Saturday, August 20, 2011

Football Fridays and Living a Dream

As I sat early this morning having coffee, there was a certain feel in the air. It was the Saturday morning after a Football Friday Night feel, even if I hadn't known what day it was, I could have figured it out just by that feeling.  When I was coaching at Valley Head, we had some great kids. A bunch of kids that weren't  use to winning and for the most part, that school had become the laughing stock of Dekalb Co. How I ended up at Valley Head High School was something sort of crazy itself. I was still at Ider, I had been coaching the JV and announcing Varsity games. The head coach of the Ider JV program left and went to Valley Head as the Defensive Coordinator, I stayed at Ider because I was sort of indebted to the Senior class that year. It was the middle of the season and my wife at the time and I were visiting her brother who lived right next to the Valley Head school and I said to her "You know, I'd really like to come down here and coach"...she laughed.."why?" was all she could say after she stopped laughing, and I told her "the atmosphere just feels different around here nowadays, call me crazy, but I believe they can win here." Now little did I know, my name had already been circulated around there as a guy they wanted to bring on board and sure enough 2 days later as My wife and I were talking, the phone rings and it is Rob Hannah, the guy that was the JV coach at Ider...he simply said "Bill, we want you to come to Valley Head and coach the Defensive line" it was the middle of the season and boy, was I caught off guard. It didn't take me long to accept the position after interviewing with the Head Coach Charles Hammon, I could tell this guy was a winner. I fulfilled my duties as P.A guy for the Ider Hornets, like I said, I was indebted to that senior class which included my nephew, and the day after football season ended in 2002, I went to work at Valley Head. As I got to know the kids there, it was obvious I was going to connect with a lot of them. Some didn't have parents, and some didn't have parents worth shooting. We had kids that came from broken homes and never had a positive role model in their life, for me, it felt like home, I knew I could not only help these players win, but I could help these boys become men in the process. We spent the off season hitting the weights hard, Coach Hammon's weight program is proven (those kids that help lead Dade Co. to such a great year last year, had all came up on his weight program) we won every weight meet we went to that off season and it showed up on the field the next year. Working for Coach Hammon  was simply great, he never interfered with what you were doing with your guys, he would always say to all of us coaches "you're the head coach for the position you're coaching." I really was able to grow as a coach in this enviroment, I had 15 players on the D-line so those were my guys...sometimes during a real good intense day, we would shout up to the other end of the practice field at the running backs and be like "hey, why don't you pretty boys come down here and practice with the real men"...I'm telling you, those kids knew I had their backs and  they had mine. Our goal for that season, was to have a non-losing season...they had 13 losing seasons in a row. When the season started I could tell we were gonna be a pretty good football team, we were still 1 year away and still playing way too many 10th graders, but I thought we could be competitive with most everyone on our schedule, and I was right. Those Fridays were the best days of the year for me. All the students would be a little jacked up, the teachers were in a better mood and our players, walked with a sense of pride as they walked the halls in their jerseys (Purple for home games, white for the road) After our pre-game meal, we would bring the guys back in and put them in the field house for lights out, it was a quite time where all the players could relax and do what we liked to call "get their mind right." As for the coaches, Coach Hannah and I would be in our office going over some last minute stuff and talking about how we thought the night would go, during home games, he and I would go sit on the balcony outside of Coach Hammon's office that overlooked the field, and just take everything in. I could always tell when it was getting close...Coach Hammon would summon the trainer with the instructions "Lets get' em taped"...and as the players were being taped up, we would have one final staff meeting to go over any last minute details and I'd go throw up ( a ritual that has been with me for some reason ever since I can remember when it came to football) then it was time to address the team. All the other coaches would take the kids out for specialty warm ups and I would bring the rest of the team out. Now, the speeches I gave are legendary and we would always take the field the same way...I'd get the boys all worked up, and then I'd give the command that they all waited to hear  "Ok its time...Lets strap em on" they knew it was time to put the head gear on and get ready to go do battle, then those words I spoke every Friday night.. "Men, lets get loud and lets be rowdy, because By-God, were about to play the greatest game known to man"...I would kick the door open and they would tear out of that dressing room like their asses were on fire, I always knew when we had the other team, because they would stop whatever they were doing and watch us take the field. Now it is not an overstatement at all when I say, I would get drunk off the electricity in the the season wore