>Old Shit I Found

>He called me “Justin” when I first began to know him. I simply called him “Mr, Swetland,” though I rarely saw him until junior high, when he was my first varsity coach in anything. Even then, I tried to impress him with my poise and natural talent. Looking back on it, I now realize that he was barely interested in seeing what athletic ability we, as the young kids, possessed. What he wanted to see was what kind of people we were on the path to becoming. At that age, he only worried about our character, and he was obsessed with it. This was an obsession that he had until the day I graduated, and it was this that took me on the path from wrong to right.
I was a bit of a troublemaker back in the day. As causing minor disruptions in class in the seventh grade escalated into hanging with the wrong crowd where we smoked and drank together as freshman, it was clear that I needed some direction in my life. Somewhere along the way, the idea that I had to do whatever Mr. Swetland said was drilled into my mind. I remain grateful that it was. He had three basic rules: Be on time, do what’s right, and do the best you can. I still remember the day he came into talk to me as I sat in In School Suspension, a punishment I was administered for smoking on school property with a couple of “bad kids,” and he introduced his basic rules. I tried to follow these guidelines and really did the best I could at that age. But until I actually broke away from “the scum,” as he called them, I was not what he wanted me to be, and more importantly, I was not what I wanted to be. Eventually, his code of conduct led me to an entirely new group of friends. These are the same friends I kept all through high school, played football with, and still have to this day.
I recall sheepishly walking into his room occasionally during my troubled times to deliver the news to him that I would be absent from practice that night because I had gotten in trouble during the school day and had to serve a detention. Letting him know when you had gotten in trouble in school was a rule of his, and it was hardly as easy as it would seem. Before going to his office, I would always sit and think about the deed all day. I wondered how I should narrate what I’d done and what his reaction would be. Typically it would take a whole day of planning before the task was actually completed. I could have received word that I had a detention to serve that night at 10 a.m. or so and not go to his office to turn that door knob as slowly and quietly as possible and creep in with the dreaded news until two in the afternoon. Whenever I finally did, he was always reclined in his desk chair with his arms behind his head watching game films of a team Portville would soon be up against. I’d tell him the news, stuttering with nervousness, and he’d sit and listen patiently. I’d get right to the part in the story where I’d try to justify what I had done and he’d cut me off and give me the speech. He’d reiterate his rules and say I needed to apologize to the teacher I had done wrong to, then give me a slice from the never-ending pie of wisdom he had in his head to keep me from doing wrong again. After it was done, I’d quietly walk out, the guilt that came from letting him down dripping from my limp hands hanging at my sides.
It was my senior year in high school that I really began to appreciate all he had done for me. It was often a football-related question that would send me to his room, where I would see him in the same surroundings as I did when I was in junior high, reclined in his chair while watching game films, wearing the same collared football shirts and dress pants, and scout packets all over his desk. I’d submit my inquiry and he’d answer it completely, always adding a light cough that he’d developed from chewing snuff for years when he was done.
How he became a parental figure to me, though, was that it worked the same way with a question related to life. Often I would be frustrated with something on the football field, and he would compare it to a situation in life. He’d tell me what I had to do on the field to deal with the problem, and then point out that this was basically the same thing I had to do in life. By doing this, I saw the reason for why such actions had to be taken and was also given an excellent method of doing it.
The last night when he would ever be known to me as a coach came on a cool, November evening at the senior bonfire, held every year since anyone can remember to commemorate the work each senior football player had put into the campaigns they had been involved with. As the sky darkened and the fire got brighter, each team member stood around the flames with their solemn faces illuminated. Coach Swetland went down the list of senior players, speaking for about 10 minutes for each player, telling what he remembered and what he thought about them, not just as a football player, but as a person. Then the player would speak briefly about the game and what it had done for them.
Finally the time came when he got to me. I still can hear his voice. It was quiet, but confident. Even so, it was the first time in my life that I had ever heard his voice shake. He said I had come a long way since junior high school. He mentioned my troubled times and how I managed to come out on top. He said that his memory of me as a football player would eventually fade, but his recollection of me as a person would remain. I returned his speech with more of an address to the team instead of to him. Really, I don’t even remember exactly what I said. At the time, I had no idea what impression he had made on me with all of his talks and how they would eventually govern my whole aspect on life. If I did, I think I would have let him know then.
He was the head football coach at the time when I first began playing football in the pee-wee leagues. Perhaps this is why I listened to all he said and held every word that has come out of his mouth to be true. I know that I have not been around for too long, and therefore my life experiences have been minimal. But so far, every problem I have been faced with could be conquered with a lesson he has taught me on the football field. I still live by his three basic rules, the best I know how, and that has made me what I am today.

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