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“Home Town Heroes”

By
P.R. (Mac) McStravick
2114 Musket Ridge
Richmond, Texas 77406
Ph. 281-239-8539

This book and all its properties are copyrighted by the Author

This book is dedicated to the Men, Women, Coaches, and Marines who have influenced
my life.

This book is also dedicated to my parent’s family, who have been my best friends over
these many years.
And, my parents themselves.

Lastly, this book is dedicated to my own family: Patrick, Megan, and Kaylyn, and in
particularly, to my loving wife, Peggy.

A special thanks goes out to the late Rosemary “Ma” Dunk, and Mike Tawney for their
encouragement and support,
And to those young men who have fought, bleed, and supported me on my own sports’
teams over the years- Thank you; I have loved you all.
Home Town Heroes
By P.R.(Mac) McStravick

List of Main characters

“Skipper” O’Brien - A former Korean Marine who coaches in a small town in Texas. He
has decided that this is the year they could go all the way to the state play-offs. He has
decided to invest in a new offensive coordinator.

Emil ( Robert E. Lee) Lee Sanchez- Of Cajun/Spanish descent: a young man who is new
to Texas high school football, but a former college player himself. He has just been hired
by Skipper and the Rocin Bulls.

Bob Zeminski- a coach at Rocin High School. A former Vietnam soldier who is called
“Killer Bob” by the players due to his intensity and light amount of talking. Coaches the
linebackers and kick-off teams.

Harry Smith- Called “Handsome Harry” by the players. Tries to romance every woman
he meets and does succeed more often then not. Coaches the receivers and secondary.

David Sheppard- a troubled young man who is very close to Skipper, makes a mistake
and has the choice to go to jail or to prison. He has family trouble, and he a very talented
athlete. See Skipper as his father figure.

Deputy Zycheck- deputy who arrest and helps Skipper with David.

Vice Principal Smith- portly middle aged man , who has a inferiority complex, and is
jealousy of Skipper’s success.

Doc Woods- Town and team doctor.

**Father Tom Fitzgerald (?)- Catholic priest at St.

Reverend Hope- First Baptist of Rocin

Pastor Charles (Chuck) Neilson- Lutheran minister

David Shepard- former captain of football team, that got in trouble and had to join the
Army.

Anne Beckingdorf- nurse and wife of Muley Sanchez

Jimmie (Aussie) Knowles- QB move in from Australia

Doug Wohl- good player who gets in trouble with girl-friend and is suspended for one
game.
Whale Hale- Heavy lineman; CPR object, loses dad?

Hog Curtis- grows into body. Parents confront Skipper

Gloria Nugent- girl-friend of Doug Wohl

Henry- Old WW I veteran who works as the janitor at the Rocin field house. Has a run in
with Mr. Smith the Vice-principal.

Johnny Steptoe- Young kid who does nit have enough to eat. Skipper shares his food with
him, and starts buying him bread and peanut butter to keep in a locker so that he has
lunch.

Dell “Clydesdale” Schrick - Large and raw boned youth, slow, but powerful at the T.E.
position.

Jay “Juking” Jones- One of a pair of running backs. Can take a hit and keep running.

Mike “mincemeat” Mentz- A defensive L.B who can throw a football. Makes a great play
at running back for the pitch pass.

James Stuckey III- Star basketball players, wants to plat for Skipper, but parents would
not let him, so that he could get a B-ball scholarship.

Rico Vasquez- large lineman who is graduating Muley’s first year at Rocin. Fight James
after verbal exchange during lunch. Muley stops them, and Skipper sets-up the boxing
event.

Shamus O’Rourke- One of the founders of the town; Rocin named after him: stubborn
mule, bad -tempered human.

James McStay- Another founder of the town.

School: Rocin High School in Central Texas , between Houston and San Antonio-headed
out I-10. The community is based on farming (this is starting to change) and is mostly
white in its make-up. Does have a growing Hispanic population.

Sister Mary Margaret - Muley’s Catholic elementary school teacher.

Mary Bella Koreneke- History department head at Rocin H.S.

Mrs. Shupac- Garage apartment landlady for Muley

Leon (Old Mac) McCall- old time farmer, retired and spend time in court house square.
“Tiny” Martinez- best B-B-Q around Rocin; heavy set man, with restaurant. Caters for
Muley’s wedding reception

Ignacio “Iggy” Martinez- Owns the meat market next to his brother’s restaurant

Homer Hal Halichek- owner of burger. (Greasy hair, white T-shirt) joint near school, ask
about Skipper

Edward”Zippy” Zipalac- The other running back with “Juking” Jones

Sean “The Rooster” - not the Hen- Hennessy- back-up QB for Aussie at the El Toro
game.

Nacho Rios- linemen Skipper send in during game between El Toro and Rocin

Mike “The Vise” Vacek- the other linebacker besides Mentz

George “Godzilla” Godfrey- Fullback for Rocin. Large and strong

Guadalupe “Lupe” Lopez- Center for team.