on, folks realized these kids were doing something special, so the victory lines got longer...the band played louder and the stands had no empty seats, there was always a moment before every game, as we were waiting for the kids to come through that run through sign the cheerleaders were holding up, that I'd just look around and take it all in and thank the good Lord, I had this opportunity. As the game wore on, we would make adjustments, sometimes strategies would change on the fly, it truly is a human chess match when you are coaching football. After the game, it was time to go to work. When the field house cleared, we would all begin our duties as coaches.. It wasn't all  glamor...each coach had assigned jobs, after we finished, each coach would get their game tapes and after one last walk through to make sure nothing had been over looked, it was off to the Waffle King in Ft. Payne (as was a tradition for the coaching staff after home games.) I'd usually get home between 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning, and since we all had to be back at the field house at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, I would usually work in my office at home, grading tapes, going over what worked and what didn't, etc..until time to go back to the field house..I'd grab a dozen donuts...some coffee and try to get there before the other coaches to enjoy coffee and a donut on that the year went on, the colors on the side of the Mtn. were amazing, and it was just across the road from our stadium, so the view from that deck was unbelievable. And that feeling would be lingering in the air, and I would reflect on how I got there and how many people I owed a big thank you to helping me get there. People like Tim Cagle, who gave me my first chance at coaching, he and I took over a bunch of  7th graders that had never won anything, and took them to the championship game(despite the fact that we lost our QB and best player, Chas Galloway before the season even started, if we would have had him, no-one would have played within 3 TD's of us that year)...Tommy Wells, he has been like a mentor to me, while I was at Ider, I learned so much from the man, truly one of the greatest men I have ever known...Rob Hannah, he saw something in me and recognized the fact that  I could be of some use...and last but certainly not least Charles Hammon...I can't say enough good things about this guy, he is the hardest working coach I have ever been around, 16 hour days are the norm for this man...I wasn't much as a player, but I played with some damn good ones, people like Bobby and Tommy Moore, Wayne Kesler, Jamie Duarte (James Camba) Ronnie Goff (still holds a record at Dade Co. for 2 punt returns in one game, one of the fastest white guys I ever met) this is just a few, but I learned a lot from these guys and of course Coach James Paul, he made me an offer once in world history, he said "Billy, you can do the history and get what grade you earn, or we can talk football and I'll just give you a B for the year...(I got a B in World History that I was truly living a dream, I had the pleasure of coaching some great kids at both Ider and Valley Head. At Valley Head we had the state back of the year, he eventually went on to be the all time leading rusher in Dekalb Co. and still holds the record. We sent some kids to college, others we helped send them down a better path than what they would have chosen on their own. We made the playoffs with these guys, losing to the eventual state champions that year (they had a kid that went on to start @ RB for Kentucky, and another went to Southern Miss and started @ Linebacker) but that season set the tone for the next two years. I got the news 1 month before spring that I was getting a promotion of sorts, I was going to be co-offensive coordinator the following year. So I spent the next few weeks developing an offense alongside our Running Backs coach, designing plays, tagging them (the term coaches use to name the plays) and trying to figure out our personnel. I hit a tree a few days before the start of spring football and the rest is history...Since then, Coach Hannah is back at Ider as Def. Coordinator, Coach Hammon is at Ft. Payne along with Coach Rayford Bethune, who is now the Offensive coordinator, running the system he and I developed....and Tommy Wells, he is still mentoring coaches, he's the guy coaches call when they need coaching...Yep, that was truly a dream period in my life...  Now, Football Fridays are bittersweet for me. You can usually find me posted at the gate were the players and coaches take the field at all Ider home games...all the coaches stop by with a pat on the back, a handshake, or a hug...the players have come to recognize me, the people of  Ider that have known me will usually stop and give me the old "Hey Bill, how are ya?"...well, if you're  asking me on A Friday night, and I'm at a Football game, the answer will always be "I'm doing great"...I may never get the chance to be back on the sidelines, but the feeling is still the same...Football Fridays always make me better and to paraphrase myself " By-God, I got to be part of the greatest game known to man"....If you are a football fan, I hope all of your Football Fridays are great ones, but heed this advice, enjoy them, take them in, and be thankful, because it can all be gone...that quick...Til next time...Peace...Love..and Happiness

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Wisest Woman In The World..."Mamaw"

I have heard it said many times that its great to be a parent...but it pales in comparison to being a Grandparent.
