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They Still Call Me Coach

My older brother was an All-City and All-State athlete in three sports, football, baseball and track. I admired him growing up and told him one day I would be better than he. He laughed and said never; quoting Muhammed Ali, "I am the greatest of all time." At age 11, I wanted to play baseball, but there were no teams in my neighborhood. I organized some kids and one of the high school players offered to coach us, but we never had any real competition.

My brother played on a little league team called the Bobcats that won the city parks and rec league in the early 60s. His coach was Hiram Ellerbe. Mr. Ellerbe lived in our neighborhood and I asked him to coach our team, the Jaguars. He agreed and we played in our local parks and rec league. We did not win many games, but we had fun. The next season I asked Coach Ellerbe when we would start practice. He said he was getting to old to coach, but told me I should coach because I understood the game and how to lead. So at age 13 I became a player manager.

The next year I decided to focus on high school football and gave up baseball. This would soon change. At age 17, a young man in my neighborhood named Lamont asked me to teach him how to play baseball. I agreed and we would go to the nearby elementary school playground where I taught him the fundamentals. Soon other kids from the neighborhood would bring their bats and gloves and I would work with all of them teaching baseball. Later they asked me if I would coach their team. They had been taken advantage of by a man who took their money, but never got them in a league. I agreed and founded the A's baseball organization.

I got the parents involved and we raised money for uniforms and equipment. My younger brother and brother-in-law helped me coach. We played our first season in the local parks and rec league finishing 7-4 and losing in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, we went undefeated, but again lost in the playoffs because the umpires did not want to see a black team win the championship. I continued to coach the A's for the next few years until I went to college.

One year we played in two leagues, the Police Athletic League and the city parks and rec league. We won the city championship and were a contender for the Police Athletic League.

As a coach I stressed teamwork, sportsmanship and respect. In one game we played the number one team in our division, the Yankees, and were winning with two innings to go. My players were mouthing off about errors made on the field and I told them that if they did not stop complaining, I would go to the umpire and call the game. The next inning they were still complaining. We would have won the game, but as I said, I went to the umpire and forfeited the game. The boys were upset, but I had to teach them that winning is not everything.

On the way home from the game, they apologized, still mad, but they understood. It was a tough lesson for them. The next season when we began spring practice, one of the returning players asked me not to do that again. We played in two leagues again that year, winning the parks and rec league undefeated and missed the playoffs in the police athletic league by one game. I took a break from coaching baseball to finish college and begin my life. As my son became old enough to play, I picked up my whistle again to teach him the game and coach his team - the Braves. Once again I got dads involved in coaching, but together a staff of men who had integrity, loved the Lord and could teach the game. The Braves won two championships on the same field where my older brother had won with the Bobcats. I retired from coaching to focus on building Big City Football.

Many of my former players went on to excel at the collegiate level. A few turned pro and played in the minor leagues. Some became coaches. Some, like Lamont, are in ministry. My wife and I ran into one of my former players two years ago while visiting his ministry. He told her that he became a man because of me and I saved his life. I was the best coach he ever had. Many of my players are now family men. They know my name, but still choose to call me coach. My barbers call me coach and other people in the sports arena and community refer to me as coach.

Billy Graham once said that one of the most important people in the life of youth is their coach. I have found that to be true. I am thankful for Mr. Ellerbe who saw my potential and encouraged me to be a leader on and off the field. Thanks coach.

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