High school coaches cant possibly grasp what their long-lasting impact on high school kids will be. At least thats what I determined after my senior-year conversation with the guy we called Coach Hank.
My senior season at Western Harnett High was reaching its latter stages when our first-year basketball coach may have finally recognized my true talent.
With just a few weeks left before playoffs, Mel Hankinson called out to me before practice. He was excited about something.
I had my fingers crossed that his next words were going to be, Good practice! Youve been our best shooter all year, so guess what? Instead of hitting threes after we get up by 20 points with a minute left, you think you can knock down some of those in the first half for once? I heard Cary plays a lot of 2-3 zone!
But Hankinson (the former head coach of Liberty University) didn't follow my Hollywood screenplay.
I didn't know you wrote for the student paper, he said.
I deflated. He was still smiling.
This is a great article, he said, pointing to the story I had written about him and the rest of our team.
It was nothing special.
I was the sports editor, but nobody else on the newspaper staff wanted to write about sports and it was problematic considering I was on the team. In order to get around the conflict of interest, I made sure to include all my teammates. Nobody could be mad at me in the locker room as long as I did that.
Coach Hank kept asking questions.
Is this what you want to do for a living? Have you ever read Jim Murray? Your writing reminds me of his. He was my favorite columnist. I'll tell your mom to buy you a book of his.
You get the point. I had more praise on one story than I had received all throughout tryouts and practice combined.
Little did I know, this moment was going to mean more than extra playing time.
At his insistence, my mom came home with two books full of stories and columns by Jim Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter. And after basketball season, I found some time to read them and marveled at being able to tell stories about athletes, coaches and teams in about 800 words or less.
As my high school years go, my parents and teachers had more of an impact than my one year with Coach Hank. They were around me more, and encouraged me in more ways.
But our conversation that day mattered.
And even if the 17-year-old me couldnt have guessed it at the time, this is about the only interaction with Coach Hank I have any memory of. What was said during games and practices has all but faded.
I bet many high school coaches understand their impact is felt away from the playing field, but theres no way of knowing what interaction will be remembered most.
One thing still bothers me about Coach Hanks talent evaluation that day, and it has nothing to do with my shooting.
How on earth did he ever associate my writing, in high school or otherwise, with the great Jim Murray?
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps.