Past (not)Tense

 (This in the present, is a mistake)

What is it about the past that makes it seem so much more fun than the present?  Every generation draws battle lines with such gems as “when I was a kid” or “back in my day”.  I have touched on various topics that take me back to yesteryear and I have very much enjoyed the trips down memory lane.  But were they really better times than now? Or is it because responsibility was less, the amount of bills were smaller and the pressures of life were minor?  Maybe it’s the fact that I can never return to those days so I long for them more and more.  You know, you always want what you can’t have.  For me, like most, the past is memorable and fun, the present is usually a struggle and the future is just plain scary.  But maybe in that one sentence, some of the answers begin to reveal themselves. 

 (Did someone mention just plain scary?)

I read a few articles in preparation for this piece to see if I could understand it more in an effort to avoid rambling.  An interesting take from Dr. Art Markman resonated with me.  Think about the sentence in the first paragraph about the past, present and future.  Let’s start in reverse.  What makes the future scary?  Well, first of all, the future is unknown which inherently leads to feelings of uneasiness.  The unknown creates feelings of fear, anxiety and apprehension.  Even on small levels, let’s say like when you are opening a gift, you may be generally happy in the moment (present) but not knowing what’s in the box makes you impatient and creates a tiny moment of tension (future).  When you reflect on the gift, you already know what it was so there is no anxiety or tension (past).  Think about a larger scale, your life.  Are you going to have a job a year from now?  Are your kids going to be doing well?  Is your marriage going to be solid?  Is your bank account going to be alive?  Those are pretty intense unknowns.  We can all project where we think we’ll be but the truth is we don’t know why tomorrow will bring.  And that is indoubtedly scary. 
 (This was a scary day but a wonderful memory)

Now think about the present.  The here and now is unfolding minute by minute and the pressures of the next few minutes are compounded by whatever emotions we experienced over the last few minutes.  We could be fighting work problems, helping kids with homework, doing yardwork, cooking or writing a blog.  It’s all a balance of what we are finishing and what we are starting.  The present is a blur most of the time.  We also spend a lot of the present thinking about the past or future.  Those can be mixed feelings.  We can fear decisions we made in the past or we can revel in personal moments of glory.  By the same token, we may be fearing what tomorrow will bring or be excited about potential opportunities.  Much of those feelings are dependent on our varying circumstances.  But in general terms, the present is just about survival.  As an employed, married, parent, decisions have to be made, people are to be kept happy and watched after and responsibilities are managed.  Its kill or be killed in the present, if you’ll allow the hyperbole.

Which brings us to the past.  While the future is unknown, the past is obviously known.  There is no anxiety about how things are going to work out.  That’s why we can even laugh at bad moments, because we know the end result.  Think about the time you fell down the steps at the post office (Andrew).  Looking back at it, it’s hilarious.  You didn’t get hurt and your life wasn’t necessarily altered due to that event.  Now, think of it in the present.  If it was happening right now, there would be some pain, some humiliation and some regret.  Not that hilarious.  Even worse, think of it as a future event.  What if I told you that sometime in the next year, you would fall down a reasonably high set of steps.  I’m not telling you when or where, just that it could and probably will happen.  Well, that’s not fun at all.  Further, if you go back to the specific day it happened (which would put you in the present), that could’ve been the day you locked your keys in your car or closed word without saving or got the wrong order at lunch.  When thinking of it in a past tense, those aren’t the things you remember about that day.  It’s the steps.  So the other little parts of the annoying present aren’t a part of the trip down memory lane. 

 (Even me and Chase got along in the past but probably not in that present day)

So, it would be safe to say that we are selective with our memory.  The present is bogging us down and we try not to think too far out into the future so when we go to the past, we hit the high spots.  We remember what we want to remember, if you will.  That cool story about the video store?  I think I was failing health at that time (that’s right Elizabeth).  Me and Alicia broke up once during those days.  I had to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  I smashed my face in a golf cart during that time.  But that’s not the focus of that memory.  It’s the good times at the VS.  How about my baseball card collection story?  One of the Cotonio brothers ripped a Ken Griffey Jr. of mine in the lunchroom.  I traded Todd Hall a nice card for what turned out to be a bunk autograph card.  I never pulled an Elite like Shook.  Not the high points of the story though.  Even when talking about the good ole days at MB, you couldn’t possibly think that it was all good right?  I mentioned failing health.  I didn’t know if I graduated until the night of the event.  I have a couple of very rough patches in high school that don’t make for good reading.  That’s not to say that what is there is not true or an embellishment.  But therein lies the key to the past.  If you talk about the past, it’s all things that you knew the end of the story to and you can skip over the parts that may have seemed important and rough at the time but turned out to be very minor in the grand tapestry of your life.  