James “and the giant peach” Jarvis

Common sense in schools today is still an issue but on a larger scale. When Zero
Tolerance can send a student to jail and deprive them of the learning environment for a
pocket knife brought accidental to school, we are losing a battle with our youths. The
professionals who tell me that giving a student three or four pops with a no-nonsense
piece of oak is not promoting respect, but fear, I say - YOU BET! Fear is what keeps
your students from making too many mistakes. Fear is what will keep the respect and
authority in the schools, and keep the law out of it. Young people will make mistakes,
that is a given, but should their mistakes be compounded by dealing them into the judicial
system and giving them a criminal record? Over the past few years, I watched many of
my own players lead down this twisted judicial path, and seen the effects it has on the
family. When you compare the life a youth lives to a race you find, it is in running the
sprints right out of the blocks that our youths lose themselves to the seven deadly sins,
but the true measure of a youth’s life is taken many years from now in the long distance
race of time.
Skipper was not afraid to “lay the wood” to needed victims, but he used it very
judiciously. Holes played it off with a treasure trove of paddle assortments and implied
threats. But, should a firm and strong hand be needed to weld a paddle, then Handsome
Harry was the best choice. For a man who spent his life going from bar to gym and back
again, he was the one who could “light them up”. Two good licks from Harry’s paddle
made a believer out of many a would-be felons. In all my experience, it is the fear of a
consistent and a immediate punishment that keeps your athletes in line.
Chapter One:
Killer Bob
****
I felt a strange sense of homecoming mixed with a fear of the unknown as I entered the
new stadium in Rocin. The stadium had been named after Robert E. Zeminski, the head-football
coach for Rocin High School the past twenty years. He had retired at least five years ago from
Rocin‟s newly consolidated school district, but his memory had been itched on so many young
men from these small farming towns and communities, that they gave him the highest tribute
they had to offer: his name on their stadium.

I jammed my hands into my leather bomber coat as a cool wind blew through me on the
shady side of the stadium. It was not a blue norther, but the wind was not aware of the difference
as it cut through me and lifted what little hair remained on my head. No real damage that a good
finger swipe could not fix, but I wish I had my cap.

My path lead me into the stadium and up towards the top of the stands. From this vantage
point I could see the field, the sidelines and the end zones in entirety. There was no sound: no
cheers, no yells, or whistle‟s, just the sound of your own thoughts as they bounced around your
head looking to be chosen and nursed into a vivid memory. And as I sat down on the cold metal
seat, I realized : what memories I have had.

It had been a long time since I had sat in the stands. My retirement gave me certain
benefits such as sitting in the press box observing numerous high school football games. I had
never sat in the stands at Rocin High School before. Or had I?

No, I had sat in the stands at Rocin Stadium. It was the night I found “Killer Bob” at the
old stadium drinking alone in the stands. Alone with his fears, and mine.

I had a habit of thinking of Ski as “Killer Bob”, I guess I was as bad as the kids…heck I
was a kid then and Ski scared me, but Ski‟s death had brought me back to the town of Rocin ,
and fond memories of Rocin High School, which started my introduction to Texas high school
football, and my mentor, Coach “Skipper” O„Bryan. Ski‟s death had brought me full circle again
to the home of my working youth, to the beginning of what the sport„s columnists called a “very
successful career“ in coaching high school football. In those two years Skipper taught me more
about life and people, than in the past twenty-eight years I spent coaching football. And, for that,
I cannot thank him enough.

I wish there was a way to break down the word love and separate it into categories, but to
my mind, love means a deep and abiding affection, and should not be confused with a robust and
passionate feeling called lust. I can say I loved Skipper, and in the mix of words that penetrate
my mind and erratically amble through my head, that mean many things, such as : respect,
admire, care, trust, and yes, even a little bit, fear. Looking around at the new stadium with its
gleaming chrome rails, white shining cement, and sparkling fresh paint, I realize, this is what
Skipper‟s love had built.

But, it was in a much smaller Rocin Stadium then this one that the fear Ski and I shared
ended my second season at Rocin, and the love we shared was Skipper and the Boys. Skipper
started building this dream catcher my first year at Rocin. That was the reason he brought this
unknown, untried offensive coordinator here. This is where my memory, my career, and my
undying love for Skipper and our Boys starts.

Skipper….. He is never far from my mind or thoughts. Perhaps one of the highest tributes
I can pay the man was, I never made a decision without wondering, “what would Skipper do?”.
I still wonder what Skipper would have done in our last few play-off games that last season. I
wonder about a lot of things.

****
I wonder why I did not melt as I drove that „61 Chevy Impala down that dusty iron ore
road Skipper told me about that ran down the side of the school, and ended at the field house.
Rivulets of sweat ran down my neck and buried themselves into my tight-collared cotton shirt,
soaking the collar and collecting the dust as it filtered into the open window. If rivulets ran down
my neck, then streams ran down my sides leaving a large amount of water damage on the sides
of my dress-shirt. Not quite the best impression I had hoped to make when leaving the house of a
college friend, whose parents owned a home there in Beaumont that morning.

