More Than A Game: High School Sports, Coaches Provide Life Lessons Beyond The Field

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HOUSTON – "Just cancel sports."

It is an impactful statement. It's something people are throwing around right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With school districts opting to start the year online only, others are pushing forward with in-person learning, high school sports have been left in limbo for some districts.

But to just come out and say "cancel sports" has a bigger impact than some would think.

When you say those words to a high school student, or coach – who at one point was that 16-year-old kid playing the game they love – you are doing more damage than just canceling a game or a practice.

It is canceling hope. Canceling dreams. Canceling a potential lifesaving or life-altering opportunity. For some, being a part of high school sports can alter the trajectory of their life.

"High school football saved my life," Summer Creek head football coach Kenny Harrison said. "It was my one motivation to attend high school. Without football there is no way I would have made it out of Port Arthur. I was blessed to receive athletic scholarship to the University of Texas."

Former Manvel coach, new Colleyville Heritage coach Kirk Martin added: "My high school coaches were instrumental in my development as a young man. I probably would not have gone to college if it were not for them. I was the first in my family to get a college education. Parents, grandparents, great grandparents - no one got a college degree. Now my brother and sister and all our kids have college degrees or are close to finishing their degrees. My degree was due to my love for football and wanting to continue to play. I believe that set in motion my brother and sister getting a degree.

"We all want kids to love education. We all want kids to buy into getting a college degree. However, there are a ton of kids that do well in school, or simply come to school to be involved with their friends in an extracurricular activity. That's the hook that help kids love school. My hook was definitely football."

Sports for many can be an escape.

It can be an escape from the situation you are growing up in. It can be an escape from your neighborhood, which may not be the best at times. For Klein Oak football coach Jason Glenn, sports helped him and his six sisters and four brothers stay "out of harm's way".

"I grew up in a neighborhood that did not have the best situations therefore we could've easily fell into our environmental situations. I had a couple of friends that decided not to play and the outcome was so negative for them that trouble caused them to have a life during and after high school," Glenn said. "I believe it helped me with discipline, time management and to fight through any adversity in life. Coach Burnis Simon (God Rest his soul) was my High School HC and he is the reason I want to be a high school coach and love what I do. It paved the way for some many kids in all type of home situations whether you lived in the suburbs or in a rough area."

Sports for some families become a way of life.

For some it is ingrained into the very fabric of their family tree. A coaches' son or daughter follows in their parents' footsteps and they themselves become a coach and hence pass on the lessons learned to the next generation and so on and so forth.

"Sports also were very important not only to me but to my family because it has been a football family for over 45 years," Kingwood football coach Cale Melton said. "My dad has been a coach for that long and it has helped mold and shaped me into the man I am today. Sports are important because they teach discipline, hard work, accountability, values and respect just to name a few. My coaches were the reason I chose to get into this profession."

In other instances, a player's high school coach is more than just a coach. More than that person they see daily for their athletic period. They become a mentor; someone an athlete can confide in when times get tough.

That coach may not know it at the time but he or she may be the parental figure that that athlete needs at that moment.

"Growing up in a single-parent household, sports helped me be around positive role models who made a huge impact on my life," Stratford football coach Jeff Rankin said. "Sports helped me find the structure, discipline, and work ethic needed to be successful in life. I believe without sports it would have been harder for me to say no to the negative influences around me."

In some moments, a coach is the father or mother-figure that they need, guiding them on the right path as any parent would do and ultimately playing a positive role in how they raise their very own children.

"Athletics was all I had growing up to lead me in the right direction," Humble football coach Charles West said. "With no father around and a mother doing the best she could, athletics and coaches kept me on the straight and narrow.

"It gave me a foundation and helped me understand that life is hard and complicated, but you have to make difficult decisions. Athletics helped me to be a good father to my kids and teach them how to be productive and successful citizens in today's global world. Without athletics, I don't know how I would have turned out. Thank God for athletics."

Having that positive role model of a coach in his life was important to Dre' Thompson's father.

The Aldine ISD Athletic Director played for legendary Madison High School coach Ray Seals, who carried those home lessons to the locker room for everyone, which is exactly what his father wanted.

"You were going to go to class, learn and pass your grades, prepare for life after high school," Thompson said. "As you see, I learned a lot and was able to model his teaching as a coach for years, before going into Athletic Administration. There is no substitute for sports. It is the important piece that drives students to come to school, rather being an athlete or not. With it, the culture and atmosphere are so much better."

