Stories from the Roller Coaster: Coach A
Today’s sampling from the Stories from the Roller Coaster is titled “Coach A.” That’s what my players called me for the better part of my 13-year coaching career. People have asked me for years if I missed coaching, and I typically answered, “Not really.” Since reconnecting with the high school game three years ago at the start of Older Brother’s career, I must confess that…yeah, maybe I miss it just a little. Today’s post is the story of why I decided to become a coach in the first place almost three decades ago.
“Coach A,” an Excerpt from Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life)
I have seen new believers grow in their faith very quickly from the very beginning of their journeys with Christ. This was not the case for me with one huge exception. Shortly after I gave my life to Christ, He led me to what I would do professionally for the entirety of my working life. Or so I thought at the time.
Near the end of my senior year of high school, I had a frank discussion with my high school baseball coach and my school’s athletic director. I had always loved sports, and I wondered what a career in coaching might be like. They both urged me to seek another profession but said that if coaching was in my blood, I would come back to it. Coach Brister told me about a time when he left coaching to work on an offshore oil rig once. He made more money than he ever thought of making but was miserable. He quickly returned to the coaching ranks.
I heeded their advice and found a major suitable for my love for sports and my desire to have a financially rewarding career. I would be a general manager for a minor league sports franchise. I saw the general manager for the Double-A Jackson Mets at old Smith-Wills Stadium all the time and though he always seemed busy, he also seemed to be having a great time doing his job. I took a junior-level marketing class my freshman year at the University of Southern Mississippi against the advice of the professor teaching the class. I did fine in his class, but the answer I was really looking for was whether or not this was the career path for me. The answer was no.
Near the end of that semester was when I received the phone call telling me that my friend Mike had died of a heart attack on the baseball field. I turned over my life to Christ, including my choice of what I would do for a living. I prayed for His unmistakable direction. That answer was not long in coming.
The phone rang later in the semester with answered prayer on the other end. The caller was Coach Charlie Butts, my high school baseball coach. He was facing a dilemma and seeking my help. His son Chris was signed up to play summer baseball in a 13-14-year-old league in Brandon. League officials had had to add a team at the last minute because of a deluge of signups, and they asked him to coach the team. Not wanting to coach his son until Chris was in high school, Coach Butts asked if I would be interested in coaching the team. I was interested.
I need you to understand that I’m not one prone to wait for big signs from the Lord in making decisions. In this case, though, I suppose the Lord did not want to give me any room to miss Him. My team had practiced a few times and played a couple of practice games to prepare for the opening game of the season. I knew we had a few good players, but some of them needed a little more time to develop. That, too, came quickly.
The game started and my career was underway. My team hung in there for a while but gradually slipped to what I believe was a six-run deficit entering the bottom of the last inning. However, one player after another found his way on base until suddenly, we were within three runs and had the bases loaded and two outs.
And up to the plate walked…Reggie. Oh, no. Reggie had plenty of athletic ability but he had not shown much promise of coming through in this situation—either in that game or in the practice games before it. But Reggie’s bat connected on a beautiful deep fly ball to straightaway centerfield, over the center fielder’s head! My arm was steadily waving runners to the plate as the ball rolled just under the fence. A ground-rule double would have left us a run short, but the fielder reached under the fence and grabbed the ball to make the throw, keeping the ball live. I never stopped waving my arm, and Reggie scored the winning run on a walk-off, inside-the-park grand slam!
If I was looking for a sign, this was it. I had never before—and I have never since—seen anything like it. Reggie went on to play high school and college baseball, as did three or four of his teammates from that summer team. Another was a star football player at a Southeastern Conference school. And their coach was certain what he would soon do for a living. In changing my major to Coaching and Sports Administration, I discovered that Southern Miss was one of only five schools in the nation at that time to offer such intensive training for high school coaches. It’s almost as if someone knew that I would need to be there.
“Coach A”: Postscript
I enjoyed my career and identity as Coach A. I thought I would coach at one school for 40 years, win multiple state championships, and influence generations of of young men. A noble goal, right? The Lord has other plans for me, and that’s the premise of Stories from the Roller Coaster. Get the book and discover what happened to Coach A.
About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.