The estimated reading time for this post is 5 minutes
First, I’d like to apologize for breaking format. I know that this is usually the place to highlight progress. As a department, we are dedicated to innovation and what it looks like for the classrooms of the future that we hope to help build. We look for ways to use the tools we have to guide learning and create meaningful lessons that will influence our students for a lifetime. In that regard, the future is what it usually is: bright, hopeful, yet just beyond our grasp. Occasionally though, there is reason to look back. If you are reading this, the rest of the team agrees or has at least decided to indulge me with a moment, and for that I would like to thank them.
Over the weekend I got news of the passing of long-time SAUSD teacher and coach Dave Meade. This is not meant to be a rehash of his personal life and circumstances he faced towards the end, but a recollection of what I, and what I feel many others who played or wrestled for him will share. It is difficult to think of someone who has passed away without injecting yourself into the narrative. We are not the omniscient narrator, all knowing and all seeing, we can only relate our experience with the deceased and hope that in the process we can communicate something insightful about what we saw in their nature. With that in mind, I will try to memorialize the man I knew.
In the summer of 1992 I was a skinny, shaggy-haired 14 year old starting at a new school in a new district in an unfamiliar city. In the August heat I, with 30 other boys, met on Century’s newly hewn, rock filled field for our first practices of the freshman football season. The new high school, with its monolithic concrete facade, was pretty intimidating to those that were unfamiliar with the layout and new to the sheer size of a high school. The first day we were issued our team practice gear of matching Century Football t-shirts and shorts, laced up our cleats and took the field for the two-a-day practices of “Hell Week.” Looking back, our coaches, led by Coach Meade had a daunting task.
How do you take 30+ kids from all over the city and forge a common identity?
Those that have played a team sport understand the importance of unity and shared purpose. It is difficult enough to build it with seniors who have known each other for years, how does it work with a bunch of scared kids trying to be tough? You work them until they share the same pain, face the same internal voices telling them to quit, and until they’re looking at the same coaches pushing them on.
For us, that was Coach Meade. He was the short, (barely taller than many of the incoming freshman on our team) stout head that pushed and encouraged us. He was the outgoing, driving personality that led the torture sessions of bear crawls, wheelbarrows and endless sprints and team jogs around the field. The funny thing was, we loved him and our other coaches, Jeff Malstead and Rick Hayes, for it. We played hard, we had success, and we came together as a team. He was the ringleader with the outsized presence who was quick to lift you up with a pat on the back or a hand up out of the dirt. He led the prayers before each game asking God to protect us and our opponents, to make us swift, and to make us strong. After each game, he would lead the team cheer that served to announce our shared identity. As freshmen, little was expected of us other than to work hard, improve and to learn from our mistakes. Maybe that was the key to the experience. Removed from the high-pressure environment of the lights and the do-or-die competitiveness of the varsity experience, boys were able to become men and to develop as players. We had a chance to play, and they had a chance to coach simply for the love of the game.
The news of Coach Meade’s passing rekindled the memories of that freshman year. The bus rides, the blocking drills, the piggy-back carrying of boys that would remain friends almost 25 years later. It also caused reflection on the importance of a coach and the unique role they have for the young men and women that play sports. Coaches are by turns mentor, taskmaster, therapist and teacher. Looking through Facebook and seeing the boys from that team as men now, many coaching their sons’ and daughters’ teams, feeding that love of competition and camaraderie only sports provides, I see that mentality passed forward. As I thought harder and reflected on my role as a father, and as a coach at my school, I see the contributions of each of the men that guided us that summer and fall so long ago. The competitive fire and demand for effort and excellence of Coach Malstead, the relaxed affability and technical knowledge of Coach Hayes, and the joy and compassion of Coach Meade. I’m forced to ask myself if I have done all I can to develop the boys I have been entrusted with. Have I provided an example of what it means to grow up and to be a part of something larger that yourself?
Unfortunately the importance of the role of coach can often be overlooked. The era of high stakes testing, while thankfully beginning to fade, placed a premium on creating test-takers and threatened to remove humanity from the teaching profession. We, as educators, are all coaches. In every aspect we push young minds to give us more than they thought they could, to dig deeper and to grasp and to strive for the next level, and above all to never become complacent. We teach the importance of dedication, hard-work, and grit. We teach that failure is a lesson, that what truly defines you is how you react to it. We teach to fight through when you’re tired and that the rewards will not come immediately, but in the future, beyond what we can see now.
I have had the privilege to work alongside a number of my former high school coaches and teachers. For many it was easy to slip into a feeling of peerage and equality, but for others, I still will not call them by their first name. Nor will I address them by Mister. For me, and a number of others, these men will forever retain the honorific of “Coach.”
We are SAUSD.
McFadden Football Coaches (Left to Right) Andrew Smith, Tom Morris (Century ‘96), Jaime Chavez (Century ‘99)