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Teaching kids how to play the right way

A football coach’s life is a little bit like an iceberg.

There’s the part above the water — the wins and losses, the Xs and Os, the practices and strategy sessions, the trophies and other hardware.

That’s the stuff you see.

Then there’s the part you hardly ever see — the late nights and early mornings, the long days spent in classrooms and locker rooms, the motivational speeches and teaching moments, the satisfaction of watching students excel both on and off the field.

That’s the stuff below the water. Invisible to most, but critically important.

Coaches too often get the credit — or the blame — for what happens between the white lines, but their jobs don’t stop when the whistle blows or even when the season ends. They work year-round, game-planning and strategizing, hosting youth clinics, supervising weight training, organizing offseason conditioning.

All above the water. Tangible things to help make their teams better.

But what often goes unseen is that through all these activities, coaches are helping their students become not just better football players, but also better people. Teaching them the value of hard work and self-respect, the benefits of teamwork and loyalty, the importance of responsibility and accountability.

That stuff is back below the water. The kind of things that few people think about once Friday night rolls around.

So, as a coach, it’s nice when someone recognizes all the hard work that gets done behind the scenes, when someone appreciates that the majority of a coach’s responsibilities are hidden somewhere beneath the surface.

That’s why Banks coach Ben Buchanan and Seaside coach Jeff Roberts were so surprised to open their e-mail two weekends ago and find a note from Jeff Walter, the head official for the teams’ Oct. 5 football game.

In part, Walter wrote:

“To a man, our crew agreed that this will be a game held long in our memories of all that is strong, right, and excellent about Friday night football. We felt that every coach, player and other participant reflected great credit upon the team, the school, and the community they were representing when they dressed in their colors that night. While superlatives fail me, suffice it to say, had Norman Rockwell painted the epitome of the American high school football experience, this game would have been the result on his canvas.”

Walter’s letter (which is reprinted on page B3) was affirmation for both coaches that they are succeeding not only in teaching their players valuable lessons about football, but also about life, and the note has since stirred great pride in both communities.

“I can’t say I’ve ever received an e-mail like that before,” Buchanan said. “It really made a lot of people feel good about this program and the job we’re doing as coaches.”

“It was pretty awesome,” Roberts said. “That’s a first for my career — as a player and as a coach.”

The two programs are in drastically different places. Banks is well-established, qualifying for the playoffs in nine of the last 11 seasons and playing for a Class 4A state championship in 2008. Seaside is rebuilding, with just two state playoff appearances since 1994 and only four wins in the last five seasons.

That gulf was as wide as

ever on Oct. 5, when Banks rolled to a 49-7 victory over the Seagulls, but it wasn’t the quality of play that impressed Walter enough to sit down at his computer and reach out to both coaches — it was the quality of sportsmanship displayed by both sides.

“I think that e-mail demonstrated to the kids that we’re doing things the right way,” Roberts said. “I don’t have any kids that are going to play in the NFL, but I have a lot of kids that are going to be

husbands and fathers and co-workers and members of this community.

“When I took this job, the first thing that had to change was the culture surrounding the program. Our motto was to teach the kids how to be good human beings first and good football players second.”

Walter’s e-mail praised the players from both teams for their constant encouragement and positive attitudes, even as the score swung heavily in one team’s favor. There were no cheap shots, no chippiness, no trash talk. Just two teams playing football the way the game was meant to be played.

“Ben’s got a great squad and some great kids,” Roberts said. “They thumped us pretty good, but for our kids to be able to take something positive away from that experience, that shows us that we’re moving in the right direction.

“It’s not always about the wins and losses, it’s not always about the Xs and Os. What it’s about is the experience of becoming a young adult. There are so many lessons that I wish we could teach in the classroom that lend themselves to being taught on the football field.”

Walter may not have known it at the time, but his letter struck the right chord with coaches, players and fans from both schools.

“I’m not sure I could have summed it up any better than he did,” Buchanan said. “That’s what high school football is supposed to be about.”

“It was such an eloquently written letter and it was such a powerful message,” Roberts said. “For him to take the time to do that, and to know that my kids had that kind of impact on somebody who’s been doing this for so long, that’s a really special memory.”




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