I’m sure there are some real scientific studies and reasons behind all of this too but to me, this simple explanation makes a lot of sense.  It’s all about the magnitude of the event, which is compounded in the present, and the unknown of the future that makes both of them less comfortable.  We also learn from the past and beat ourselves up more in the present for repeated mistakes.  If you burned your hand on an iron when you were 12, you may look back and chuckle at the story.  If you burn you hand at 39, you think, “what an idiot!  Those things are hot, what were you thinking?”  Two totally different approaches and responses.  None of this makes the past less important or less memorable or even less nostalgic.  It’s just that the past is not always 100% real.  We gloss over the high spots and focus on the good times.  This may be our souls way of evening out the strain of the present and the fear of the future.  Our hearts and minds know what they’re doing.  The past serves a tremendous purpose in our lives.  We learn, we laugh, we cry, we enjoy, we regret.  But overall, we lived through it and we can use it both to survive the present and to plan for the future.  I love the past and currently have a vacation home located on 1990 Avenue.  I’ll one day live on 2035 Street, God willing, but I’ll never forget the stops along the way.  I’ll just forget the bad parts. 

 (The good ole 90’s)


The Existence of Me

  “Cascading waves of change – events we think to be inconsequential – can effect the future unintentionally.  What if you had the power to effect monumental change?  Would you let fear consume?  Or would you overcome?  We can send a message – a warning – of man’s inept understanding.  We have that message.  Though the story is not inevitable, and a society does evolve, we can change our fate.  We can change our future.  We can change the past.”~The Starset Society

I like to challenge myself mentally.  A lot of people enjoy a political or religious debate.  I have beliefs on both but they are pretty cut and dry and I don’t let others dictate my opinions on those particular subjects.  On the other hand, I have a lot of spiritual and existential thoughts and questions.  I guess I have an interest in “existentialism”, in general.  As I was doing some reading, studying, whatever you want to call it, I came across the following description of an existential attitude ~ “a sense of disorientation or confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world”.  Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard proposed that “each individual – not society or religion – is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely.”  We are individuals and we are what we stand for and what we live for.  Why do we depend on others to tell us how to feel or what to believe?

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is real in this world.  That’s where the absurdity comes in.  Whether we accept it or not, most everything we do is controlled by someone else.  There are laws, rules at work, rules to games we play, costs associated with our freedom and happiness.  To be clear, these things are needed to prevent chaos but that chaos comes from our own kind.  What is it about the human race that necessitates a law to prevent shoplifting, assault, rape or murder?  At times, the law doesn’t even prevent it.  What are we doing?  You don’t have to be religious to understand right and wrong or good and bad.  I don’t question why these things are a part of our lives but I question that which makes them have to be.  

We all have been ingrained with the way things are supposed to be. We are often scared to question it because it can be viewed as dissension or would place a label on us.  I admit that I’m guilty!  The fear is driven by another bane of existence ~ the need to be liked and accepted.  We will constantly change our opinions and feelings to satisfy the people we want to be accepted by.  I’ve reached a point in my life where I have thrown in the towel on that and am much happier.  I like my music, my movies, my clothes, my hobbies like baseball cards, my routines and my opinions.  The people in my life fit into those things.  Not because I changed to like something they like or vice versa but because those things helped us gravitate toward each other.  If that’s not sincere or authentic, I don’t know what is.  I’m not perfect by any means but I know what makes my heart beat now more than I ever have and I immerse myself in it as often as possible.

Take a look around you.  We are in a shitstorm.  Politicians are killing us.  Terrorists are killing us.  Our jobs are killing us.  Money problems are killing us.  We are killing ourselves.  There was a debate on my Facebook page this week about which politician was the lesser of evils.  Does it matter? Really, deep down, does it matter? Do we have any control?  Will we have any more or less under a new regime?  I’m not trying to play the doomsday card.  I’m trying to convey that now, more than ever, is a time for individualism.  I’ve had to accept the world for what it is to fully embrace that notion.  It’s “absurd and meaningless.”  Don’t jump off of a cliff – The entire world isn’t meaningless to me.  But many of the things we’ve made important as a society are meaningless.  

The media, politicians, govt leaders, preachers, the Kardashian’s, Lady Gaga, Kanye, Trump, Cruz, Hillary, Bernie…..all flawed and unworthy of the attention they are given.  Not aiming for a political theme here but let this sink in.  We are in the middle of deciding who the leader of the free world is between (1) a socialist who thinks the harder you work, the more you should pay to those that don’t, (2) a real estate tycoon and tv personality who pitches a fit and calls people names when faced with a tough discussion, (3) a script reading, slogan slinging politician that touts his faith and religion who may or may not have slept with half of Washington and (4) possibly one of the worst human beings I can think of that is married to someone who actually did sleep with half of Washington.  All of them would be a step up from our current situation.  As Alicia often says, “Jesus people!”  Man, I’ve gotten sidetracked.  

