What An Opportunity

Going to the dance

In Sports on September 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

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I have never met another leader as effective as my freshman basketball coach, Seth Edwards. My friend Andrew already described him very aptly in this blog post: What makes a leader great? And I’m expounding on his story to provide my favorite sports memory of all-time.

When I knew him, Coach Seth was a mid-20s English teacher with a smooth three-point stroke, fiery temper and contagious passion for winning. He was a dominant guard in his heyday (we would often watch in awe as he rained jumpers while we warmed up), but these days he took to torturing high school kids – in a good way – and teaching them life lessons through the game of basketball.

I had no idea what I was in for.

The best sports memory of my life came in 2006, my first season on the varsity basketball team and the only one I spent under Seth’s tutelage. Our team finished 2-17 that year after the squad had won two league championships in the three previous years; we were young, and we struggled. We conditioned at a level that I cannot consciously think about without wanting to throw up.

Good Lord, it was awful. I can almost taste the puke in my mouth now.

We had to run fast because we were legitimately scared of what would happen to us if we didn’t. Seth’s tirades were legendary – shattering water bottle holders, punting basketballs, chucking his clipboard – and there were a few times I actually thought the veins in his neck were going to burst. But they were all executed strategically. He knew when we needed inspiration. He knew when we needed to have our butts kicked – and he certainly knew how to kick our butts.

We got better throughout the season, thanks to experience and Seth’s unbelievable ability to coach a disorganized group of rowdy youngsters. And by the end of the season, we could compete with anybody in the league.

This was never more evident than the last regular season game of the year. We needed to win to earn our second league win and qualify for the last seed (woo hoo!) in the playoffs. We were playing the second-best team in the conference. We had gotten blown out the first time we played this team, its rich-looking uniforms emblazoned with royal blue and gold, on our court.

This time, the game was to take place in their home gym and it didn’t seem to be a favorable matchup. But Seth had imparted this never-back-down mentality; we weren’t scared of anyone. We knew we could win.

And we did win. It was a tight, hard-fought game, but we stunned the conference, and the crowd, and pulled off the upset.

I can’t quite describe the emotion in the locker room afterward. We were all sort of anxious as we waited for Seth to enter in his traditional sweater vest, Diet Coke in hand.

How did that just happen? Had we really improved that much? We’re in the playoffs! Are we gonna have to run more? Oh God, please tell me we don’t have to run more.

We had these old, navy blue uniforms that looked like they belonged in the 1980s; they were stained dark with sweat from the battle. We just waited, unsure of how to respond.

Could we celebrate? Would celebrating bring punishment? Had we earned the right to celebrate?

Then he burst into the locker room. “CINDERELLA’S GOING TO THE DANCE!” he exclaimed.

We jumped. We screamed. We chanted our school’s name like something straight out of Coach Carter. I felt a rush I haven’t experienced since.

We ended up losing by two points to the No. 1 seed, which won the championship, in the first round of the playoffs.

After that year, we went to three straight league championship games and finally won the title my senior year. That same year, we won the independent state championship.

Throwing the ball to the ceiling at the final buzzer of that game – my coach kept me in until the horn so I could do just that after four years of toils – was a genuinely beautiful moment, but nothing I have experienced in life has come close to comparing to “CINDERELLA’S GOING TO THE DANCE!”

Making that team as a freshman was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I contemplated quitting every single day that winter. When you’re 14, hard work really sucks. Getting to a point where we could compete with the league’s best required many hours of dedication and an insane level of commitment. We were committed to getting better because of Seth, though, and his intimidating-but-infectious spirit kept me around.

I’m a high school coach now, the head JV basketball coach at my alma mater, largely because of Coach’s influence. I hope to one day inspire a group of young men in the same way he inspired my team.

Maybe we’ll even have a Cinderella moment.

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