And, even with all that physical discomfort, I was in a euphoric state. I was to be hired
sight unseen as the offensive coordinator for the Rocin (pronounced “Roe-sin” by the locals)
Bulls in South-Central Texas, between San Antonio and Houston. Not bad for a twenty-three
year old from Homa, Louisiana. Not bad for a boy who had played a practice team running back
at a division one school in my home state, and who played no more than five series in his senior
year at Tech. This was my chance, and Coach Hoyt had seen to that. Coach Hoyt was my
position coach at Tech, who roared when he talked, and thundered when he yelled. His hat rarely
left his head, and on the rare occasions when it did, tufts of gray hair would gently move by the
wind he created as he marched down the hallways of the College of Education, much like stalks
of wheat, rippled by the wind in staggered waves of gusty air. He had sold my abilities to Coach
Michael Patrick O‟Bryan of Rocin High School in Rocin, Texas without having shook my hand
or heard my voice. Now that is trust. A trust I did not want to let down.

What I did know from Coach Hoyt, about Coach O‟Bryan was they had serve together in
the Marine Corps during Korean “Conflict”. They had fought their way out of the Chosin
Reservoir with the First Marine Division and their legendary commander Colonel, later General,
Lewis “Chesty” Puller. The lessons they had learned there in that frozen fight against the
Chinese, about themselves and other men, would be the building block for all their relationships
throughout their lives. Every hard situation they encountered, they could look back on this time
and say, “ I‟ve seen worse”, or “ I‟ve lived through worse”. They would judge the men they
coached, taught, and played against by the standards of the Marines, and the measure of bravery
that common men have during uncommon times.
I found out later that Coach O‟Bryan had joined the Marines near the end of the Second
World War, left the Corps as soon as he could be mustered out to get married, and finish his
college education on the G.I. Bill. He had almost made the civilian transition from Marine to
educator, when he received a small letter in the mail asking him to report for duty in Korea.
He was not alone. These men who had fought so gallantly on Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal
were now being called back into service, after about a four year absence. These men who had
thanked God for the safe return of their lives and their sanity after W.W.II, were now being
asked to return to a new task and a new enemy. The bitter taste of resentment could well have
lead them to a desire to run, but they did not. They could not: duty called, and they reported. I
would not understand the special pride men who have served in the Marines have until my son
joined and became one of the Few, the Proud. I will never forget his letters, nor the pain I felt
during his time in training, but , I also will not forget the strange feeling a man has when he
observes his son doing something he did not or could not do. To give oneself to a greater cause
then self; to hold oneself, and those he is responsible for, accountable to accomplish the mission-
that is what my son did, and that is what Coach O‟Bryan did every day of his life. To see my son,
give up self, and join the ranks of those proud and fierce men, I cannot begin to explain the pride
or overwhelming emotion that drained out of me and down my face the morning of his
graduation. These memories volley around my head as I think back on Coach O‟Bryan and the
town of Rocin.
Another strange detail I learned about Coach O‟Bryan from Coach Hoyt, was that he
considered himself Irish but had never been to Ireland. He was not the only one who felt this way
in a town founded by Irishmen. The whole town of Rocin was made up of a generous amount of
Irish, German, Ceche, and people of Mexican descent. I should not have been amazed at this
make up of the town, given my own mixed French-Spanish-Irish heritage, but these people
seemed to like each other, or better yet, they liked football and Skipper. The more I mixed with
the town people, the more I realized they considered themselves Rosin Bulls first, and
individuals second. Their loyalties started with the team and ended with the team. That could be
a mixed blessing sometimes.
The last detail I learned about the man who would be my new Boss from Coach Hoyt,
was that he had given up alcohol some years ago, and , I was told, you might not want to drink in
his presence. I was not much of a drinking man but I did imbibe from time to time, and I
wondered how this was received in a town made up of country folks who enjoyed their beer.
None of this seemed to matter at the time. All the information I had learned was just back ground
to what I had been asked by Coach O‟Bryan through Coach Hoyt to do: I was to create an
offensive power house that would get the Rocin Bulls to the state play-offs.
Besides the dust and the heat of that morning, I was ready- sticky, but ready.
Chapter Two
The Beginning
****

As I drew nearer the high school, I began to notice the typical brick architecture of the
1930‟s, and how clean the school campus was in comparisons to other high school campuses I
had seen as I drove through Southwest Texas. There seemed to be some pride in the school and
the school ground‟s appearance. I liked the school already. I liked its strong lines made up of red
brick and white-painted wood frames, which outlined the doors and windows. There was an
openness about the whole campus, with the central building the focus and the out buildings
arranged in organized symmetry. The school‟s broad fields looked like hay meadows, and the
trees they had left on the perimeter where tall, strong and shade worthy. I hoped I would be able
to use the car‟s dusty mirror before I meet Coach O‟Bryan, or Skipper as I was to find out later
he liked to be called, with the idea that I could arrange my clothes and hair, so that he would
have the same impression of me. I wore my hair a bit long back then, and the dust and the wind
combined from the open window to give it a Neanderthal appearance.