I woke up this morning and had my grandmother on my mind. "Mamaw" as she was so affectionately known, was truly one of a kind. Never have I known a stronger woman than her, she was a warrior, a survivor, and just plain ol tough. She grew up in a time where you grew most of your own food, had chickens in the yard for eggs, and you canned in the summer, so you could survive in the Winter. Life never gave her the luxuries she deserved, but she never complained about that. She had 12 children, 5 sons and 7 daughters, two of her sons died before the age of  5. My Papaw Black died when I was 9 months old in 1974...she stayed true even after his death, never remarrying. On the outside she seemed a simple woman, she had 4 loves in her life outside of her family...Music...Fishing..Crossword Puzzles and Rummy...( I never saw her lose at rummy, although I heard a rumor of her losing to one of her girls once, needless to say, that didnt turn out I never truly appreciated her until I was 19. I got my own place, and boy let me tell you, I was ready to do some big time partying, there was but one small drawback, I lived right next door to her and when I say right next door, I mean like 15 feet separated my place from hers. Now, its no secret to those that know me...I Love the ladies and being a 19 yr old and having my own place, well it just seemed like the perfect recipe for fun and it was to some extent, but although mamaw was only 5'2 at best..she was more than intimidating. So out of respect (and mostly fear) I always tried to be covert with my actions, but I swear that woman had a built in radar and she knew when I was up to "no good". She would never come right out and tell me  not to do something, but she had her way of  letting me know I was about to screw up, usually it would come in the form of  "Billy, are you sure that's what you want to do?"....which was mamaw code for don't do that!
My favorite times with her were the days I would get home from work and she would be on her porch and would greet me with "Supper is ready if your hungry"...Now the food, my God I could talk for days about her cooking , but it was the conversation that always ensued that I cherished the most. She would always ask me about work or what was going on with me and would sit there and listen to whatever I wanted to talk about. We talked about life, and she would tell me stories of things that happened to her over the years, it was then and only then did I ever see her "let her guard down". Anytime she spoke of her days growing up, or would speak about her parents, you could almost see the people in the stories through her eyes, it was as if they were a portal to another time. There were tales of  hardships, loss, love and laughter...and with every story, came a lesson. Mamaw Black was big on family, I personally saw evidence of this at the age of  9. My oldest sister was having a slight disagreement with another woman and I guess it had been brewing for some time. I remember mamaw and my mom were playing cards when we heard a terrible commotion, and the next thing I hear is mamaw telling my mother "Shirley, Rita is out here about to fight" so grabbing her purse(which could have been  registered as a weapon, considering that thing must have weighed 15 plus  The 3 of us go running outside and sure enough all Hell broke lose (My sister whipped that chicks ass something fierce, had her down in a pile of glass and was straight working her and all the time my little sweet grandmother was yelling "whip her ass Rita")...Out of nowhere cars started showing up, and it was the family of the woman my sister was fighting, and I thought uh oh...its about to get bad....but just as I thought that, here came the calvary... my aunts showed up  ready to roll, and a good old Mexican standoff broke out... my aunt Kathleen had a SLINGBLADE for goodness sakes, the large woman, who's daughter had just gotten her ass kicked, stood directly across from her with a nightstick and posed the question to my aunt "what are you gonna do with that slingblade?"..without hesitation my aunt replied "Cut your fat head off if you hit me with that nightstick"...My cousin Ron and I stood there as kids with sticks and lead pipes in hand ready to do was about to be an all out redneck family feud...luckily cooler heads prevailed, but the way my family came together, was strictly the influence of my grandmother, who was always insistent on the fact that family is all you have and MUST stick together.