Back to my point.  We are responsible for our own happiness.  It’s clear from all of the above that there are major aspects of our world that are beyond repair in our lifetime.  We define ourselves and that should be our focus.  One of the tenets of existentialism is that while we are responsible for our actions, we are also defined by how we act.  By default, the way we choose to act defines us.  If you do unsavory things, you are an unsavory person.  If you do well unto others, you are a caring person.  Your situation can’t define you.  Poverty can’t be a reason for crime.  Fear can’t be a reason for solitude.  Pain can’t be a reason you inflict pain on others.  Authentic living is the ability to invent yourself and then live as yourself.  Not necessarily as you were raised or as someone “like you” should live.  Most likely these things help shape you but ultimately the decisions you make should be your own.  When you start making decisions with your own heart, your true self is formed and you are projected onto others.  

I know, quite a rant filled subject for a Saturday night but sometimes it all becomes too much in my head and it’s got to hit the paper.  This helps it all fall away.  It’s also part of my evolution.  I’m trying to break free of the clutches of the culture that we have created over the last couple of decades.  In doing so, I realize that I don’t need to do it alone and I need to try and bring as many people with me as I can.  We might have to rebuild this place one day….possibly sooner rather than later.  There has to be more of us out there than them, right?  I envision this futuristic scene where the world is decaying and the population is fighting for what they want and need with no regard for others.  A small group of strong, kind, honest people will travel from place to place helping others that can’t help themselves.  By virtue of those good deeds, the group grows in numbers until they are large enough to take back society and their world. It reminds me of Fallout 4, a video game set in a post nuclear world.  The truth is without my knowledge of that game, it would remind me of the actual world we are living in today.  All we really know is ourselves.  We have to understand that and grow from there.  That’s how we take back our own world.  And in the least selfish way I can mean it, our own world is the most important.  When we control that, we can start to make more profound changes around us.

Friendly Conversation

  After our softball tourney Saturday, me and The Zib had some deep conversation over nachos at El Maya.  Chicken for Z and Texas Fajita for Dub – no veggies for either.  That’s not the point but I thought it might be of interest.  We talked about the lack of veggies, banana peppers, math, biology teachers, uncomfortable moments and basic human psychology.  The conversation eventually led to what we look for in friends, what we expect from a friendship and what generally leads us to know when someone is real or not.  It was really quite thought provoking but I found myself just talking without needing to think.  I knew what those things were to me but I was verbalizing them and listening to someone else with the same overall thought process.  It did make me realize some things though.  1) I look at friendship completely different than I did 20 years ago.  2) Maybe we are all looking for generally the same things in a friend.  3) My friend list shrinks as I grow older.  4) Zibby has a better understanding of people than I did at almost 17.

When I was 17, friendship to me was consumed by pranks, one upsmanship (it’s a word I think) and generally shitty behavior towards each other.  Seriously, my best friends were the target of some of my worst behavior.  I took the old saying “I kid because I care” waaaay too seriously.  It’s a little embarrassing to look back on but the feelings were quite mutual.  I am going to assume that the statute of limitations (“It’s statue” ~ Kramer) is up on all of this as I type it but in the event it’s not, let’s just say this piece is for entertainment purposes and I admit to nothing.  A few examples of my appreciation for my friends may be in order to properly convey how my thoughts on friendship have changed over the years.

I guess we should start with sleepovers.  We had lots of these.  My parents went to Fort Gaines almost every weekend so I had the boys over for video games and movies on the regular.  We always tried to stay up all night.  To honor the tradition, we had a special punishment for the first one to fall asleep.  We would create a “concoction” who’s ingredients would vary from time to time but always became generally the same finished product.  We would take a plastic cup and combine everything we could find – ketchup, mustard, pickle juice, dog food, jelly, smashed vegetables, you name it.  If it was in the house, it went in the cup.  Those contents usually got poured on top of the lucky sleeper.  If they were REALLY lucky, we would hold them down and try to make them drink it.  Good times!  Can you imagine doing that as a grown up? We do live in quite the litigious society after all.  I’m pretty sure a hodie wedgie by definition falls under assault.  Second time hodie wedgie has made an appearance.  I’m still not sure the statute of limitations even protects me from defining it so we’ll move on again and leave you wondering.

I don’t know what made us do those things to each other.  Maybe we were taking out our frustrations on each other because we knew we couldn’t get away with it with the general public.  It actually made us closer too, which is pretty twisted.  I even cost (partially) one of my best friends his jobs one time.  Let me state clearly that he hated it and was looking for a reason to quit.  The infamous golf cart incident.  Russ was employed at the local golf course and had the responsibility of pulling the pins after dark.  After a shift at the Video Superstore, I decided I’d pitch in.  I couldn’t turn down riding around in a golf cart at night.  We turned the event into a race after only two holes and as we careened toward the third hole, I decided on a short cut.  Unbeknownst to me, the area around the third green was under repair and roped off.  Russ claims he called out to me but I heard nothing.  I hit a rope, head high, at full speed, in the dark.  My face smashed into the steering wheel and the roof of the cart was ripped clean off.  I bled all over the green as I tried to figure out what happened.  I came too on the putting green near the cart garage as Jim and Russ tried to put the roof back on, in vain.  We went back to his house, covered my face in ice and never breathed a word of it to anyone…..until now.  Surely 22 years is long enough right?  The next day, as he tried to explain the destroyed cart and blood on the 3rd green, he threw in the towel.  At that time, I didn’t care that he was without income.  The only real regret I had was that I didn’t get to see people’s reactions as they tried to figure out the blood trail on the green grass.  That is a moment that would have easily written right into Caddyshack.

