After a long challenging week at work, coupled with a late Friday night at happy hour, I tried my best to wake up early on Saturday morning, in order to hold on to a promise that I had made. The one week that I showed up late for practice, is the only time we lost. During my post-game speech, I apologized to my athletes and their parents. I promised them, that it would never happen again. How could I hold my team accountable if I wasn’t discipline enough to be punctual myself?
We haven’t looked back ever since. And on we are on a five game winning streak. Next week we play our archrivals; a well coached team from Williamsburg, who has won the league championship; a few times. In my four years as head coach, I have yet to beat them, let alone the championship.
Three seasons ago, we lost to them in the finals, on the last play of the game. Even though we are the favorites this year, we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. I’m sure that my rival coach has some tricks up her sleeves.
There are a few kids on my roster who have been with me since they were 5th graders. It would be nice to send them off as seniors, with a championship trophy.
As an athlete, nothing felt better than winning. In college I remember being filled with tears of joy after making a game-winning play. Now that I am a coach, my joys as a player don’t even compare.
I was out celebrating with good friends the night before. We decided to meet up in the city for drinks and good music. I had a great time.
We joked around , partied and recited old rap lyrics, as the DJ spent hip-hop classics like Tribe Called Quest and Leader’s of the New School’s “Scenario” and “Slam” by Onyx. I felt like I had traveled back in time, to 1993.
As the night wound down, I realized that I had to get up in the morning to supervise three middle school basketball games. It was a struggle to say the least. An hour subway commute from Harlem to Brooklyn on a crisp Saturday morning is not exactly what one might call fantastic voyage.
I was running a little late because of typical weekend service in Brooklyn. No trains were available for several stops, so I had to take a shuttle to my final destination. Once I arrived at the school, I immediately began to set up. The gym was already stating to fill up with families and athletes from the other schools. The neighborhoods of Bushwick, East New York and Williamsburg had all converged on our gym in Crown Heights.
As the games played on, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the scene. A peace came over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was home. Very few things bring me happiness like serving my people and my community. Mothers and fathers got an opportunity to watch their sons and daughters play basketball on a Saturday morning. The countless smiles, cheers and happy faces made me feel good. I guess this is important to me because even though I played high school and college athletics, I always wanted my family see me compete, but they never did. To look up in the crowd and see your mother cheering you on must feel awesome; I can only imagine.
On Saturday mornings, children in Crown Heights can be out getting into who knows what. But not these kids, they are with us, being kids, they are safe, working in tandem with their peers and learning to be part of a team.
It was tough, just functioning on a few hours of sleep, but it is always worth it. The next Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Lisa Leslie could be playing at our gym and I was responsible for giving them the safe space to realize their talents. Someone did it for me. So how could I not give back? Personally, I suck at basketball. Football and track were my sports, but I understand the importance of giving children the opportunity to discover their abilities. I get to do that. All it takes is a key, a light switch and a cup of coffee.
I received an email Thursday evening from the league. The final standings placed us as the #3 seed. Playoffs! But now I only had one day to get the information out to my kids and their families. What a logistical nightmare (courtesy of Sandy).
The game was to be played on Saturday at noon, against our league rival. It would be my 3rd time facing this team in the post season. They have an outstanding coach. She does a great job preparing her athletes.
I decided to have a one hour practice before the game. That means I had to wake up early on Saturday, a cardinal sin in the world of teaching. To add injury to insult, the trains were making all local stops from Harlem to Brooklyn (courtesy of Sandy) .
At 42nd street, a shabby, homeless looking woman boarded the train. She reeked of alcohol and she looked as if she had not bathed in weeks. Her hair was matted and tangled. Her skin was wrinkled and had a dark dusty film over it. She looked as if she emerged from rubble from a fallen building.
It is obvious that she boarded the train to silicate donations from riders. I could not make out what she was saying or what her “message” was, as I was listening to Spotify on my iphone 4s, but judging by the facial expressions of the passengers on the train, it must have been inappropriate for, lack of a better word. No one looked like they were willing nor wanted to assist.
She stood about 10 feet or so away from where I was standing with her back to me. Once she was done with her soliloquy, she began yelling something at the passengers and then the unthinkable happened. Out of frustration, she spat on two women passengers who were sitting in front of her. Then she began to walk about the train. The passengers parted like the Red Sea, making room for the deranged women. DAMN! I thought to myself, punch me, push me, kick me, but please don’t spit on me. I would have gone medieval.
The two middle-aged women held each other and began to cry. The train was packed and everyone saw what happened, but no one said anything. People pretended as if nothing happened. You could see the discomfort on everyone’s faces, but no words.
I became angry. My mind said to go over to her in physically remove her from the train myself. But I had to be rational.
At the next stop, many passengers got off. I’m not sure If it was their stop or if they were trying to escape the madness. I immediately sought out the conductor a few cars over. I got his attention and told him what happened. He held the train and I and went looking for her.
I stepped on to the train and yelled out to the other passengers, “WHERE DID SHE GO?!” No one responded. They began to look at me as if I was the crazy one. By now she had left the train. As the train stood at the platform, I continued to search for this crazy woman and then I looked across the platform and there she was soliciting change from other riders.
I told the conductor that she off of the train. I identified her and he got on the dispatch system. He waited for me to board and the next thing I heard was, “please stand clear o the closing doors.”
What made me even more upset than the women’s actions, is the total lack of action taken by those in the train who witnessed the entire ordeal. No one from the MTA came over to check up on the two victims.
And to think, next year fare is going to increase. I kept saying to myself, “I wish a —– would!”– `a la Cedric the Entertainer.
Just to think, after all that, I went on to coach a hard fought game, but we could not pull it off. The final score was 6-16. Ousted once again. We dropped too many passes and missed too many opportunities. Damn, maybe next season.
Now that I am in my 10th year of teaching and coaching, I am truly beginning to see the impact that I have had on the lives of my students. There is no greater feeling in the world, than to see your students go on to be successful adults. One of my former athletes sent this email to me a few weeks ago. The timing could not have been better. It was after a long and challenging work at week.
Everyday I feel like giving up, throwing it all way. At times I can’t find my inner strength to keep moving forward. To keep running to keep studying. Giving up is so easy to do, but than I realize nothing in life is easy. Coach I just want to say thank you, thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I remember when I first joined your team, when I first started running you taught me more than form running, more than breathing exercise or drills, you taught me about life, every time I now want to give up stop running or even stop going to school I think of you , you effected my life more than you will ever know, you were like the father that I never had. I really just wanted to take the time out and say thank you. I know you probably are very disappointed in me and the thought of that urks me because I know I could of been way further out then where I am at now and for that Im sorry I know you saw more in me, it was always there I just never saw it. Well now I’m running again and it’s not easy at all but one thing I won’t do is give up. THANK YOU DADDY !
If it was not for sports, I am not sure where I would be today. We had very few options where I am from. My grades were not good enough to earn a scholarship to college, but I was athletic enough to earn a shot at college football and that was my path to higher education.
As a teacher, I understand that many of my students need sports and extracurricular, just as much as they need math and English. They need coaches, just as much as they need teachers.
Athletics can test your character and leadership the way no state test or final exam ever could. It is through teamwork that young people truly learn life’s lessons.
I am fortunate to have a coach who believed in me, when I did not believe in myself, a coach who never gave up on me. When I think about all of those who did not “make it,” maybe they just needed someone to push them. Maybe they just needed a coach.
In the communities that I serve, it may sound cliche’ but I am a role model, a mentor and big brother. In some cases a father figure, to those who don’t have fathers at home. It is a very important role and one can never take it lightly. Just look at the impact that I made and I did not even realize it.