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My high school coaches taught me many things

Dale Shrull
Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

There’s something very special about running into an old high school coach.

Every time it happens to me, I walk away feeling great.

I was lucky. For football and basketball, I had the same two coaches throughout my high school days.



The impact and impression they left with me is profound.

On those rare occasions when I see Gordon Cooper or Jack Smith, their smiles make my day. In some way I think I’m still searching for their approval. I’m still trying to satisfy them. Knowing or hoping they have a certain level of pride in me is a spectacular feeling.



And they had a lot to do with my success. Coaches are mentors, teachers and people who prepare young people for adulthood.

Besides parents, teachers and coaches can be the men and women most responsible for shaping us and preparing us for the transition to adulthood.

Even in junior high I had coaches whom I’ve never forgotten. In football at Riverside we had a football coach who in all honesty would be in jail for some of the things he did to 7th and 8th graders in the classroom, on the football field and outside the classroom.

He was vicious. But I still must say, I was tougher and in some ways better because of him. Better because I learned from bad coaching, and hideously low morals and ethical standards.

High school coaches and the times on the field and courts still haunt me, torment me, bring me joy, make me smile and laugh, and fill me with pride.

A couple of friends and I will often talk about Coach Cooper’s infamous speech before one season.

With a slight New Jersey accent and the bizarre habit of breaking everything into two or three syllables, he always commanded respect when he spoke.

“You gotta be three things to play football, baby,” Cooper bellowed on the first day or practice. “You gotta be a-gile …” He said counting on his fingers. “You gotta be mo-bile” Then he paused of a moment, “… and most important gentlemen, you gotta be el-ga-bile!”

Then he repeated it ” “You gotta be a-gile, mo-bile and el-ga-bile, that’s what it takes to play football! Understand?”

It’s classic. Why is it classic? Because I remember those overpronounced words 30 years later.

We laugh about it even today. You gotta have some athletic ability but you have to get your butt in the classroom and study too. Simple, direct and profound. That’s how Gordon Cooper and Jack Smith coached at Rifle High School.

They also made it very clear that fun was a big part of high school sports.

I feel bad for many high school athletes today. A steady revolving door of coaches, never having one stay long enough to leave that lasting impression.

Oh yes, times have changed. It’s the catch phrase that should be embroidered on letter jackets today.

Bad and demanding parents have been around since the invention of a ball and a team. When you look at recent coaching situations in this area, it’s difficult to find who all is to blame. That’s why it’s so easy to just chalk it up to “times have changed.”

A coach’s ability should never be measured solely on the ol’ win-loss column.

I remember Cooper and Smith (who was also the assistant football coach) as coaches who taught me many lessons. Those memories I gathered through my high school playing days had little to do with wins. Mainly because we sucked.

A few years removed from a high school title, my class was small and feisty but lacking in talent.

Our junior year we did pretty well, even forged a tie with Glenwood Springs, a team that would win the state championship later that fall.

But my senior year ” my god we were bad. We won one game. And most of the losses were ugly debacles. We got our behinds handed to us every Friday night. Oddly enough, I’m not scarred from those ordeals. Au contraire, I still look back on those games with great fondness. Yes, I’d love to get together with my buddies and talk about the glory of winning but that’s not my legacy.

We get together and talk about our comically bad playing days during our senior year.

Like one story when we played Eagle Valley at home. We were sure win No. 2 would be on the way.

We always hiked the ball on the first sound ” “Hut one.” This was a ploy to get an offside penalty when we really needed it by going on the second sound.

So here we were on the 1-yard line ready to go in for a possible tying TD. Our quarterback, whom I will allow to remain anonymous in this public forum, called for a run, then said the notorious words “ON TWO, ON TWO.”

As a student of football, I knew this was a bad idea as I trotted out to my wide receiver position. We’re already at the 1-yard line so what is the benefit even if they do jump offsides?

I was right. As the QB barked “HUT ONE,” the left side of our offensive line blasted off like a pair of missiles. Minus 5 yards. We ended up not scoring and lost the game 7-0.

I remember that game and that play so vividly even today. Who knows why, but I do.

High school sports are about those kinds of memories. For me, they’re about seeing Gordon Cooper, Jack Smith or other coaches, and seeing them smile.

A firm handshake or a pat on the back means so much to me. I squeeze their hands a little tighter than others. I walk a little taller when I see them. I’ve got a little more pride and I can feel their respect for me.

They know, or I hope they know, that they helped me become the man I am today. They did this by being tough, yelling, even screaming at times, and on an occasion or two getting in my face. They taught me discipline and sportsmanship. They taught me that losing was bad but it was still packed with life lessons.

I’m lucky. I had the same coaches throughout my high school days. I wish every player could say that.

There’s nothing like running into one of my old coaches.

High school sports aren’t about winning and losing. Life is about how you handle adversity and success alike.

Life is about how you play the game. That’s just one of the things I learned from my high school coaches.

I guess in many ways life is about being “a-gile, mo-bile and el-ga-bile.”

Dale Shrull is the managing editor of the Post Independent.


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