I’ve obviously grown up over the last couple of decades.  I’ve also naturally gravitated away from those people and towards people that are more like minded to my 39 year old persona. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything and will forever consider those friends a part of who I am but I guess I’ve moved on.  I still like a good prank but they are much more good natured now.  They are usually followed with a pat on the back or a hug as I offer an apology and assure them it was a joke.  The laughs are good but what I really want in friendship is trust and respect.  I want to be able to talk with my closest friends about my darkest secrets and not be judged or wonder when they are going to pull out the info in public for the giggles.  Some things really are sacred and are only shared when we need to get things off our chest or when we need some assurance.  That’s where trust is important.  I talk to my friends when others don’t need to know what’s going on.  I’ve tried to walk around with things bottled up but that’s not healthy – see my thoughts on overthinking.  You slowly learn who you can trust and generally find yourself talking more and more to those people.  It’s natural because they give you a sense of security that you can’t find in most people you meet.  Gossip is a way of life now and some like to be the first person to share “new info”.  Those people thrive on your vulnerabilities and it gives them power in the relationship.  When I learn who these people are, the circle closes with them on the outside.

Respect is the other major component I look for.  This can be very broad.  Respect can be understanding when I need time alone or when I need someone to prop me up.  The best friends in life have a knack for knowing when to be there.  They’re just there.  They’re not overbearing but you can feel them there.  In turn, you find yourself being drawn to them when they are in a time of need.  You just feel it and know that you should make yourself available.  It’s a feel thing; natural.  When you have to try too hard, it’s not there.  When you find yourself always giving or being the one that always sacrifices, it’s not there.  At this point in my life, plastic friendships have a way of weeding themselves out over time.  That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of nice people who I call pals or buds out there.  But true friendship has a feeling all its own.  It’s so much more than it used to be.

That’s also part of the reason the numbers dwindle over time.  Friendship takes a commitment.  It’s not about you or me.  It’s about y’all or us.  It’s about caring more about the other person in the relationship than we care about ourselves.  Again, that comes naturally when the feeling is mutual.  It’s easier to care for someone you know cares about you, right?  While I feel like we did, I can’t swear that my friends and I in high school cared as much about each other as what we might could do for each other.  Number one red flag in my opinion is basing your friendship off of what that person can do for you.  It’s not always easy to see when you are doing that but eventually those thoughts or feelings become prevalent when given the chance.  Those relationships ALWAYS end in dissapointment because they’re not mutually beneficial.  In life, you get what you put in.  Friendship is no different.  But “putting in” with a real friendship is not work.  It’s an organic give and take that is expected but not something that you have to focus on.  It’s just comfortable.  A friend is comfort to me.  


So I found myself sitting there with a true friend, talking about other true friends and what made them special to me.  I realized how far I had come and how that understanding of friendship has made me so much more comfortable in life.  I know who I can depend on.  I know who can depend on me.  And that’s really all I need.  Life is going to throw some pretty rough stuff at you.  You can’t handle it alone either.  But you don’t have to have a contact list busting with friends to conquer it.  As long as you have the right friends, you don’t have to have a lot of friends.  

My Over-Thought Thoughts

  There are a lot of us out there.  A lot more than I thought at least.  I see the Facebook posts and I sense the struggle.  I understand as well as anyone.  It’s always better when you know you’re not alone but the prevalence can’t be a good thing.  While comforting for a period of time, there’s still no permanent peace that can be found, even when talking about it amongst the like minded.  We can’t fix it on our own either.  Some people don’t really get it.  Sometimes I revisit moments and don’t get it either.  It’s grueling though, being an over-thinker.

I’m an experienced over-thinker.  I like to consider myself a polished, seasoned vet.  I have advanced to the stage of fully recognizing it as it is happening but am still powerless to stop it.  It’s a better place to be in all honesty.  I used to not know it was going on.  I just chalked it up to being analytical and everybody else just not looking at it from the same angle.  Now I understand that I’ve created most of the angles I’m looking from.  But knowing it’s happening and being ok with it are two separate things altogether.  Just today, I panicked after I clicked send on an email.  I pulled up the sent item and read it about 10 times to make sure I said what I meant.  Modern technology has become the devil for the over-thinker.  Emails, texts, even voicemails are triggers for the mind blender.  Try multi-tasking and sending an email and leaving a voicemail at the same time.  Whoa, I just got chills.