I pulled into a somewhat shady spot near the field house, and stopped the car, allowing
the orange dust to catch up and enter into the gaping window of my car. The heat was not so bad
here, but my shirt was already soaked with sweat and had achieved a somewhat smoky coloring
due to the aggressive dust particles that had cling desperately there. All I could do was re-tuck
this sponge I called a shirt, and straighten my tie. I opened the battered back door of the Chevy
and took out my sports coat. I could not wait to put on this sweat producing blanket, I thought
sarcastically, but nothing could ruin the pure joy I felt in my heart on my first day here at
Rocin.

After the coat was fastened I took a moment to check out my appearance in the Chevy‟s
small driver‟s side mirror. I raked my hand through my hair to re-establish a part, and felt a
sticky satisfaction concerning my physical deportment. I was as ready as I would ever get. A
moments hesitation gave me a chance to make the decision to leave my new briefcase, a gift
from my mother, in the car. First, I wanted to meet the man who would be my “Boss”, then
second, I could show him what I knew with help from my new briefcase.

As I directed my steps toward the field house; a white and red wooden structure on the
east side of the field, a rather large man in faded denim overalls, a cotton undershirt and a dirty
,sweat stained Notre Dame cap came out of the middle door and, looking at me, stopped. A
slow smile spread across his face, and after a slight inquisitive glance, he spit a brown stream of
tobacco juice onto the dry iron ore parking area in front of the field house. I decided, after only a
moments thought, he must be the janitor, or grounds keeper, and I asked him where I could find
Coach O”Bryan. He seemed to regard me with a strange and bemused look, and with a chuckle,
spit again, and told me to follow him. I thought it rather foreign to see a Notre Dame cap in the
heart of Texas, and on a janitor or grounds keeper at that, who obviously worked for the football
team. I chuckled to myself as I followed him towards a dusty old school bus melting in the late
morning sun.

We got on the old yellow school with the dangerously rusted first step. I almost stepped
through to the ground on my first attempted at boarding, but the man in front of me grabbed my
arm and helped pull me up. The bus was parked on the west side of the school, and we waited in
an awkward silence. The silence gave me time to regard the face of the man in the review mirror.

He had light blue eyes, that seemed even paler in the worn brown shoe leather you might
call a face. When he turned sideways you could see the strong hawk-shaped nose, and even make
out the path of the crow‟s feet that raced to see which one could get to the corner of his eyes first.
His hands, as they gripped the steering wheel, were freckled and surprisingly light of hair. The
hair that was there had a reddish hue to it. I could not see under the cap, but I knew that the hair
on top of his head would be cut short as was the fashion of the men of his era. He was obviously
an outdoors‟ man. This was the type of man who I should ask about whether there was good
hunting around these parts. I am sure there was good hunting, especially as we moved closer to
San Antonio. These thoughts where interrupted when I noticed his eyes regarding me in the
rearview mirror. Just as I had decided to introduce myself to the janitor, bus driver, or whatever,
a young man ran onto the bus speaking hurriedly while bounding over the first step.
“Skipper, I know I can do it! I wont let you down!
“I know you won‟t Petey. We are in for a fine day so lets get going before it gets even
hotter.”

This exchange lead me to change my mind about the janitor. This man must be a coach,
but if he was a coach why would the kid call him by the name “Skipper”?

The man Skipper spoke again, “ Get everyone on board Petey, I want the whole defensive
secondary to make it today. Nobody drops out and nobody quits”.
Petey responded in a militarily playful , yet respectful way, “Aye, Aye Skipper!” and was
off.
I was not too much into things military back then, Vietnam and its protest had watered
down my interest and understanding, but I believe the response had something to do with the
Navy. I thought it was a silly thing to say and I vowed I would never make others say it too me,
or even use it myself.
Just as I had reconciled myself to this fact, I heard Skipper say ,
“Hold on, here comes the thundering herd!”
Sure enough, twelve boys raced towards the bus and their feet began to beat a hasty tattoo
up the metal steps of the bus- skipping the rusted step- and down the aisle, choosing their seats as
they went. Their voices were the loud and excited voices of young man headed out upon an
adventure. I had no idea where we were going, but I felt the excitement becoming apart of me.

