Dear Coach

Leadership is on my mind. The kind that helps people to flourish, the kind that does just the opposite.

A sportswriter, in a piece for Sports Illustrated, noted that my father may have been the only coach in America who kept geraniums wintering in his basement, wore a hat, and said “Oh my” a lot. “Oh My Is a Four Letter Word” became a ubiquitous bumper sticker around Pittsburgh in his day.

Another sports writer wrote about how much my father loved the game of basketball and quoted him saying, “But I don’t understand why thousands of people come to watch and why it matters to so many if we win or lose.”

One time, when one of his players missed a layup that would have won the game at the buzzer, my father, surrounded by reporters in the locker room, was asked, “Why did (name) blow that layup?” My father thought for a bit and then said, “Well, if he didn’t miss it, and instead blew it, I guess he wanted to.”

Have you ever had friends falsely accused to the point that it cost them being able to bring their goodness into the world? I can’t voice how terrible that is. It’s happened to four cherished friends of ours recently. Done under the kind of blind, cruel, fear-inducing “leadership” so popular these days. Cruelty that can’t be undone.

On the other hand, there was my Dad. A real leader. How brave he was.

Dear Coach

Dear Coach,

Remember the time you left me in after I’d missed seven in a row, tossed a few out of bounds, and let my man score twenty? Bad night. But you didn’t pull me. You must have taken a lot for that. I can still hear the boos. I thought they were all at me. Why’d you leave me in? I’ve thought about that lately. Did you really think I’d come around? The other guys were furious sitting there watching me screw up. And after the game? What did you say? You must have had a second thought. It hit me last week. I was thinking back, remembering certain games. After that one, I wanted to run away. I had a thousand excuses. My family’s fine, kids are growing up. We took a vacation this year. My mother’s doing OK. Business is business, up and down. If you’re ever in town, I sure hope you’ll stop to see us.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Nebraska Territory

Subsequently published in Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

Don’t forget to check out Holland Weekly at hollandweekly.com

On April 1 (perfect!) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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