Athletics and coaches do not just affect a student on the field and at home, but it plays a vital role in the classroom. Remember, most coaches are also teachers.

In a survey conducted by the Minnesota State High School League in 2007, it stated the average GPA of a high school athlete was 2.84, while a non-athlete was a 2.68. And athletes missed an average of 7.4 days, while non-athletes missed 8.8 days on average.

"I can literally say that without high school sports I would have no idea where my life would've ended up," Caney Creek head football coach Kendall C. Hineman said. "Without my coaches pushing me every day to be a better version of myself, I would not have had a high enough GPA and Class Rank to get into the University of Texas. My last conversation I had with my high school coaches my senior year would go on to get me in the coaching profession and eventually land this head coaching job I have now. I am forever grateful for my high school coaches and would not be where I am at today without them.

"Do not get me wrong, I learned a lot from my parents but even then, it paled in comparison to what my coaches and teammates taught me."

Klein volleyball coach Kate Zora added: "Without sports, many athletes will not have motivation. Sports are the reason most athletes attend school. For some, it's their way to get to the next level of schooling. I am very sad for my athletes whose opportunities will be taken away if high school and collegiate athletics are not there. I don't know where I would have been if I did not have that opportunity. Sports were my life."

According to a Public School Review 2019 article, there are 10 reasons high school sports benefit students: community representation, fitness, improved academics, the importance of the 3 "P's" (persistence, patience, practice), teamwork and cooperation, positive mentors, social relationships, leadership skills, time management and a success mindset.

"The lessons are too numerous to list but in our self centered culture team sports teach us how to share," Shadow Creek football coach Brad Butler said. "We learn to share the workload and care for teammates. We share the triumphs and the defeats. We share the glory and the heartbreak. Very few things force us to think outside our selves like being a part of an athletic team."

Out of that list, when talking to coaches, the one word they bring up all the time is the "R" word: Relationships.

The ones between coach and player and teammates. They all play a role. For high school kids, their best friends – maybe eventual life-long friends – may be the ones suiting up right next to them.

"I think the relationships I had while being an athlete is something that has blessed my life more than anything. My teammates are still my closest friends," Episcopal volleyball coach Amanda Watts said. "Being on a team helps you work on something bigger than yourself. Working hard to help others, communicating with people who may have a different personality than yours are life lessons that are needed to be a great employee, husband, wife, mother and father.

"Any relationship you have involves working together and communication. Being an athlete helps you get better at that. I love that after almost 25 years in coaching, I can still grow from being around my athletes and coaching staff. Athletics is not just about big wins and championship seasons. I am so very thankful for the growth that I continue to receive while I coach amazing athletes in the sport I love."

The relationship between coach and player can be an unbreakable bond.

In April, New Caney girls basketball coach Tricia Mize passed away after a battle with cancer. Tori Garza penned a letter about the impact of her coach that day and a few days later when she verbally committed to Oklahoma State.

The impact of Tricia Mize on Tori and the Garza family as a whole is clear. It is an impact that will carry on long after this story is finished. Which is what any coach wants, right?

"Coach Mize impacted her life in so many ways. They were very close and had a truly special bond," Jackie Garza, Tori's mother, wrote. "Yes, she loved to win, but her focus was always to help us parents raise strong, confident women. She believed in Tori, when Tori was struggling in several areas of her life and lost hope for a bit. She gave Tori a card one time expressing how proud she was of Tori, and Tori wants to have some of those words tattooed on her arm.

"She still struggles without her being here, and the really rough days she goes to the cemetery where she is buried and talks to her. This season will be rough moving forward, but Tori is driven by finishing what her coach started. She NEEDS this season for so many different reasons. The basketball program, and the entire school want to continue to honor her through this season. We pray we get the chance."

The list goes on and on when it comes to the impact of a high school coach and high school sports. The relationships, the memories, the life lessons learned are all things athletes will carry on as they transition from their teenage years to adulthood.

Notice … we did not talk about wins or championships.

