A Winning Spirit
Farther back than I’m comfortable admitting I went to high school. Not the single classroom affairs that ended in 8th grade and had to be reached by horse and buggy either. It was a decent high school in a decent town. We had a few things to be proud of, and one of them included our basketball teams. We had some decent talent on the teams and I regret I never tried to join them. I think I could have made it, but now I’ll never know. Instead I played tennis. Yeah, I know, you don’t have to tell me. I still enjoy tennis, for what it’s worth, but I wasn’t nearly as active as a kid as I should have been.
Anyhow, the basketball team, both boys and girls, did remarkably well for our size and talent. It did so because of the man in charge, Coach Jerry Ernst. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how well he did outside of Charlotte High School, but I seem to recall he’d done some pretty great things before he came there too.
I was never on the team, like I said, but Coach Ernst taught a few classes too. One of them was creative writing. Now I’ve always liked writing and fantasized at a young age of being a writer. I never even took myself seriously though, mostly because I had no idea how to go about it. My junior year in high school things changed. It started with me thinking that maybe the creative writing class would help me out.
It also turned out that my junior year had some other plans for me. I was in a horrible car accident, for example. I was out of commission for a couple of weeks and not really back in fighting shape mentally for a couple more after that. When I did return I was hobbling along on crutches and sporting some impressive new scars in various places. Things changed for me because of that. Physically and mentally. I adopted a new attitude and was determined to drag my grades up to something respectable. It turned out I had a lot of catching up to do.
Coach Ernst gave me the opportunity to do that. He offered me extra credit for turning in stories that I wrote. Most people dreaded the idea but I relished it! I don’t know how many I wrote, to be honest, but I remember one of them he returned with a bright flaming red grade on the top of it: A+.
Rereading the stories these days they are horrible. Mechanically challenged, at best, even the best makes me cringe to read. The higher level concept behind them, however, was (and still is) solid. I have to think that’s what he saw in them. That or he was encouraging me – either way I’ll take it and I’m eternally grateful to him for it.
Prior to Mr. Ernst I had a laughable 3rd place title in some county-wide writing contest and an honorable mention in another one. I had my parents enduring support, but they’re my parents – they were obligated to encourage me. Getting this kind of a grade from someone who I’d never really put much thought into, essentially a stranger, opened up a new world to me. It meant something in a way that even trying to remember back on it brings emotion to the surface.
It took a long time for me to do anything with writing though. I tried over the years and smashed my head against the brick walls of traditional publishing. I finally broke through in 2009 and really learned how to start writing. Every book is better with things learned, whether the teaching is internal or at the barbed whip in my editors hands.
I have to wonder if any of it would have been possible with Coach Ernst showing me a spot of kindness that I will never know if I earned. I was just a punk kid that he took a moment to offer a smile and encouragement to. I’d be amazed if he even remembered me. And now, to my great sadness, I’ve learned that he’s not doing well. His daughter, a friend of mine, has shared on Facebook the things that are going on and calling for thoughts and prayers. Natural order of things or not, it sucks. There’s much stronger language I’d rather use to describe my feelings about it, but I’m struggling to keep this post from being censored.
I’m not encouraging anyone to reach out to someone you’ve never heard of, I’m just sharing a story. Unlike most of the ones I write this one is non-fiction. It’s painfully and sadly true. I’ve shared with him what he meant to me, whether he remembers me or not, and now I’ve shared it with others. There’s no way I can repay the favor to him, but maybe by sharing it I can encourage all of us to show a spot of kindness or encouragement to someone who might deserve it, even if nobody else thinks so.
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