The Skipper ground the bus into first gear, and we were off. The big bus shot out of the
parking lot, leaving a trail of dust behind us. We turned left onto Main street, and, with a quick
exchange of gears, we were headed down the road and out of he town. The excitement turned
into fear as I realized I did not know where we were going, or what we were doing. I found my
thoughts getting louder in my head as the whine of the engine rose, and the noise of the “Herd”
behind me took on epic proportions. After a failed attempt to make conversation with Skipper, I
leaned my head and back against the window, picked my feet up, and decided to keep my ever
increasing volumes of thoughts to myself and wait. This man, who had invited me with his Notre
Dame cap, did not seem to be an idiot, and he had understood my question- or had he? My
nervousness increased, but I did not want to show my ignorance to this man and these boys over
the sound of the bus‟s engine.
I watched the sun play peek-a-boo between the trees, and play its rays in random patterns
across the inside of the bus, sometimes blinding me with light ,and, at other times, hiding me in
shade. Even the dust played into this game, as it floated downward , in and out of the light ,and
laid down gently on the first object that got in its way. After about ten miles the bus came to a
stop near a small rest area. The boys unloaded from the bus and began a warm-up exercise
similar to what I had done in college before a long run. Skipper and I had off-loaded from the
bus while the boys stretched, and I found myself enjoying the shade here in the park, but still a
little nervous about the time and my first meeting with Coach O‟Bryan.

I walked back towards Skipper, and asked when I would meet Coach O”Bryan. Skipper
gave me another droll smile, and said soon. I then asked him about that, “Aye, Aye , Skipper”,
response I had heard the young man spout off before the “Herd‟s“ arrival. He informed me it had
started as a joke years ago, and it had stuck, and now, every kid who had him as a coach used it
with some degree of respect and humor.

I am not sure how the words actually came out of my mouth, but I gather from his
expression I had said something wrong. The moment they had left my mouth I wish I could have
stopped them, and pushed back into my mouth without anyone hearing, or at least understanding
them. I know that with my twenty -three years of life experiences and the socialist professor I
had had for Central American history, I felt rather superior with intelligence. Now, as this man
Skipper was just a coach or something, and I was at least his equal as a college graduate, I may
have felt the need to enlighten him into my way of thinking.

Enlighten him I must have done, because his demeanor changed. This Skipper fellow
just looked at me with his squint-eyed, weather-beaten face, and for a brief time I felt the
weather grow a tad bit cooler for a summer day in Texas. Then, his eyes relaxed, he gently
nodded his head, pulled his hat down low over his eyes, and headed for the bus with a quick
measured step. The boys had already taken off for the run back to school. I followed him
tentatively, back to the bus as I realized my mistake and wished again I had not spoken about this
declaration that had taken place between Skipper and Petey.

I started to apologize, but the tall man in the cap, keep marching towards the bus. I know
I was worried about his feelings , but I was more then a little worried about what this man might
say to Coach O‟Bryan. I did not know what their relationship was like; could he be his brother,
friend, or even fellow coach? These were troubling thoughts as the tall man would not respond to
my atoned mental comments.

Skipper had not turned the bus off, and as he got on he shut the door before I could step
up and onto the bus. He put the old bus into gear, and without looking down towards me, slowly
started to move the old bus forward. I felt a wave of nausea hit me as I realized he meant to leave
me here with the long walk back to Rocin High School, in my blister making new wing-tipped
cowboy boots I had just bought for this occasion. I already knew I was late for my meeting with
Coach O”Bryan , but both fears alone could have easily made me sick. With Skipper driving, the
bus continued to creep forward, and all I could do was yell.

“You‟re not going to leave me here are you? Please Skipper open the door, I am already
late for my meeting with Coach O‟Bryan. “
In desperation, I began again, “ If I said something out of line Mr. Skipper, I am sorry!”
Skipper stopped the slow moving bus, opened the door and spit, just missing my new
boots.

“Son, he said, you have already meet Coach O‟Bryan. You just rode seven miles with
him out to this here park, and unless you can make me believe you are a better coach at football
then you are a conversationalist, you are going to walk the seven miles back to the high school.
Comprende?”

I nodded, and hurriedly entered the bus. I sat down, and looked up into the rearview
mirror and saw him smile. And, I thought, perhaps I would be able to eat lunch today without
pitching my breakfast into the nearest convenient . This was the not so promising introduction to
my new Boss. I learned a valuable lesson that day, and that is too keep your mouth shut until you
know who is who at your new job.
Chapter Three
Meeting The Staff
****

That‟s how I met Rocin‟s High School‟s head football coach. All the way back on the bus
Skipper and I talked football. When he wasn‟t laughing, his piercing, light blue eyes keep
appraising me in the rearview mirror. I didn‟t realize it then but he was making up his mind
about me. That I kept the job must have meant I had passed muster.

The long yellow school bus , with the hot afternoon summer wind flowing through the
open windows, knifed its way through the iron ore parking lot of the high school and back
towards the small stadium and field house. The field house sat on the right hand side, or east side
of the stadium, with the two main practice fields to the right of the field house. If you want
through the left hand doors towards the stadium, it was game time. If you went to the right hand
doors it was practice time. If you want south, you where a coach, or you were in trouble. But, as
a coach, there was a door that went directly into the office and changing room. We were headed
there.

