This will be a different Thoughts of the Day than what I usually write. Wednesday I watched a video about a middle school football coach from Russellville, Alabama in and it really moved me.
Here is the quote that I took from it:
“I don’t know what God has in store for me. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that when I face Him, he’s not going to ask me, ‘How many football games did you win, Larry Gilmer?’ He’s going to say, ‘How many lives did you change?'”
That made me think about the coaches who had an impact on my life when I was growing up and some coaches who I’ve met during my years as a sports writer who have had an impact. I’d like to share a few comments about some of the terrific coaches who have been positive influences on my life.
BENNY KIMBLE, Gibson High School basketball coach, McComb, Mississippi: Our relationship wasn’t always the smoothest, but I had a lot to do with that. I’m not going to pretend that my high school years were the least troublesome on the planet. Benny called me hard headed. His wife was my algebra and geometry teacher and I frustrated her. I made it entirely possible for a good many of my teachers to think I cared more about becoming a sports writer and perfecting my jump shot than I did education.
One day at basketball practice when everyone was being abused by our big center Lloyd Bennett, Benny looked over to all the skinny guys who only dreamed of maybe earning a spot at the end of the varsity bench and asked for a volunteer. Dumb me. I volunteered. Lloyd was almost 6-7. I was 6-1 and maybe 150 pounds. Benny laughed at the thought of skinny me who made up for my lack of a vertical jump by being slow trying to stop Lloyd, but he said give it a try. All I could think about was how Benny kept lecturing Lloyd about holding the ball high instead of dipping the ball down to waist level before he went up for a shot. The first two plays Lloyd got an entry pass in the low blocks and he did what he always did. Both times I got both hands on the ball before he could go up for a shot. Lloyd tried to rip the ball away but somehow I held on. Benny shouted, “The skinniest guy out here will play some defense!” I guess he saw something in me that day because he became more than my coach from that moment onward.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. There were issues on the home front and I needed a friend. He coached me hard on the basketball court, but he listened to me when I dropped by his office or he volunteered to give me a ride home. It remained that way until my family’s exile to Mississippi ended in December of my junior year when we moved back to Gainesville. I recently had a chance to call him up and thank him for what he did for me. I think a lot of his former players do that from time to time. Best piece of advice he ever gave me: Just try, you might succeed. Even if you fail, you know you tried. There are a lot of people who never try and spend the rest of their lives wondering what might have been.
SPIKE CORBIN, Hoggard High School baseball coach, Wilmington, North Carolina: Before integration, Spike was a big deal at Williston High School, which was one block away from all-white New Hanover in Wilmington, North Carolina. He won state championships as the head coach in football, basketball and baseball. He coached Meadowlark Lemon. He mentored the great Althea Gibson.
When integration ended Wilmington built a brand new school out on Shipyard Boulevard. Spike should have had his pick of head coach for football or basketball, but he was bypassed. They made him the baseball coach and dean of students but he never complained. He was too busy listening to kids and their problems and helping everyone understand that it’s not the color of the outside packaging but the love that lives in your heart.
When racial troubles hit Wilmington in 1970, the governor ordered the National Guard onto the streets. The two people who diffused it were Meadowlark Lemon, who arrived in town days before the Harlem Globetrotters were to play at Brogdon Hall, and his father-figure – Spike Corbin. They made public pleas for peace and calm prevailed.
At Hoggard, Spike won a state championship in baseball. His star pitcher, Ron Musselman, went on to pitch in the big leagues for Cleveland and San Francisco. From 1969-71, Spike Corbin befriended me and became a regular lunch partner before I went to work at the Wilmington Star-News. I covered Hoggard baseball so we talked a lot of baseball. I learned that during the 1930s, he was a very big deal in the Negro Leagues and down in Cuba, where he would play winter ball. He recalled a time when a scout for a big league team told him he could start for 10 teams in the majors if only he were white.
There were so many reasons for this man to harbor bitterness, but instead he saw goodness in other people and thought one of the reasons he had been put on earth was to make a difference in the lives of teen-age boys. Best piece of advice he ever gave me: You only hurt yourself when you hold onto bitterness and anger and spend your life trying to get even. Let it go and let others live with what they’ve done to hurt you. God has a way of paying people back for the hurt they’ve caused others.
