Friday, October 24, 2014

Irish Eyes Smiling Down

          A few years ago, after 16 years as a volunteer basketball coach before I was hired by a high school, I thought I would take a year off to expedite my late in life career change into education. A neighbor approached me and said we have a need for a volunteer basketball coach, of course. It was for a local community church and the kids were not the most gifted basketball players. As I walked into the first practice I met the kids in the classroom to get introductions out of the way. One young man in particular caught my attention but not because of his basketball abilities it was his situation. These were high school seniors and this boy's father had coached him for the past several years. His dad was a good linebacker for the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. On its own that fact was not extremely significant but in the previous summer the boy's football star father lost his battle to cancer. So his dad didn't choose to stop coaching his son, it was not possible.
          At the first practice I posed the question as to the name of the team. There were a few answers but not from the boy. During the end of an intense third practice, as in every practice, I gathered the group of pumped up players and came together close inside the jump ball circle with arms raised to count down from three and exclaim our team unity. I simply said, "On three we say our team name." One player asked what it was and I simply stated, "We're the Irish...On three..." To see the boy walk off with his buddies with a grin bigger than his face is something that stirs emotion when I think back on that season. We barely won a game, but I looked forward to watching the tremendous heart that team played with and felt extreme pride every time we walked off the court. Bless you boys, may the road rise to meet you, and may those Irish eyes smile upon you every day young man.