Both of us alighted form the bus, and walked companionably into Skipper‟s office to talk
shop. This was my first chance to see inside my new office area, and I was not surprised by the
cluttered condition of the desks of the men who worked here. The main room was not
air-conditioned and smelled of stale sweat, old grass and mildewed uniforms. There were four
desk in the room which , for some reason, faced each other, two on each side. Upon each desk
was at least two spit cans: Coke or coffee cans, and crinkled up pouches of Red Man chewing
tobacco. Also, on or around the desks were whistles, caps, and scarps of old food pickling and
decaying on top of the desks.

It was somewhat good to see things were not so different then in our coaches‟ office in
college. There was no need to ask Skipper about hunting, for upon the walls were stuffed heads
of deer, bobcats, and , believe it or not, even a Texas longhorn. Each animal had a variety of
objects hanging from his horns or head. Whistles and stops watches were the most prevalent
hanging from these horns, but there were even a few Christmas ornaments littered among the
antlered designees . I had to admit, I felt comfortable in this bizarre environment.

Skipper and I sat down in the room, and began to talk. As Coach Hoyt had told me,
Skipper spoke of the team and his belief that the next two years were the most important to the
success of his program and the town of Rocin. He believed that with the talent of his upcoming
sophomores and junior classes he could build the type of team that could win the state play-offs.
This was the best group of athletes he had seen in his almost twenty years in this town and he did
not want to let the town, nor his Boys, down. When I questioned him about “his Boys”, did he
mean the team?

He looked at me for a moment, and with a sobering stare, stated without flinching,
“No, I mean all the boys who have every played for me.”
This surprised me. What did they care, besides pride in their home team? I asked him
.
Again he looked at me , and stated, “ These boys, who have vomited, bleed, sweated,
cursed, and both loved and hated me need to have something of their own. This win would not be
for me, or just for the team, but for everyone who every played for me. “

Skipper kind of smiled then, and said, “ I know it sounds a little silly, but it is my truth,
and what I want to give them. These next two years I have the chance to get to that state
play-offs and you are going to get us there. Your job is to do your offensive magic to make
points, my job is to keep them from scoring points.” And with a knowing and confident grin, he
pronounced, “Together we can make this happen.”

I felted elation at being selected as the offensive savior of this team, but scared too. All
this information Skipper had handed me had overwhelmed me, and I needed sometime on my
own to think. This was not to happen.

I heard the voices before I saw anyone. Their playful voices sounded like men who knew
each other well, and could tease and joke without taking offense. I turned towards the door and
in walked three suntanned and double-knitted, polyester shorted men. They ranged in age from
their late twenties to early forties.

I was introduced to Bob “Killer Bob” Zeminski, Harry “Handsome Harry” Smith, and
Earl “Holes” Schuyler. Killer Bob, or Ski, as Skipper called him, was about twenty nine and had
joined up with Skipper as soon as he finished his tour in Vietnam, and graduated from college.

He looked very military with his trim athletic build, closed cropped hair and mirror
sun-glasses all the policemen seemed to be wearing now-a-days. Handsome Harry lived up to his
reputation. He had blond, collar length hair, parted down the middle and held in place with some
type of hair spray that I only saw him use once. The can of hair spray was so large it had to be
held with two hands while still manipulating the nozzle on top. I laughed so hard, Harry never
did it in front of me again. If there was a mirror or window glass around , you could bet Harry
was looking in it. The man was a little vain, and seemed distracted a lot. I guess it had something
to do with all the husbands in the area who always seemed to be looking for him, and all the
running he was doing to get away from them, but still finding time for their wives.
Earl, or “Holes”, on the other hand was a different breed. I liked him right away. He was
a large humorous sort of guy, whose loyalty to his position players was second only to his
enjoyment of a well placed practical joke. I once asked him why he was called “Holes”?
He smiled his devil may care smile, and remarked, “When I was growing up the men always
called me either an “A-hole”, or a “Butt-hole” for all my practical jokes. Today, in polite society,
I am just called “Holes”. Kinda keeps the folks guessing- don‟t you think?”

Even though I could not get use to Killer Bob‟s silence and those weird mirrored glasses,
I grew to enjoy the company of most of those men and care greatly for them. I learned a lot from
each one of them: whether it was what to do, or what not to do.

****
Coach O‟Bryan introduced me to the other coaches and told them of my very limited
credentials. Killer Bob had temporarily been running the offense, and though I could not see his
eyes, I could feel the heat that came through those mirrored images. I seemed to be making an
enemy on my first day without even trying.

Skipper again declared his thoughts on these next two years and how important they
would be to the success of the team and the importance of wining the state title for all the boys.
“Gents, Sanchez is the real deal. He and his offense are going to get us where we want to
go! Ski, you will take over the defensive side of the ball, working with the secondary, and
continue to work with the receivers. Harry, you will work with Sanchez here, with the running
backs and quarterbacks, while continuing to work the linebackers. Sanchez, you will work with
the defensive ends, and Holes, you and I will continue to work on the offensive and defensive
line.”
Ski took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. You could tell he was not convinced, and he
was waiting to be asked what was the problem. Skipper saw this and asked, “What is it Ski?”