JIM NIBLACK, Gainesville High School football coach: Big Jim was a high school coaching legend in the state of Florida. During the 1960s there were four true legends in the state – Jim Niblack, Holland Applin (Tampa Robinson), Paul Quinn (Lake City and Bartow) and Nick Kotys (Coral Gables). Niblack was known as an innovator who went to college and pro camps to learn the game. The Purple Hurricanes ran Florida State’s sophisticated passing game that Bill Peterson learned from Sid Gillman only we had some Houston veer thrown in that Jim learned from Bill Yeoman. During the 1960s, GHS had a better weight room and a better strength program than they had at the University of Florida. During the summer, Gator football players came to GHS to lift alongside our high school players.
Nobody did more for race relations in Alachua County than Jim Niblack. In 1966 he sent the ultra-talented Eddie McAshan on the field as the starting quarterback. There was talk that Eddie was the first black quarterback at a formerly all-white high school in the south. Now, that’s not to say everyone approved. There were death threats. The KKK tried to burn a cross in Jim’s front yard. He came out of his house shouting words that can’t be repeating and wielding a baseball bat. The Klansmen ran. If Jim had caught up with them he would have killed them and there wasn’t a jury in Alachua County that would have convicted him. Later that year when GHS went to Greenwood, South Carolina, the hotel owner refused to let Eddie or the other black players stay. Jim said fine, ordered everyone on the bus and was halfway to Georgia when a car driven by the South Carolina Highway Patrol carrying the Greenwood mayor caught up and explained that this was just a big misunderstanding. The game was played and though GHS lost on the field, there was a sense of victory because Jim Niblack had stood up for what was right. It took a lot of courage to do what he did.
In March of 1968, the state basketball tournament was played at Alligator Alley on the UF campus. I skipped school on Friday and was in the midst of watching West Palm Beach Roosevelt and Lake City in the semifinals of what was then Class A when I felt this hand on my shoulder. It was Niblack, who was also the dean of boys at GHS. I was caught and knew I was going to get suspended for a couple of days for skipping school. Niblack said, “Somebody get me a cold drink” and I ran to the concession stand to bring him back a Coke (two choices in those days: Coke or Sprite). We watched the game (Roosevelt won behind Gregory Lowery and Ronnie Nicholson) and when it was over, Coach Ray Graves saw Niblack and waved him over to where he was seated. Niblack said, “See you Monday.” Well, I knew what was coming on Monday. Suspension. What I didn’t know was how I was going to explain to my dad. Monday came and I walked into the dean’s office and Niblack barely looked up. He was signing an admit slip. “Got the flu did you?” he asked. I kind of nodded. He grinned, handed me the admit slip and said, “Nasty stuff. Hope you’re better … get your butt to class.”
I didn’t play football at GHS, from that moment Jim and I became close friends. The friendship grew with the years until he passed away in 2007. For a few years, the late, great Jack Hairston and I ate lunch once a week with Niblack at what used to be Ryan’s Steakhouse on Main Street. I can’t remember a time when we were talking football and other sports that we weren’t interrupted several times by former players who all had the same thing to say: “Thanks coach. You made me a man.” Jim Niblack was part of a lot of winning football games while coaching at GHS, the University of Florida and University of Kentucky, the WFL, the USFL, the CFL, the NFL, the Arena League, NFL Europe and at least two or three other leagues I can’t recall, but he turned more boys into men than he ever won football games.
Best piece of advice he ever gave me: Do the right thing, not because you want people to recognize you but because it’s the right thing to do.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
So far: 6-4
Today’s attempt at predicting winners:
Western Michigan 41, Middle Tennessee 38: Nassau isn’t a place you associate with college football but it is the ancestral home of Myron Rolle. Perhaps by playing a football game in Nassau every year some Bahamian kid will be inspired to immigrate to the US, take up the game, become the next Myron Rolle and lose to Florida four straight years. Sure, that’s the ticket. Nobody will play much defense in today’s game and that will thrill the 12,000 or so fans who will be on the edge of their seats in Thomas Robinson National Stadium, where they play soccer and run track and field events.
San Diego State 24, Cincinnati 20: Okay. You’re in Hawaii and you have a choice. You can watch Cincinnati and San Diego State, two schools you probably know nothing about, or you can hit the beach at Waikiki. The beach wins. As for the football game, San Diego State has a nice defense and corners who are as fast as Cincinnati’s receivers.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Is there a coach who influenced your life and if so, what’s the best piece of advice he ever gave you?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I first heard about the Canadian band The Sheepdogs a couple of years ago but I avoided listening to them until a few days ago when I heard their recently released “Future Nostalgia” CD. They describe themselves as a band influenced by Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This is a collection of their music that I found on Youtube.