Those things are just the tip of the iceberg.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone new or someone important and, as you walked away, you thought to yourself, “what exactly did I just say?”  That sounds like paranoia but that’s a symptom of overthinking.  See, you can’t have a normal encounter.  Each encounter has to have some type of meaning.  If it doesn’t, it will after you obsess over the events of the encounter.  Did I smile?  Did I act preoccupied?  Did I say something stupid?  What did I actually say?  I don’t even remember.  What are they thinking now after they left?  Are they doing the same thing I’m doing right now?  It can be quite exhausting.  And 99 times out of 100, it was as mundane an encounter as you can imagine.  But mundane is not in the over-thinker’s vocabulary.  

It’s not all bad though.  It makes us pretty detailed and thoughtful in our conversations.  As I’ve become more experienced with it, I’ve learned how to structure my thoughts and conversations to withstand that mental questioning, post encounter.  I can earmark high points that I know will come up in the playback.  This may all sound absurd to some of you that haven’t been there but somebody is reading this and nodding their head in agreement.  It helps me remember things I would otherwise forget.  Some people ask me how I remember certain things.  A lot of times, I’ve replayed it 30 times in my head.  All of this has helped me be successful in my job.  I’ve made a personal rule that I’m not going to talk work in my blog but I will say in a vague manner that my job can be a minefield of legal do’s and don’ts – highly regulated if you will.  My over-thinking can absolutely bog me down but many times it proves to be worth it.  Recounting phone calls and meetings has proven to be a viable asset.

It also makes us pretty good at analyzing music.  I know that I aggravate my friends when I send them a video of a song that has some profound meaning to me.  To them, it’s just a song; a collection of words put to music.  To me, the song has elaborate meaning and somehow speaks to me on a different level and I expect it to do the same for them.  It’s a great escape. Over-thinker’s don’t lay down at night and fall asleep in minutes so popping some headphones on and letting a few songs talk to our soul is sometimes just the perfect sleep aid.  People may not get me but music does.  That’s a primary driver in my taste in music too.  No dirt roads and whiskey in songs for me.  I need my lyrics to twist my thoughts into cryptic memos.  Heath and I spend a lot of time breaking down what is said in songs and we have totally different views sometimes but they make sense.  Over-thinking at its best is taking a sentence, lyric or message and interpreting it totally different than someone else but still seeing their point.

Clearly, the worst part of over-thinking is what it can do to our relationships.  Many times, conversations or messages can be of very little consequence but we can force our interpretations on them and they become very impactful, to us.  A delayed response in text?  No response in email?  No return call?  These can all be misread very easily because we have a knack for making everything about us.  We were taken the wrong way or we said something inappropriate or we just aren’t well liked.  It’s most likely that the other person got busy or a response slipped their mind or it could even be that a response wasn’t warranted.  Those explanations are too simple.  I don’t think the government was behind the JFK Assassination but I can create a cospiracy about somebody not texting me back that would make Dale Gribble look reasonable.  

Even this post is going to be analyzed several times before I click “post”.  Even more times AFTER I click “post”.  Limited views means that I suck at writing or my opinion is stupid.  A lot of views means that everybody wants to stop and laugh at the crazy guy.  I guess I’m the Goldilocks of the blog world; I need just the right amount of views.  You see what I mean?  The sad part is that this stuff barely even scratches the surface.  It’s a prevalent part of daily life for anyone with this disorder.  One thing I no longer worry about though is what people think about me admitting I have the problem.  I have enough to worry about without throwing that in the equation.  I’m an over-thinker!  Odds are, you already knew that.  But this is the part where I stand up to it and tell you that it’s ok if you have the same problem.  It may not help you overcome it but you’re not alone with it.  You’re not strange or different.  You’re probably more normal than you realize.  Unless you want to be strange or different.  Knock yourself out with that too.  All I ask is that you respond to my snapchat…..


Coach At Heart

  I have always enjoyed the strategy involved in sports.  Jocks get a bad rap for the most part when it comes to the “dumb” stereotypes. While there is certainly a difference in common sense and being a polished thinker, sports takes a surprising amount of brain power to master.  I have made up for quite an underwhelming amount of athleticism by being sports smart.  I’m 5’10, corn-fed, slow and can’t jump.  Wow, that sounds even worse than it did in my head.  Even with all of that working against me, I’ve managed to enjoy several sports throughout my life and continue to play in my late, late 30’s.  I’m no superstar but I’m content with my abilities.  I’ve done it by knowing where to be, what to do, how to exploit my opponents weaknesses, learned from mistakes, understood my limitations and maximized my strengths.  I’ve seen so many super athletic people struggle because they don’t use their melon.  That has led to a real passion for coaching.  I can’t get my own body to do it so I tell someone else how.