“ Coach“, Ski responded, “ he‟s just a kid. He is younger then me, and with less
experience. The first year we will be breaking him in, and by the second year he just might be a
good coach. But, taking us to the state play-offs? I don‟t know about that, Skipper!”

Skipper took his time to answer, but focused his full attention on Ski.

“Ski, he comes highly recommended by Coach Hoyt of State. He volunteered to coach


at Jeff Davis High School in Louisiana during his last two years at State for Coach Babe Taylor.
Both of these men I personally know and trust, and because of this trust their word is good
enough for me. I hope you all understand, and if not, I am sorry, but that is the way it is going to
be.” Skipper declared.

Ski, held Skipper‟s eyes, and neither one blinked. Finally, Ski broke contact and looked
away gently shaking his head in disbelief. I could not blame, nor fault him.

The room was silent as the other coaches took in what was happening. I had not realized I
was to be such an abrupt catalyst for change. Harry‟s and Hole‟s eyes where on Skipper, when
Ski turned his head back towards him.
“Am I still the JV head coach?”
Skipper shook his head yes without taking his eyes off Ski
“ What is he then?” Ski asked.
Skipper responded, “ He my first offensive assistant. He will call the shots when I am not
around.”
Ski, with a look of disbelief, exclaimed, “ What are you?”
Skipper, with a twinkle in his eye, proclaimed, “ I am the BOSS!”
This statement seemed to break the tension with slight smiles all around, a shakings of
the heads, and a few guffaws from Holes.

Some questions are asked by Harry and Hole about the type of offense I was planning to
run and why I would run it. I gave them my best answers and they seemed satisfied, accepting
of my knowledge- but I know I was not home free. The true test would come when Skipper was
not around, and the first day of practice.

About this time, Holes got up and went to the toilet. I thought nothing of it, but Skipper
and Harry exchanged some looks.
“ Did you‟ll go to the city café? Skipper asked
Harry responded, “ You know it.”
Ski, not looking at me but talking towards me none the less, exclaimed bitterly “ You‟re
in for a treat.”

Holes conducted his business in a timely fashion ended by the hearty flush of the
commode. He shut the door, and came out smiling. He turned his head to the side, and rolled his
eyes bringing his head back to the center. From this gesture I could tell I did not want to go into
that bathroom any time soon. And, based on the others faces, of shaking heads, and fanning
hands I knew they agreed with me.

I turned back towards the door when I heard it open. In breezed a man who must have
considered himself of importance, measured by the way he carried himself and how offended he
looked at the sight of the coaches‟ office. I was to learn later that this was Vice-principal Smith.
He was dresses in a dark suit with a large navy and powdered blue polyester tie. He was a
medium sized man, about thirty-five, but his waist line was vastly in expanse of his age.

With a smug, uptight expression, he walked into the coaches office and let them have it.
Smith bombasted the coaches,“ Why is it I ask for two days for you people to bring me
hammer, and you are all too busy, and I come in here and I find everyone of you sitting down
and doing nothing?”
I could see his comment had hurt Skipper who, much like a horse, reared back his ears,
tightened his face and narrowed his eyes in anger. I found myself a little scared for the safety of
this man in the dark suit.
But, before Skipper could speak, Holes does.
“ Mr. Smith, I believe the hammer is on the middle shelf there in the bathroom over the
commode.” Holes said and then pointed toward the bathroom door.
“ Isn‟t that right Harry?” Holes asked innocently.
Harry just nodded, and restrained a smile by looking down.
Mr. Smith looking put out and disgusted, marched between the desks and into the
bathroom shutting the door behind him as if the vulgarity of him being viewed in the facilities
was beneath him.

Holes moved over towards Harry‟s desk and with large eyes and shallow gulps of air,
looked down at Harry‟s desk and both of them pretend to be interested in the papers scattered
about.
About this time, the bathroom door burst open and out barreled Mr. Smith, moving as fast
as he could without running. He was gasping for air harder then Holes was at that moment, and
therefore did not notice Harry and Holes trying to hold each other up and keep from laughing
through clinched lips. As Smith moved closer to me, a obscene smell proceeded him and caught
me off guard making me catch my breathe and hold it.

In a hurried gasping fashion of breathing and talking, Mr. Smith abruptly moved past the
coaches and breathlessly mentioned, “ I‟ve got to go,… please send …me.. the hammer…. as
soon as possible.”

“Will do, Mr. Smith”, Holes was able to produce before, seemingly, falling down
laughing at Mr. Smith‟s obvious discomfort.

