I have always been intrigued by coaches, their machinations and the way they go about getting their players to elevate their games.
Even as a child, I’d take a losing team in my baseball simulation board games and try to turn it around, a la Billy Martin, or create a powerhouse like Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson did with the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, respectively, in the 1970s.
One time, based on my success “managing” the Minnesota Twins, I actually wrote a letter to Calvin Griffith, who was the owner of the Twins at the time. This was in the mid-1970s and the Twins were having a hard time holding on to their stars during the early years of free agency.
The Twins had talent in those days, like Rod Carew, Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock, but Griffith couldn’t, or wouldn’t, open his checkbook and shell out long dollars to keep them.
Well, knowing the Twins weren’t very good in those days and remembering the success I had as a tabletop manager, I wrote Griffith a letter and offered to be the Twins manager without a salary. All he had to do was provide me with an apartment in Minneapolis and a monthly stipend for groceries, sodas and other important things, like fast food.
Needless to say, I never heard from the Twins and went on to graduate from high school, Class of 1977.
Coaches have always had my utmost respect.
High school coaches are special. They do what they do for the love of the sport and the kids under their direction. They want to win every game their team plays, but they also want to teach the boys and girls under their tutelage to become responsible adults.
As Bud O’Hara — the father of football at East Ridge High School — once said, “My primary job is not to win football games. It’s to teach these boys how to grow up and become fantastic husbands and daddies. Football gives me the opportunity to do that.”
In Lake and Sumter counties, parents of high school-aged student-athletes are blessed to have a number of sideline superstars — coaches who guide our young people and teach them lessons that will help them become successes outside the athletic arena.
Guys like O’Hara, who has coached for more than 40 years, and Inman Sherman — overseer of South Sumter’s football program for the past 30 years and the winningest coach in the history of Lake and Sumter County football — are as much of a superstar as any overpaid prima donna currently on a professional roster. Every day, no matter how bad the weather is outside or what kind of day they’ve had in the classroom or the office, they’re working with student-athletes to help them become better people.
And there are many others around who share the same traits as O’Hara and Sherman. Connie Solomon has coached girls basketball at Tavares for … well … forever. Mark Oates has taken three teams to the state Final Four during his tenure as Leesburg girls basketball coach.
Chad Grabowski has turned Mount Dora into a perennial winner on the football field, and Steven Hayes has produced multiple winning seasons as boys basketball coach at Mount Dora Bible.
Brian Treweek and Walter Banks have teamed up to transform Montverde Academy into beasts on the football field in only two seasons and Lake Minneola has the top-ranked boys basketball team in Class 6A, thanks to the relentless coaching of Freddie Cole.
And some of the younger coaches in all sports who are grabbing the proverbial rope and pointing a new generation of student-athletes toward a successful future. Football coaches like Mike Hay at Eustis, and Sheldon Walker and Dennis Cardoso at First Academy of Leesburg and Mount Dora Bible, respectively.
Of course there are countless other coaches who are just as dedicated to their craft, but these are just a sampling of those who do so much and ask for little in return.
They certainly don’t do it for the money. Public-school coaches in Lake and Sumter counties receive only a small stipend for their efforts.
What they don’t get in money, they earn in personal satisfaction and knowing they helped shape the future.
The future of countless young people and in some ways, the world, can be impacted by the dedication of a single high school coach.
Not many people can make that claim.
Frank Jolley is a columnist for the Daily Commercial. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.