My first foray into coaching was with Uncle Greg in the Newton Women’s League.  Anybody who remembers that league will probably shutter at the very mention of its name.  I learned some very important lessons during this first experience.  There is a lot more to coaching than just practicing, setting lineups and managing the game.  There are personality conflicts, distractions, inter-league drama, hurt feelings, hurt players and multiple egos to manage.  That season was a tough one to navigate and it was an eye opening experience.  I realized that if I really wanted to be a successful coach on any level I was going to have to develop a thick skin and be tough but fair at the same time.

My second venture was RA basketball.  This was really fun.  After all the years of playing with Coop in the backyard, I became his coach along with Dino Radja and several others that I had grown up with.  Unlike baseball or softball, you can get creative with play calling and scheme in basketball that makes the pace of coaching more difficult.  In baseball, you can put your players through reps and situations but ultimately, your game day plan is less flexible than in basketball.  This coaching experience taught me how to adjust quickly and recognize and exploit matchups.  

Later, I tried my hand at football with some rec league action.  I coached the defensive unit on a 10 year old football squad.  In addition to being a different sport than the two above, the introduction of 10 year olds as players created a very unique experience.  At that age, you aren’t teaching plays as much as you are teaching the basics like tackling, offsides, face mask penalties and what not to say in a huddle.  That was when I realized what sort of impact I could have on a player though.  Kids that age look to you for guidance.  There are no egos, no motives, just kids learning the game and having fun.  Our defense was stout that year.  I’d like to take the credit for that but I was helped by a stud defensive player who happened to be the younger brother of one of my oldest friends from school, Joel Jackson.  Joseph Jackson was a beast among the league and was responsible for leading that defense.  I can still see him in that gold helmet he wore.  He will always be one of my favorite players.  He passed at a very young age and was taken entirely too soon.  RIP young man.

In 1999, I got my big break.  While watching another great season of Mitchell-Baker football, I met Coach Rodney Bullard, assistant football coach and head baseball coach.  He graciously decided to give me a shot at assisting him at the varsity level and leading the JV team.  First, a little about Coach Bullard.  While there have been many coaches I have looked up to and admired, Coach Bullard has had the most impact on my coaching life.  I’m obviously not a full time coach but still dabble here and there.  I learned principals of coaching from him that have carried me along every step of the way.  A truly genuine human being who loved the kids and the sport above any personal recognition he ever received.  He was an excellent ball player himself, playing infield and pitcher at Bethune-Cookman and is found in various areas of the NCAA record book.  I couldn’t have asked for a better coaching mentor.

That season was one of the most fun sporting experiences I’ve ever had.  It started with a coaches clinic in Atlanta where I got to spend a few days with all of the coaches around Georgia and even met the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs at the time, Ron Polk.  We then went through winter practice and began assessing our team.  We were not blessed with numbers but we had a team of gritty players that got along well and enjoyed playing the game.  At the time, the 7th-8th grade team consisted of Mike Lamb, Jeff Henderson, Eric Snow, Jeremy Lowery, Brandon Marcus and others that I was able to periodically snipe to play on my JV team.  I believe Eric and Brandon played most of the year on that squad.  Varsity included Narada Kelson, Bobby Sharp, Jamie Ross (E6), Corey Gibson (Sad Dog), Shane Staines, DK Grissom and Shauntay Walker among the group.  I spent every day of the week with these guys and developed a special bond that still leads to hugs and handshakes today when I see them.  They each had unique characteristics and were great kids to be around. 

Early in the season, Coach Bullard threw me into the fire.  We traveled to Seminole County to play the Indians and very early in the game, Coach Bullard and the umpire had a bit of a disagreement that led to one of his only ejections of the year.  As he passed the dugout, he just looked at me and said, “it’s your time, I’ll be on the bus.”  Up until this point, I had coached first base and called a select number of pitches.  That changed quickly as I found myself in charge of the entire show.  I think I actually needed that early in the season because it gave me a tremendous amount of confidence.  I’ve always wondered if Coach Bullard did that on purpose.  There are other cool memories that I still have of that season almost twenty years ago.  I remember Shane hitting a home run in Brooks County, Shauntay walking home down a long dirt road late one night after an out of town game and a 6’6 behemoth named Josh Dukes cracking my forearm with a foul ball in Cook County.  That one really hurt.  I was kneeling at the opening of the third base dugout in my usual spot to call pitches.  DK was not known for his overpowering pitches as much as his pinpoint control and movement.  Dukes got around early on a change up and ripped a screamer at the dugout that no one could have gotten out of the way of.  SMACK, right to the forearm.  Still one of the worst pains I’ve experienced on the baseball field.  

I experienced some pain off of the field that season as well.  I had a brand new pickup, all decked out with a sound system and rims.  One season of hauling baseball players around with steel spike cleats and it was nicked up all over.  I was even able to identify two suspects who took my truck to the store during a JV game thanks to spike marks on the inside of the door.  Remember that Narada and Shane?  One of the coolest guys I met that year was Derrick Silas.  He was our equipment manager and we became friends almost immediately.  While he was our equipment manager for baseball, he was also a 6’6, 300 pound offensive lineman nicknamed “Big Show”.  It was quite comforting going into enemy territory knowing that Big Show was there and had my back.  Derrick was a great guy and went on to play college football and later turn to coaching himself.  

