE
Executive Director of Athletics
In the fall of 1975, my dad was driving me to me to my first day of school as a 7th grader at Greenville Junior High School. As I began to exit the car, my Dad said, “Don’t wait to step up and be a leader when given the chance. These coaches don’t know who their leaders are yet.”
I said, “Yes sir” and headed off to first period…7th grade football!
After receiving our shorts and t-shirts, all 120 players were told to sit in their locker and BE QUIET! The dressing room was a large rectangular room with rudimentary wooden lockers attached to each wall. After a while, Coach Eddie Shawn walks into the locker room. Without saying a word, he roams the room for a few minutes eyeballing the new 7th grade Lion prospects. Coach Shawn was about 6 foot, 5 inches tall, with long hair in the back and a receding hairline in the front. He had an intimidating scowl that got my attention. I remember thinking, “This is a mean coach.”
Finally, Coach Shawn began to speak. “Men, you are now Greenville Lions and you belong to me! You don’t play elementary football anymore; you now play football for Greenville Junior High!”
You could feel the uneasiness of 120 adolescents in that room as Coach Shawn continued.
“It is time to get one thing straight before we get started,” he said. “This program is built on hard work and pride!”
I thought to myself, “I have pride and I have always worked hard; so far so good.”
Coach Shawn continued his speech. “The most important thing we must do today is to select some special people among you, who will become the backbone and driving force of this football team. If you believe that you have the work ethic and pride to be one of these special people, RAISE YOUR HAND NOW.”
As my Dad had instructed, I proudly raised my hand along with about 15 other players in the room. Once again, Coach Shawn began stalking the room with that scowl and began looking at every boy that had a hand raised. In five minutes, he must have circled the room three times eyeballing us until it happened….Coach Shawn began walking towards some of the boys, and without a word, he physically took their hand and placed it down by their side. By the time he approached me, there was only a few hands still in the air. As he slowly pushed my hand down to my side, I remember the intense emotion as my eyes welled with tears.
My thoughts were, “Hold it back, you can’t cry on the first day of junior high football.”
When my Dad got home from work, he asked, “How did football go today?”
I explained what had happened and relayed the whole gut-wrenching story. He replied, “Well, don’t let it get you down. When you get on the field tomorrow and start practicing, the coaches will find out quickly who the real players and leaders are.”
I immediately felt better knowing that I had not disappointed my Dad, who was also my little league football coach.
The next morning, I learned a valuable lesson as the team began trotting on to the practice field for the first day of football practice. Leading the way were the coaches and those “six SPECIAL PEOPLE” who were chosen the previous day. The interesting thing is that those six “SPECIAL PEOPLE” were carrying towels, footballs and water bottles…..they were the MANAGERS!
I am so thankful that God has an infallible plan for each of us! I always wonder how my life might have been different if I had been chosen as the manager of the football team instead of the quarterback. The moral of my story is: don’t let short-term disappointment concern you. God has a greater plan for all of us.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Coach Eddie Shawn became one of my favorite coaches during my three years at Greenville Junior High School. He coached me in football, basketball and summer baseball. He is one of the many coaches that inspired me to become a coach. Coach Shawn has been in education for 37 years and is currently the very successful principal at Sabine High School. I will always be grateful to Coach Shawn for inspiring me to be better than I thought I could be. I know he has done this same thing for thousands of students during his outstanding educational career.