Growing up I always wanted to be in professional sports. When I was young I dreamed of lifting the Stanley Cup after scoring the winning goal in overtime, or lifting the World Cup after hammering home the crucial penalty in front of billions on TV. For all of those dreams, I was pretty much doomed to only dream, because when you're small and not very athletic, you're never going to reach those heights--especially when you don't ever play those sports in an organized fashion until high school.
As a result, I figured coaching was more my style since I was one more for brains than brawn. I always saw myself prowling my technical area during the Champions League final staring down Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson as my players executed my plan to perfection. And when they shocked the world by giving PSV Eindhoven or Arsenal the trophy through their victory, I'd give my counterpart a sly smirk and a wink as I shook their hand, letting them know I had out-thought them and my players had outplayed theirs. Well, at least it worked that way when I played FIFA 09, that is. Since that won't happen either, I've been looking for other methods of venting that competitive spirit.
In the parish I work at, we have an annual quiz bowl program that is recorded on a local TV station dedicated to social studies. It's called History Bee, but it operates like your regular quiz bowl. The six public junior high schools compete along with the Catholic school in Franklin. In all reality, it's a small-time operation that's fairly straightforward, but it's good fun to have, not to mention a way to compete outside of the athletic realm for once.
Last year at Franklin, I volunteered for the coach's position since they did not go to the previous year's event. I took my writing students and drilled them every day for two months. We even got out buzzer sets and a video camera to practice being on TV. We got the schedule, saw we would be playing BEBMS, and began plotting our strategy against the perennial champions from Berwick in the semifinals, since the first round match would be a cinch. When we got to the studio, my players immediately got stage fright, and I sat in horror as my well-drilled players got smacked across the stage by BEBMS and their cocky little captain that answered every question. I ended up covering my face because I didn't want them to see how terrified I was by their performance. By the last round, they had recovered, and promptly proceeded to trounce BEBMS. Unfortunately, it was a bit difficult to come back from being down 78-12 with a quarter to go, but the 84-36 final score made us feel only slightly embarrassed, though the proceedings at the Taco Bell after the match showed that for the players, the hurt was only skin deep.
Fast forward to this year, and I'm at BEBMS armed with our cocky little captain and the rest of the team. They lost a close game to Berwick in the semifinals and were out for revenge. I carefully crafted my team, blending experience with new players. I drilled them for two months, but this time we kept our sights low, since we were drawn to play the perennial finalists from Hanson in Franklin. Having said that, we knew that if we beat Hanson, we could get to the final because we'd be playing Franklin, and since I was their coach last year, they wouldn't have someone obsessed with winning a competition--not to mention the fact I only had eighth graders on last year's team, so they would be no match for my squad.
We went to the studio, and took our places. I sat in my same seat as last year, fully expecting to relive the horror from a year ago, but trying so hard to hide that. We took early control and stretched the lead to 20 points going into the final quarter. Despite having a team that played well the previous year, they were in shock that we had taken such control of the match. However, in the final quarter they found their legs and came charging back. Our lead suddenly shrunk down to a whisker, and I felt the pain that only a parent or coach has when they want to jump in and save the day, but can't because they did all they could as a coach. When the final buzzer sounded, I knew we had thrown away our lead and lost. I was gutted--plain and simple. I got up to shake the opposing coach's hand, only to hear him congratulate me for my team's talent and toughness for pulling out the win. I looked over and saw we had won 68-64.
My kids came and gave me a big group hug chattering excitedly about their chances against Franklin, and a possible rematch with Berwick, who had beaten Morgan City by over 100 points in the first round, in the finals. That afternoon, we found out Franklin wouldn't be sending a team, so we advanced to the finals.
On Friday, we arrived at the studio to watch the semifinal, and observed Berwick slug their way uncomfortably to the final, though they ended up winning by 50+ points. I was visibly nervous, and took my seat for the match for the trophy and the glory, knowing it was up to my kids since I took them as far as I could. We came out strong in the first quarter, but folded in the second, falling behind by 40 points at the half. We swept through the third quarter and pulled within 12. I kept on gesturing to my kids to keep it going since we had them on the ropes, and could win it in the last round if we continued. We promptly folded again, and the match ended 104-77. I got my team captain's chin up, and we shook hands with the opposing team, and their coach who was duly impressed with our performance in comparison to their previous opponents, and we went on the stage to receive the runner's-up trophy from the president of the local bank and our superintendent, smiles and all. Upon leaving, the president gave my team a cash prize for their performance, and another compliment for their play. Right before we left the superintendent shook my hand and complimented me for my students' job and my job personally, as my school had never been in the finals before, much less play so well throughout the tournament, and that caught his attention.
Looking back at the competition, I really got a good look at the difference between being a player and a coach. Though my kids felt the weight of the competition in their own way, I felt a completely different weight than them. Had I been on the stage as a player, I could have single-handedly mopped the floor with any of the teams in the competition because I know American History so well. However, that's useless since my job is only to get my students ready for the competition, and leave the rest to them. I have to admit that there were few times in my life where I was as stressed and helpless as I was during the final quarter of the Hanson match, where our goal of a finals rematch with Berwick felt like it was slipping away.
Now, you may be asking why I would get so worked up over a silly game that no one cares about, much less watch on TV during the summer? Even ignoring my competitiveness, History Bee is a chance for my school to show its academic prowess. Though our reputation isn't quite as subterranean as Franklin's is, I believe that we are chronically undervalued because all of the struggles a lot of our students have. It really drowns out the fantastic work a lot of our students do, and frankly our top tier students could go toe to toe with any other school in the parish. So, being one concerned with such big things, doing well in History Bee was my way of showing the parish that we can hang with the rest of them, and aren't quite worth our reputation, even if it's on an afternoon in a TV studio.
I think that's the thing that separated coaching from playing: you see the big picture and plan accordingly. Just like Arsene Wenger has to be concerned with more than just the activities on the pitch, but also how his club measures against the rest of the Premier League and Europe in general in so many categories, even if it's in a relatively small venue. The fact that our superintendent knows enough about our school and the competition to make note of the fact we did something that had never been done before as a school means that even though we lost in the finals, it was a major victory for the school, even if the trophy doesn't quite say that.
As great as all that sounds, second isn't good enough for me. I want everyone to see what we're really capable of, so I'm planning on lifting the trophy with my captain next year... and not on a TV screen playing FIFA either. BEBMS: 2011 History Bee Champions. You heard it here first.
Until next time.