The experiences I learned from during that year have had a major impact on who I am today.  I still have my love for coaching today and take any opportunity to jump on a sideline or in a dugout.  Coaching is a rewarding experience, win or lose.  So many sports lessons can be applied to our every day life.  If coaches do their job, the rewards are immense regardless of final scores.  Never has my coaching experience been more meaningful to me than my meeting Zibby last year.  All of the years of coaching led to being able to provide something to someone that needed it at just the right time.  It also led to me and her becoming great friends.  Coaching has provided me with a lifetime of friends and memories.  And it has provided me with a lifetime of situational motivation. Sometimes when I am having a stressful day and I feel like everything is working against me, I can go back to that game where I stepped out to the mound to calm Sad Dog down after some wild pitching.  I remember looking him in the eye and telling him that none of what had happened mattered anymore.  This was now about him and Bobby playing catch.  Nothing more.  No fans, no batter.  Just him and his teammate playing catch.   

 That’s life isn’t it?  None of the past matters.  What matters is the here and now.  When you focus on having fun with the person you are with or people you are surrounded by, that’s what makes you happy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  We have to learn from each moment of each day.  We have to get better, we have to improve.  We are really only competing with ourselves from yesterday.  We win and we lose but we get better every day.

We Are…..Mitchell-Baker

  In our modern world, “Normal” is subjective.  But as far as the 80’s and 90’s are concerned, I had a pretty normal childhood and teen years.  Born and raised in Camilla, Ga, I lived in the same town for the first 20 years of my life.  In addition to that, I went to the same school system from kindergarten to graduation.  There were three schools in our county when I was growing up.  There was Westwood, a private school in the neighborhood where I grew up.  I had a lot of friends from Westwood.  Munt and Nut were some of my closest friends and we spent a lot of time hanging out at the Parramore Pavilion.  I even married a Westwood graduate.  Then there was Pelham.  My parents taught me the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  I will say that Corey and Jared graduated there which is conflicting for me.  I love my family but they are better than that.  Oops.  I kid, I kid.  Let’s be honest though; there was one school that was above all the rest.  Times have changed – the number of schools have grown in our county and my school has even split back into their own seperate counties.  Other schools can be great too.  Bailey is a Lee County Trojan now and I am very proud of that.  But for my generation, there was one king of the hill and that was Mitchell-Baker High School!

I started the eighth grade at M-B in 1990.  I didn’t really know what to expect with this being the first year with the big kids.  Seventh grade was shifting from class to class with the same classmates between about five teachers.  The day changed but the faces were always the same.  M-B was a whole new world.  I was going to be in classes with all ages, change teachers each semester and most of all was going from the top of the athletic food chain to the very bottom.  And at that time, sports were my number 1.  There’s really nowhere else to start than the athletic legacy of the Eagles.  I saw and played with some of the greatest athletes in our part of the state.  Uncle Greg first went through the sports world and I watched his various teams dominate.  The football team in those days was led by James Jackson, who after being a state champion, went on to a 19-9 record as a starter at the University of Georgia.  He was the original “Thrilla from Camilla”.  I say original because there have been some that have walked in his footsteps.  

My eighth grade year at M-B was also the senior year for the greatest athlete to walk those halls, Al Pinkins.  Al was an imposing 6’6 football, basketball and baseball player that dominated everywhere.  He won the state title in football and basketball in the 89-90 season and backed it up with another basketball title in 90-91.  He had the distinction his senior year of holding the all state, all classification records for passing yards in a season, passing yards in a career and touchdowns in a career.  He also scored 21 per game in basketball and hit north of .450 in baseball.  Strong!  He spoiled me early as a football fan and our football team as a whole during my 5 years at M-B was an amazing 55-9 with another state title earned in 1992.  Al was a good bit older than me but I did have the privilege of sharing the baseball diamond a time or two with his younger brother Torrie, more affectionately known as “Skinny”.  I played little league, pony league and later, a little high school ball with Skinny.  My uncle’s Speedy and Larry drafted him every year in pony.  I’ve played hundreds of baseball and softball games in my life and I have NEVER seen or played with a more talented player than Skinny.  I can still see him throwing runners out from his catcher position while never leaving his knees.  Not to be outdone, the youngest brother, Dondrial, also starred in football at M-B, later playing at USCe.  He was after my time so I did not get to know him or Al like I did Skinny but they were the most talented set of three brothers I’ll ever meet.

