Every kid needs a ‘Frog’
By Martin Hackworth
Last week was my son JR’s last football game of the season. I’ve coached JR’s flag team the past few years and we’ve developed a tradition of going out for a team dinner at The Sand Trap after the season’s last game. This summer’s celebration was our last because next year JR starts playing in a different league. No more dad as coach — a relief to him, I’m quite sure. So after seven weeks of calling plays, hollering instructions, cheering, cajoling and doing everything else that you must to motivate a bunch of 9-year-olds to run up and down the field in some semblance of order, I just sat there and watched them be kids, playing with their food, telling jokes and generally having a great big good old time.
When dinner was over parents began to filter to our table to pick up their kids. That’s the only part of our celebration that I do not look forward to. After months of pulling for these kids it’s a little tough to say goodbye — especially when the gig is up for good. I could personally care less whether our team wins or loses as long as those kids are learning, having fun and gaining some confidence — something that doesn’t happen, by the way, when you spend your entire season sitting on the sideline. So we played everybody, in all positions. Even though that meant giving some plays to the other team our kids all got better at everything throughout the course of the year. I’m very proud of them all.
One of the parents waited until all of the others had left with their kids to stay and talk for a bit. She was really happy with how much fun her son had. He was a big kid, a little down on athletic ability in the beginning, but undoubtedly the kid who showed the most improvement throughout the course of the season. She was a little emotional when she said, “This was the first time we ever did anything like this with him. With everything you hear in the news these days I wasn’t sure how this might work out.”
Jerry Sandusky you miserable wretch, if they do every let you out of jail you just might have a problem that you can’t handle with me and every other person who volunteers to work with kids. Kids need things like sports and music and camping to build confidence and independence and to learn to deal with the world outside of home. But they need things like this run by adults who are not jerks, weirdoes or pedophiles. I believe that the vast majority of adults who volunteer to work with kids as coaches, counselors and the like are really decent people who unselfishly give up a lot of their time to try to make the world a better place, one kid at a time. But people like Jerry Sandusky, a sizeable chunk of clergy and Eastern Idaho’s very own Brad Stowell, of scouting infamy, make parents’ lives more difficult when it comes to the issue of whom to trust.
As a kid I was tall, skinny, painfully shy and a terrible athlete. I didn’t even have the redeeming feature of being particularly smart in school. The first time I ever even attempted to dribble a basketball was seventh grade when I met a coach, a student from the nearby college, we called “Frog.” Frog told me that since I was tall, if I could just learn to dribble and shoot I could play basketball. He worked with me every day after practice to teach me basic skills. He also made sure that I played, a lot, in every game. Finally in the last game of the season I hit a free throw, Wilt Chamberlain style, and scored my first ever point. That was the day I discovered, for the first time, the link between effort and reward.
I am looking, right now, at a team photo taken after that game. A photo which I have kept with great care since I first placed it in a dime store frame 44 years ago. When I consider all of my good fortune—a wonderful son, a beautiful wife, the best friends a person could have, our home and success in a variety of endeavors—I can see a thread back to one adult who cared about the worst athlete on his team for no reason other than being a good soul. And although there are a lot more “Frogs” out there than there are Jerry Sanduskys, it is the former, unfortunately, who bear the burden of the latter.
So Frog, I don’t know where you are, but I’m doing my best to pass on what you taught me. Cheers, brother.
Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth, of Pocatello, is a senior lecturer in physics at Idaho State University and the publisher of motorcyclejazz.com.