Many times when I am with my students, I share my personal life lessons. A lot of those lessons came while I was in high school. I recently told my class a life lesson that was hard for me to get through. Years passed before I realized this lesson in high school actually prepared me for a pivotal moment.
When I was in 6th grade, my football career started. Back when I was a kid, we didn’t have peewee football leagues. We actually had a 6th/7th grade team and an 8th grade team at our middle schools. I enjoyed football. My father was the coach at the high school for many years and a captain of the Ball State University team before that. You could say football was in my blood. My dad would have been my football coach my Freshman year of high school but he stepped down. I played regardless. From my Freshman through Junior year, I went to every single weight lifting, conditioning, summer camp days, and every meeting for the football team. I never missed a practice…ever. I was average my first few years. I played pretty much all junior varsity (JV) during my Freshman and Sophomore years. In my Junior year, I played a lot of Varsity. I was on the special teams units and got into the defensive secondary a lot. I played so much varsity, I wasn’t able to play in some JV games. There was a rule that if you played too much Varsity, you would become ineligible that week to play on the JV squad. I was ineligible for at least four JV games that season because I played so much varsity.
The end of the season rolled around and it was awards night. During awards night, coaches would call up the JV players first. If you were called up to the stage for a JV letter, it meant you would not letter Varsity. That night, I was the first player called up to letter JV. Nobody else was up on that stage as I was the lone Junior standing. I remember feeling numb. I got up slowly and felt everybody was staring at me. The room suddenly got smaller. I remember hearing one of the varsity players laughing out loud. I was devastated. I was angry. I was humiliated.
After the awards ceremony, I held back my emotions as best I could. I threw away my JV pin award and walked home with my family. I immediately went into my room and slammed the door and wept. I cried a lot that evening. After a while, my father came in and sat next to me on my bed. As I mentioned, my father was the previous coach for our high school football team. He was what you would call an “old school” coach. He got in his players faces and yelled. He kicked garbage cans in the locker room. Even to this day, some of his players are still afraid of him in a respectful way. I had no idea what he was doing next to me but I was glad he was there. In my own mind I visualized him going up to the current head coach who didn’t letter me varsity and getting into his face like he was of my father’s previous players. I imagined him dressing down my current coach and giving him a piece of his old school mind. My dad looked at me in a calm way. Then he spoke softly.
“Son, I have no idea why you did not letter varsity”, he said. “I agree with you right now that you were wronged in this case. I have no idea what the coaching staff was thinking.” I looked at my father and waited to hear him say he was going to get in the coach’s face and kick his ass. My father continued, “But I am not going to ask the coach to change his decision.” What!? I couldn’t’ believe what I was hearing! My father explained further, “You just learned a valuable lesson son. You learned that life is not fair. You learned that things don’t always go your way.” He put his arm around me and said, “This lesson will help you become stronger someday. Trust me.” I didn’t understand. I was happy he felt I was wronged but I wanted it to be right!
The winter sports season rolled around and I was the basketball team’s manager. I liked the responsibility of working with the basketball coach and players. I was growing physically a lot as well. I would say my Junior year I grew several inches taller in a few months time. The basketball coach would occasionally let me scrimmage with the team. I liked it. I wasn’t as good as the players but I enjoyed the workout. I could even dunk the ball now! One day near the end of the season, the football coach came out of his office which was connected to the gym and asked me if he could speak with me. I nervously answered that I was willing to talk and followed him into his office. The coach started talking to me about how I was getting taller and saw me as an end for offence in football next year. He continued to tell me how he noticed how athletic I was on the basketball court and how I could dunk. He talked about me starting on Varsity next year. As he continued talking I kept waiting to hear an apology for not lettering me varsity. That apology never came. He ended the conversation asking me if this talk helped. I felt angry inside. I held back and let him know it did help and thanked him for chatting and walked out of his office. Right then and there I knew I wasn’t going to play organized football my senior year or ever again. The following year, I went out for the tennis team and played Varsity all year. I got my Varsity letter for tennis and played one year in college on a small scholarship.
The lesson wasn’t actually learned then. Fast forward eighteen years. I was interviewing for a job in my current school for a technology coaching position. Let’s say I am a very technologically savvy person. I know a lot about computers and education. I teach classes and help many colleagues with their technology in order to enhance learning at the school. I went through the interview with a breeze. I felt really confident with my answers. It was the beginning of summer and I had my heart set on this job that was made for someone like me. After the interview, I was told I would be notified in a week or so. My wife and I were traveling to Toronto, Canada for our anniversary immediately after the interview.
On the second to last day of our trip, I got a call from our Chief Information Officer (CIO) and he said he wanted to speak with me regarding the position in person. I told him I would be happy to and cut our vacation off a day early to come to speak with him. I was anxious to get started working on this new position. I walked in the CIO’s office and sat down eager to start the new position. Then it happened. He looked at me and said “Pete, we went with someone else. I wanted to tell you in person.” Again I was devastated. The first thought that came into my mind that night of the awards ceremony. I felt like I was back on that stage. I heard my father’s voice in my head. “This lesson will help you become stronger one day. Trust me.” I realized I was prepared for this moment. I accepted that this decision was not fair. I moved on to continue to do greater things and not dwell on things that didn’t go my way. I adjusted and kept working. My father was right. I am stronger because of that experience in my high school days. Lesson learned.