Suffice it to say, while I love football, I was a small fish in that pond at 5’10, 165 lbs (you read that weight right).  A game in PE in the eighth grade squashed any hopes I had of playing football as our flag squad lined up on offense against Voster Gilbert, Joe Morgan and Derrick Keaton.  Just all state, all AJC kinda guys.  Those guys were flying around that field and were huge!  I was young and impressionable and I think I made up my mind right then and there that my career would stay in the front yard on Laurel Lane.  I miraculously managed to catch a touchdown pass in that game and I should have kept the ball forever.  There were some great football players that came through that school while I was there.  I can’t name them all but names like Jake Rackley, William Barnes, Michael Johnson, Joe Jackson, Vass and Voster  Gilbert, Artemis Wesley, Joe Morgan, Josh Baggs, Pee Wee Keaton and many many more!  My love for football came early and honest.  I was and still am very proud of the football my school put on display.

Basketball was equally dominate at M-B.  The basketball team amassed 5 state titles in the 90’s, 2 during my M-B days.  That was thanks to some great athletes but, most of all, thanks to one of the greatest administrators and basketball coaches to ever grace the court, Rufus McDuffie.  I loved Coach McDuffie and still admire his body of work and the way he went about his job.  Our football staff was unbelievable but Coach McDuffie will always be #1 for me. He was a hell of a ping pong player too.  As mentioned though, we also had our share of talented basketball players too.  And unlike football, I played a tremendous amount with and against these guys over the years, so I had firsthand knowledge of their abilities.  Kelvin Hayes was one of the best guards I’ve played against in my life, along with Dominus Johnson and Derrick Harris.  We had twin towers in my class too with Carlus Haywood and Alex Carter.  Both of them were in the 6’10 range if I remember correctly.  My senior year, I met the greatest baskeball player to grace our court.  I didn’t know it at the time and he would hone his skills over the years after I left but Jumaine Jones would become the new Thrilla from Camilla, claiming three state titles and then going on to star at UGA.  He also had a very solid career in the NBA and overseas.  I threw alley-oops to the same guy Allen Iverson would later throw them too.  Hey, me and AI have that in common.  Jumaine might even tell you that mine were better if he remembered me but I doubt it.  I’ve certainly left some great athletes out but only because I have to move on.

I mentioned ping pong in the previous paragraph.  This was a major deal at M-B.  Everyday at lunch, the gym filled with basketball players and ping pong players that spent their time with these hobbies as opposed to eating or hanging in the courtyard.  There were two ping pong tables on either side of the basketball court and the line that had “next” would be full 3 minutes into lunch.  Coach McDuffie was a mainstay but so were some of the guys I still hang out with.  Barry Collins and Robby Phillips won more than their share of matches in those days.  This was no joke.  There were guys spending their shop periods cutting, sanding and personalizing their own ping pong paddles for these battles.  

In between all of the fun of basketball, ping pong and football, we also had classes.  I remember C-Hall as the English/History/Economics area and D-Hall as Science and Math.  I think A or B-Hall only had the band and one classroom but it was one of the best.  Ben “Butch” Bateman had his English class on that hall.  He was one of the coolest teachers in M-B history and still teaches at Westover as far as I know.  I knew Butch as much as one of my best friends stepdads as I did a teacher.  Josh Haire was one of my best friends from middle school on through high school and I spent many days and weekends at their house.  Butch was also a DJ at the radio station in Pelham and I got to see him spin records from time to time.  He was even the voice of the Eagles football broadcast.  Like I said, the man was cool.  There will be more stories about Josh to be written at some point, but Josh, David Shook, Brewer and I spent most of our high school lives together.  We were all kind of different but the same.  Me and Josh shared music and movie interests while me and Shook shared sports interests and me and Brewer, well, just read my previous post, “Old Friends“.  

Back to the teachers.  I had quite an array during my high school years and I’ll bet that most of them have moved on from either M-B or teaching.  My first English teacher, Mrs. Kendricks, had a flare for the dramatic catch phrases such as “I want it so quiet in here you could hear a mouse urinate on a piece of cotton.”  There was Coach Luckie, the D-Coordinator and History teacher.  This guy could have been the teacher on The Breakfast Club.  Mr. Banks was a chemistry teacher with very old school methods.  Senor Bryant was the third Spanish teacher we had in a span of about 2 weeks as we ran off the previous two.  He was a one of a kind.  Mr. Woodham, Mrs. Bishop, Coach Stabler, Mrs. Mills, all classics.

 The class of ’95 saw some great times and lived a pretty good high school life if you ask me.  I spent my entire school life with some of the same friends.  Jason Lee, BJ Harris, Joe Jackson, Dedrick Thomas, Tavis Cole….I think I had a class with that group of guys every single year from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  Jason and Joe were even a part of the brief game in which we attacked each other with fanny packs – and we were friends!!  The fun playground games sure have changed over time.  The list of great people from those days is endless.  I met new friends at M-B too that I now call family – Eron and Barry.  I keep up with a lot of M-B friends on Facebook and we will always have a bond that ties back to that great place.  We may live in new places and have new friends but we will always be Mitchell-Baker Eagles!