Coach/AD Responses Continued

Growing up in South Jersey, then moving to Buffalo, New York in high school, this tall, skinny kid named Mike Walker loved basketball. I grew up playing the game I loved, but also grew up in the home of a Baptist pastor. My mom and dad invested greatly in me, I had youth pastors and teachers investing in me, but ultimately it was a coach and a strong locker room culture that used my love for basketball and used it to totally change the direction of my life. Sports Matter. God has blessed me with a vision for how impactful sports can be in the life of a young person because that IS my story. I wrote an article years ago about the unrivaled opportunity coaches have to impact students based solely on the fact that they have their attention like nobody else does. ( I am a better husband, father, administrator, friend, and leader because of a coach's investment into my life. Sports give adults that genuinely care an opportunity to invest in the future of our young people. Sports also gives people the opportunity to experience every possible human emotion in an environment where risk is rewarded. - Second Baptist School Athletic Director Mike Walker

If I had not had the opportunity to play organized sports, I may be still living a life that only serves myself. I would no doubt lack passion, direction, and integrity. "Sports has shaped my mentality and exposed me to many life lessons, that I carry everyday! Without high school sports there would still be a lot character flaws unattended". - Dickinson Boys Basketball Coach Jason Wilson

"The sports environment in high school helped define who I am today. Belonging to my high school teams maintained my focus in the classroom because I knew I had to pass if I wanted to play. The relationships and friendship bonds I made through sports are ones I still have today. At Sanger HS we were a team of brothers who would fight for each other day in and day out. My coaches were my father figures and served as my model of what it meant to be a man of character. Coach James Ivy was my HS head coach and he always made sure I was doing the right thing. I still have a very strong relationship with him and speak to him often. The other coaches I had: Scott Smiley, Dana Bloedel, Toby Perkins, Keith Ivy, and Roger Kincaid are all father figures that I still am in contact with and know they are there for me if I EVER needed one of them. They were all the reason I am coaching and an athletic director/head football coach now. Without sports or these men in my life, I do not know where I would be or what I would be doing!" - Splendora Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Marcus Schulz

Sports throughout high school and into college taught me so much. I met my best friends, my husband, and made the most amazing memories that I will cherish forever because of the role sports played in my life. I learned how to be a leader, work as a team, balance my time, and push myself harder than I ever Imagined. Sports made me who I am today and continue to shape my life now. Of course I remember the amazing wins and heart breaking loses but I remember So much more than that. High school is so much more than the brick and mortar that it is built by. High school is the sports Games, band concerts, choir concerts, theater Performances and all that go into your high school years. Kids won't remember an assignment or test they had ten years down the road. They will remember that Friday night homecoming game or their last high school musical. Kids won't get that sitting behind a screen. They don't get to be molded by amazing teachers, coaches, sponsors, and administrators when they have computers in between them. - Friendswood Volleyball Coach Sarah Paulk

Kids need high school sports and activities to shape them to be the leaders of our nation in the future. Let us play!! "To me HS sports was a game changer. It taught me so many life lessons beyond sport that are valuable to this day. I'm just as competitive as the next guy and I coach and play to win, however teaching young men how to be leaders and good people are just as important to me. My role as coach allows me to do that and keeps me abreast to what young people are experience in their lives in this day and age. Through those experiences I can teach and model teamwork, commitment, responsibility, goal setting and how to overcome obstacles which to me are extremely valuable. In addition the opportunities that Hs athletics provides for many of us has come to a complete halt and everyone is scrambling on what to do next. This pandemic is indeed an obstacle and HS coaches and leaders will figure out the safest way for us to proceed. We have to stay focused and optimistic so that we can come out on top on the back end of this pandemic. That being said, to me health and safety comes first. Not just to my kids, but to their parents and siblings they have to go home to every night. Right now there are more questions than answers. There's no doubt that this is having an affect on all involved. Trying times that's for sure. We all have to work to get her to find a way and all do our part and right now that's wearing a mask to help stop the spread. That's seems to be the most logical way to ensure we can get back to some sort of normalcy." - Atascocita Boys Basketball Coach David Martinez

Sports made me who I am. I danced, participated in gymnastics, played softball and basketball as a young child. Then I began playing volleyball, basketball and softball at school and outside of school. I even participated in track around softball season and took tennis lessons for fun. Season never ended. As a matter of fact, playing club volleyball , AAU basketball, and summer tournament softball all overlapped. I have been surrounded by coaches my whole life. My favorite teachers in school were coaches or retired coaches, because they related to the things that interested me and showed an interest in my success as an athlete, as well. I became very successful in sports. As a shy and introvert person, my success made me more confident and outgoing. My coaches believed in me and I believed in myself. They instilled a mindset that I accomplish anything I wanted and become anything I wanted. Confidence is a very valuable attribute and I know high school sports are where I found mine.There were many life lessons that I learned through my coaches, because I saw them handle life hardships of death and struggle in their families. I was blessed to be mentored by several upstanding coaches that had a strong faith in God and taught me coping skills and problem solving skills. I have never been through a hardship I didn't think I could handle, because I saw my coaches go through theses life situations and maintain their love of God, family and a devotion to their jobs and the students they cared for. These people truly prepared me for life! They made me want to become a teacher and coach. They meant so much to me that I want to continue to keep them in my lives. My high school volleyball coach and college volleyball coach were two special people that attended my wedding. Now I look forward to the many weddings and baby showers that I get to attend for my former players. Life is not easy. It is unpredictable and challenging. I faced challenges in sports that made me stronger and made me who I am. I don't think I would have had the same capabilities to handle life challenges. I can't even imagine becoming someone else. I think students get the same kind of fulfillment in their clubs, and fine arts. Everyone needs a place to belong going through school. It's what motivates you, drives you And keeps you going. I belonged in sports! - The Woodlands Volleyball Coach Terri Wade

