Eighty-two-year-old Roger spent his life teaching middle-school science and coaching sports in a rural Alabamian community. And even at this age, Roger reminds you of an Army sergeant. He’s as sharp as a thumbtack, eats plenty of fiber, and still does his own yard work.
“I was as tough on my boys,” he said. “In the classroom, and on the field. Sports are just as important as books, there’s a lot of life-lessons happening on the field.”
Well, if you grew up like a lot of us, you understand what Roger means. I can’t think of a more instructional time than the summers spent in cheap uniforms, trapped in dugouts with other foul-smelling boys. We laughed together, road-tripped, fist-fought, camped, washed cars, sold cookies, told dirty jokes, and cheered for each other until we went hoarse.
If that’s not education, I don’t know what is.
“One year,” Roger went on. “There was a deaf boy in our school, and in those days, folks didn’t send’em away unless they had money. So, me and the other teachers had to figure out how to educate that poor child.”
And they did. It was an uphill climb. But after long hours and hard work, the boy proved a good student. They even managed to teach him how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We let him lead the Pledge once.” Roger laughed. “He didn’t say it the same as everyone else. But, I’ll be damned if he didn’t recite the whole thing.”
“One summer,” Roger said. “I suggested we put him on the baseball team, since he was a hard working young’un.”
But this was backwoods Alabama—with rigid prejudice. Some parents thought it was a bad idea. Roger pushed back. The boy joined the team. And as fate would have it, he played with more heart than a deck of cards.
“Some of the other teams’ pitchers tried to scare him. They threw the ball at him, plunked him a few times, but it didn’t bother him. He’d stare down them pitchers with his two eyes. He was fearless.”
The thought made Roger smile.
“God, when that boy hit his first home run, we all ran onto the field, hollering. We nearly smothered that child. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was that day, just knowing I made a difference in a human life. We didn’t even win the game.”
Well, any good coach will tell you.
Winning isn’t everything.