I know everyone's grandmother is special to them in some way, but mine, well I don't think even she knew how  special she was to me. On a daily basis, being around her was comparable to  being in college.. I received  living history lessons in the stories of her life and stories about my ancestors, she served as adviser, counselor, therapist, and a true professor of life. We lost mamaw to cancer the month before my 21st birthday...I'll never forget my last time with her...all I could do was hold her hand, put my head down and cry...I'll never forget this woman and what she meant to me. She passed on some of her traits to a few of my female cousins... My cousin Wendy has a lot of her insight and wisdom, my cousin Melissa has her stubborn streak and will speak her mind at the drop of a hat...and my cousin Vanessa...well I think she is mamaw was the glue that held our family together, and sadly as a family, we have not done a very good job of honoring her last wish, which was pretty simple...keep the family together...As a kid we used have get togethers, music...act crazy and everyone would try to upstage someone else with a funny bit, or come into the room dressed in funny attire, or whatever the situation called for...never for malicious reasons, but simply in good family fun...I miss those times and God do I miss that woman...her name was Vadie Black...a little old Irish fireplug...who never backed down and never matter how much of a reason she had, and she had plenty...she was gentle, firm, and caring..but most of all....she was the wisest woman in the world, at least in my world anyways ...Til next time...Peace...Love...Happiness

Monday, August 1, 2011

Daddy, am I dead?

I was going through some boxes and stumbled across a notebook that I kept during my time in the nursing home. I was documenting my time there and writing down things that I remembered from the day of my wreck. This is something I found, it is about an experience I had the day of my accident.
  I thought I was on a roller coaster, which was odd, because I hate roller coasters. I dont ride them, you take the fact I have never trusted those wheels to stay on that track, coupled with my terrible fear of heights and well needless to say, it made me more of a scrambler or tea cup kind of guy. So I must be dreaming, I made myself wake up only to realize I was in a bad situation. The tree was no more than 30 feet  away and  I was closing fast. As I braced myself for impact, my life flashed before my eyes, now I have heard others say this but I experienced it. I tried to steer the car to the left and managed do so slightly, but at 72 m.p.h. (I know that to be the speed, because I glanced down at the digital speedometer) there wasnt much I could do. I remember thinking "man this is gonna hurt", the impact I made with the steering wheel knocked me out, but I was slammed back into my seat and it brought me right back to. As I sat there in that seat, I looked up through the T-tops and saw my drivers side wheel and tire with about 3 feet of my front axle just hanging in mid air probally 25 feet above the car, thinking to myself, "if that comes down, I'm done for". Fortunately for me it just took off, it was found some 300 plus feet away from the scene of the accident. I knew my leg was broken because the 2 pieces of bones that came through my skin, were sitting in the passenger seat like they were just along for the ride. I smelled smoke and tried to get out of  the car by pulling myself up through the t-tops, it was a no go because the steering wheel was in my stomach and the gear shifter was in my side, and the motor mounts had came through the firewall and my leg was pinned. An off duty Fort Payne fireman had been following me for about 3 miles and was on the scene instantly. he walked up to the car and in a panic "hey buddy, you ok?" he asked, I told him my leg was broke, he told me "just hold still, maybe its not" so I picked up the bones from the passenger seat and showed him, he turned ghostly white and said "yeah, maybe it is". It wasnt long before fire and rescue showed up and immediately recognized that this was gonna call for the jaws of life. I was in shock but didnt realize it at the time. I was being all cool and cracking jokes, in essence, I was trying to keep everyone calm because it was total chaos to say the least. As I sat there with the "jaws" inches away from me, I began to fade in and out. At one point, I went totally deaf and experienced the most peaceful feeling I have ever felt. A cloud came down from the sky and was literally in my face. I do believe I was dying at this point, I had a conversation with someone or something, and I remember telling them I didnt want to go because I needed to say goodbye to my family and friends, plus I had to make sure my wife was ok. The cloud lifted all of a sudden and I could hear all the comotion going on around me again, the firemean looked relieved and gave me the old "whew, I thought I lost you". It took about 30 to 40 minutes to free me and get me on an ambulance. I asked to go to Erlanger but was denied, appearantly the Cedar Bluff rescue squad never even thought to call for Lifeforce. So I was gonna be taken to Ft. Payne.