"I had a great experience in high school. I went to a Class A High School, Salado, which would be a 2A now. I had a great group of coaches and played football, basketball, baseball and golf. I made my mind up early from their influence that coaching was what I wanted to do. I had a great experience. But along with the coaches I had parents that supported me along this journey. Lastly, I have been married for 36 years and the support from my wife is probably the biggest. When you combine the three, it amounts to a good career." - Barbers Hill Head Football Coach Tom Westerberg

"I can honestly say that high school sports and the coaches that I had whether it was on the tennis court or in the classroom had a direct impact on the person and coach I am today. First and foremost, sports kept me busy and out of possible trouble that teens sometimes find themselves in when the have idle time on their hands. I can honestly say that I had three high school coaches that pushed me athletically and academically. They challenged me everyday and inspired me to go into coaching and teaching. Steve Calelly, Jerry Franklin and most importantly, Kim Enocksen, all taught me invaluable lessons on and off the court. They challenged me, pushed me, motivated me and inspired me to be better than who I was. They not only taught me lifelong lessons about hard work, honesty, commitment, dedication, and integrity, but they looked to form relationships, not only with me but with other athletes and students as well. They truly had a gift and the DESIRE to make those connections and to be a beacon of light in their student-athletes lives. I would not be the coach I am today, if it was not for the impact the three of them had on me. I can honestly say without the interaction and impact of coaches Callely, Enocksen, and Franklin, I would not have been driven to become a teacher OR a coach. For their impact on me, I am internally thankful and blessed. Their values have thoroughly shaped and influenced the way I coach and the ideology that I gravitate to in my coaching. I appreciate the three of them for helping to shape the man I am today. I can say that over the past 23 years of coaching, as both a head and assistant coach, i have reflected back on the way they coached/taught me to help better myself as an educator and coach." - Deer Park Assistant Tennis Coach Kevin McElroy

"I became a Coach because of one of my coaches in HS and college. I played 4 sports in high school. Going from sport to sport and always competing or practicing kept me busy and focused on achievement. The coaches and sports I played in HS and college directly shaped many things but most of all, my work ethic. They taught me the importance of doing the little things right and the importance of the smallest detail in your job. High school sports also brought the different backgrounds and different races of people together for a common cause and created teammates that would not have happen without HS sports.
Learning to compete and learning to overcome adversity is something you learn daily in athletics. I developed life long friends through high school sports. It also made me feel a strong since of belonging to the community. You know that people are supporting you and you want to win and compete for your school and community. All that works hand in hand. I became great life long friends with people in the band due to being a part of the football team. Then there is the part of just being a kid and having fun in your very short teenage life that sports provided for me and the great memories that last a life time. Your in HS for 4 yrs, then the real world of paying bills, finding a job or going to college and paying for it, starts. Extracurricular activities provides kids a chance to grow and have a great overall experience." - C.E. King Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Derek Fitzhenry

I played soccer in high school for 3 years. My teammates were my family away from home. They helped become more understanding and appreciative of people from different walks of life. My coach was terrible. He was such a negative force in my life that I actually quit before playoffs my junior year. I walked away from the sport for years. When I decided to become a soccer coach, I knew from the beginning I had to be the opposite of him. Even though he was a terrible person, I learned how to not show favoritism; how to be tough but caring; how to push without sounding angry; to see the best in my athletes even if no one else could. Some days I wish he wouldn't have been my coach so I could have continued playing, but most of the time I'm thankful because he showed me what NOT to be. Being in season is the happiest time of my life. My athletes and the sport bring me so much joy. I love teaching them about the game and how to be better people at the same time. - Cypress Springs Girls Soccer Coach Caitlin Behne