Last year I had the opportunity to watch my high school coach celebrate his 60th birthday, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was the first time that I actually got to see my coach as a regular person and the talented musician that he is – minus the whistle and the coach-speak. But, what was most impressive, if that’s the word, is that there were so many people who traveled to Texas just to celebrate with him. And, it dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t the only person who thought he was such a good guy.
Anyway, during his “thank you” speech, Coach started talking about an athlete. He said, “every once in a while you have an opportunity as a coach to really make a difference, and I can say that I was able to make a difference in this young man’s life.”
Now, if you know Coach Andrews, then you know that he’s touched quite a few lives, and coached quite a few athletes. It’s just the type of person he is, but as he continued to speak, I realized he was talking about me. And, as I looked around, it dawned on me that I was his only former athlete in the room. I was in the same room with his childhood friends, old classmates, former co-workers, family members, and running buddies. He was talking about me.
Coach went on to say that he was happy that this athlete kept in touch with him over the years, and that he was proud to see what this athlete had become – in spite of his short comings as a student, in spite of his failures on and off the track, and in spite of the fact that he grew up in a not-so-good neighborhood. And then he said, “Darvis, come on up here, man.”
Now, I’ve competed in stadiums with thousands of people, but in this room of 100 guests, I got up and struggled to say what I’d been wanting to say for years.
“You're like the father I never had, and I thank you for it.”
And, I lost it. Yep, grown man, Doc Patton…I cried. And, I’ve told people my story before…several times, but I guess what made this time different, is that I was in front of the people Coach called his “family,” and I was part of his family.
And, when I think about where I could’ve been…what I might have become…and, all the friends I’ve lost to the streets, dumb decisions, and pride…I’m so grateful that I’m NOT what most people said I should’ve been. And, Coach Andrews is a huge reason why.
This man picked me out of a crowd and showed me my true talent. He made me learn the value of hard work and discipline. He helped me understand the importance of tenacity and perseverance. When I doubted myself, he believed in me. He helped me with my homework. His wife made me dinner, and I sat at the table with his children. He did everything that I wish my father had, and he is one of the reasons that I’m the athlete I am today.
How do you say thank you for that?
I’ll never be able to. But, what I can do is try to be the mentor and friend that Coach Andrews was for me with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have a Little Brother, and he’s a smart and witty kid – far more intelligent at his age than I ever was. And, our relationship is growing. We hang out. We do homework. We talk. I know his principal. We play video games…it’s casual, and it’s fun. And, I just try to be there as much as possible. Will it make a difference? Maybe. Do I do everything right? Probably not. Am I making a difference? I guess we’ll see. It takes time. And, I’ve got plenty of it. Coach gave his time to me. I’ll give my time to my Little Brother.
I’ll tell you what. If you’re a coach, or if you’re thinking about becoming a coach, please realize and understand the power you have to change your athletes’ circumstances, the power you have to make a difference, and the power you have to be a life-changer. Realize that and DO IT. I’m proof that it is possible.
If you’re not a coach, so what. There are so many kids out there floating around aimlessly, praying for direction. Praying for discipline. Praying for structure, and accountability…and hope for something better. Do what’s right and make a difference in a kid’s life. Become a mentor. A little time, a little attention, and little faith is all it takes. I dare you to be the change that makes the difference.