(photo via Dunn Neugebauer)
Even though the movie ended about three times, you can't stop thinking about the line where Tom Hanks - in a League of Their Own - looks at one of his players and says, "It's the hard that makes it great."
This makes you recall 12 or so years ago with your boys' cross country program, where they were predicted to shower the running fields all across Georgia with less than mediocrity and by God - Saturday after Saturday - they delivered.
You recall sitting at your keyboard on yet another Saturday, your beloved boys having delivered a 30th out of 31 finish at some Invitational, wondering how you could spin it and mean it and give them light and hope and love.
You remember sitting there, waiting on your keyboard for some action. Your keyboard simply waited ever so patiently. Your GPS is like that if you sit and think about it - God is, too.
Your brain moves forward and you recall just 45 or so days ago, when one of your runners - ranked #84 out of #90 on your team, walked up to you at the mile time trial all excited. "I want to break the 6:15 mile!"
Your heart moved because you so love this. This is a kid that ran a 9:21 mile as a freshman, but - like water hitting a rock - he just kept flowing and working and gliding. As for you, you've timed the fastest, the slowest, and those who never even make it to the finish, but you've rarely eyed four laps so curiously, with so much anticipation.
When that boy - that wonderful soul that he is - crossed the tape in 6:07, there allegedly may or may not have been a tear fall out of the left corner of your eye, though you will neither confirm nor deny that. (And oh Lord, you're getting so old now you're starting to write like a friggin lawyer!)
Moving on, during the holiday months you ran with some of those alums. On this day, it is three girls in tow and, though there's only been one set of state championship rings passed out in your school's history, these girls are currently wearing them.
Still, they have grown and they have flown, and the talk is of school - zoom or not - and sororities and boyfriends and Georgia football games they didn't get to go to. You're not a parent, though a coach will always have a bit of possessiveness about him - too much at times in your humble opinion - so while you applaud their growth and their spirit and their happiness, there's a small part that wants to drive to Athens, get said boyfriends in one room, tell them that if they don't treat these sweet girls right, you're going to kick their collective butts and make them like it.
Not polite perhaps - even going against the advice of your sacred mother - yet there it is. The best deserves the best and - remember how you were in college - you know you didn't come close to living up to that.
Still, there's time on your hands over this break. You recall - going back to those boys - before they turned in a 9th place finish out of 10 at region - region, NOT state - how you approached each one and asked, "What's your best time?"
Whatever it was, you challenged them to beat it. Most of them did, therefore making your banquet a celebration despite our lack of rankings and trophies and rings. You love this sport because of this - there are simply so many ways to win, so many ways to overcome and conquer and be proud of yourself.
You stand at your car now. The girls - now officially known as women - have chattered themselves and your ears out. They have laughed and giggled through three miles; the obligatory picture has been taken.
As for you, you step back, take it all in, remember how you instructed, consoled, laughed and cried with them all - watched their delicate wings sprout that took them from shy to captains - hell one of them turned into a cheerleader.
There will always be that part, you know. After you've taught and delivered your heart and soul, that part where they take off and they just go. They're gone. There's a pain in there, a serious hole, though you realize that's the way life works - your job is to render them confident enough to not need you.
Still, through it all, you smile, though you can't help lingering by your car, the last one to leave. You just stand there with a hole in your soul that you've earned, that you should be proud of, though you often don't see it that way.
And with that, you wave goodbye to them as they happily drive away...
Dunn, James Dunn...
Holder of lots of jobs
Author, coach, nice guy-
Latest book: https://amzn.to/33SuBZ3