(The 2 days I spent in Ft. Payne hospital is the reason I am in a wheelchair.) The ride to the hospital was crowded, 2 medics rode with me and worked on me until we got to the hospital. I was still fading in and out and to be honest, starting to get a little concerned. As they rolled me into the ER, I saw the most familiar face helping push the gurney, it was my dad. My dad had passed away 4 years earlier in the year 2000, so I was more than confused and thought if I was seeing him that only meant one thing and it prompted me to ask "Daddy, am I dead?" he looked ever so calmly at me and said "Billy, your gonna be ok, you gotta be tough and not go to sleep, try to stay awake."  I asked him  again if I was dead, he replied  "no, but dont go to sleep."  I know I was awake, because they were asking me questions and I was answering them, but I was the only one that could see my dad. I had to lay in wait for nearly 5 hours before they took me into an O.R. my guess is they were gonna let me lay there and die, but with all the Hell my family and friends raised, they wisely reconsidered. (I still credit Scott Williams, because he pretty much told the Dr. that he was about to whip his ass if they didnt do something) I would see my dad on several more occasions during this time. Every time I had a surgery, The old man was right there beside the gurney. After my last surgery, they were having trouble getting my Blood Pressure back up, I was losing a crazy amount of blood and it didnt look too promising, once again I found myself somewhere between this world and another, but whenever I would feel like I was slipping away, my dad would appear and I would ask him the same thing "Daddy, am I dead?" and everytime he would answer "You're gonna be ok". I made it through those tumultuous times and I feel like my dad sort of watched over me. As I have often thought back about those days, something keeps coming to mind. My dad wasnt a good dad at all when he was alive, not to me anyways. He and I didnt see eye to eye on much of anything, he had a love for the bottle more than he did me (Hell he even told me once he loved 2 of his nephews more than me) and just wasnt around much. I had hard feelings toward him because a few years after my mom died, he married a bitch of a no good piece of shit woman( and thats being nice) and totally reformed for her so it left the 2 of us at odds more times than not. I always felt like he wished I hadnt been born, but maybe it was the fact that we were just from two different era's. At times, we actually had good conversation and did some things together, but those were few and far in between. I did the best I could at being a son to him. When he was in the hospital, I onced stayed with him and didnt sleep for 60 hours because he was constantly needing something. The night he died, I was the one that got called first and was tasked with having to call my sisters, I also cleaned up the mess (he had a cancer tumor on his aorta, and when it ruptured, he bled out, it was a terrible mess, but I didnt want my sisters or brother to see that) I felt his presence in his bedroom that same night as I cleaned, I knew he was there ( I would later feel this same presence often when I was in the hospital.) I didnt like my dad very much, and I dont know if he liked me, but there was a love between us. He was a hard man who held his emotions in check and didnt convey his feelings, but deep down, I knew he loved me. My dad and I had a long talk 2 days before he died, he apologized for the way he treated my mom and for not being there for me as a kid. I'll never forget the words he spoke that night he said "Billy, when I get finished with all this mess ( he was taking chemo & radiation) we'll start doing more stuff." I never got the chance to do more stuff with my dad, but since the day of my accident, I have seen the old man quite a few times, its almost like he is making up for lost time and watching over me now. I wished that things would have been better and different, but just knowing that he is with me now, somehow makes it ok. Life made me wise... My Daddy made me tough.. and now whenever he pops in to check on me, ( he comes to me in dreams these days) we have a running joke I say "Daddy, am I dead" and he just grins that grin he had and says " No Billy, your gonna be ok" and he's right...after all this time, I know for a fact that I'm gonna be ok...Til next time...Peace...Love...and Happiness.