As he exited the room, the place exploded with laughter from everyone but, Skipper. Yet,
slowly his anger defused itself and was replaced with a slow spreading smile that turned into a
hearty laugh, and then replaced with a deep belly laugh. When we were able to pick Holes up off
the floor, the merriment wore off and we went back to work organizing, and planning for our
first day with the boys. Before I left that afternoon, Skipper then warned me about the cabbage
lunch buffet at the City Café. This was my first taste, or should I say smell, of Holes‟ humor,
but not my last by far.
Chapter Four
Skipper and his Boys
****
The next day brought about my meeting with the all the football players who had showed up to
met the new coach. All the coaches and players were there, and we met in the coolness of the shade,
protected from the sun by the bleachers of the stadium. Skipper had a habit of using nick names so as
to remember the names of his boys. But, he did not stop with just his boys, he also had a habit of using
them with his coaches if he forgot their names. My full name is Emile Robert E. Lee Sanchez, or Emile
Lee Sanchez for short, thanks to my parents‟ Spanish, French and Southern heritage. Therefore, for the
first twenty-three years of life I want by the name of Emile, but Skipper, as can be his habit of listening
but not retaining, got a little mixed up and during the introduction.. He looked down at some notes he
had made, but without his glasses he struggled, and after a short pause, followed by determined
resignation, raised his voice and said, “I would like to introduce you to our new offensive coordinator,
Coach “Muley” Sanchez“. I did not hear the rest of the words he spoke. I just kept looking over at him
shocked.
He had thrown the Emile and Lee together, mispronounced them, and came up with “Muley”.
I now had a new nick name, and thanks to Skipper, it stuck. He used it whenever he needed to tease ,
or instruct me, which seemed to be all the time. The other coaches followed suit calling me Muley
whenever the players and students were not around.. To his credit, I do not believe the other coaches
ever heard Coach O‟Bryan call my anything but Coach Sanchez before this event.
He used his own memory keeping device all the time. I remember asking him how he chose
certain kids nick names. He just smiled and laughingly told me he used something similar to their real
name, so that he could always keep it handy, and the kids felt special. If their name was Cook, he
called them “ Cookie”, if their name was Lee, he called them “ General Lee”. I know it worked, but
how he keep the ten different “ Smithy‟s” he had had over the years separate, or the seven “Jonesy‟s”
I do not know. But, when they came back to visit he always had time for them, and he always
remembered their nick names. That was what he had done to me; he had added my names together into
a memory device, given it a visual, and come out with a Mulie.
After my introduction, and the variation or butcher-ation made on my first two names, the boys
went on their own to work out. I don‟t remember having this put on a sheet of paper to be memorized,
but Skipper had a unique belief system when it came to working out. This belief system probable came
with him from the Marines, but he had put voice to it. He believed that the only way to train his boys
was for them to outlast their opponent. This meant conditioning. And, he conditioned all the time.
Even his offensive line conditioned, and to please him they would condition during the hot summer
months when they were not baling and loading hay, by running around the track inside the stadium, or
up and down the stadium„s steps. Petey and the defensive secondary boys, who I had met on the bus
my first day were expected to run long conditioning runs during the summer to toughen them up.
Keeping their size large was not an issue. The linemen, both offense and defense, ran shorter distances,
but used the track in the evening at the stadium. Linemen may look slow, but upstairs, where the the
mental work is processed, the boys are lightening quick. I overheard one old coach speak at a football
clinic speak on telling the difference between a defensive lineman and a offensive lineman, after the
substitution rule change, which allowed teams to make use of two platoon football teams. He said, that
the way to separate the two groups was to run them into the ground during a practice, then allow them
a break near some shade. This is when the two groups begin to decompose into classic linemen
deviations. The defensive linemen types would take a short break, then pick up a football and begin to
throw it around, challenging each other. Offensive linemen types would, on the other hand, stay in the
shade, resting, knowing that any minute they would be called into action, and have to give rather
generously of their limited energy. That old coach knew what he was talking about.

Most evenings, I would invariable find Skipper leaning on the chest high, chain linked fence
that surrounded the stadium watching his line boys going round and round and encouraging them to do
more or go faster. The boys always seemed to go faster within 50 yards of him, and slow down 50
yards past, but they tried. One young man in particular drew my attention. He was definitely over
weight and not in good physical condition, with his shimmel shirt riding above his cavernous sized
navel, and his huge stretch-marked stomach rolling like a counter-balancing apparatus; just watching
him was painful, but he was game to try. His last name was Hale, and therefore you can guess his
nick name: that‟s right “Whale Hale”. He did not seem to mind, but for the first two months I could
never bring myself to call him Whale.
I stood with Skipper my second evening there at Rocin High School Stadium, and I watched his
boys jogging around the track. The day‟s heat had cooled down some , but it was still August in Texas,
where even standing still the humidity would find you and stick with you until it had grown into
goblets, and needed more room to roam. In which case it found the room in your socks, shirt, or even
shorts: which was the most uncomfortable. Hale was on his third laborious lap, when Skipper spoke to
me.
“ Have you ever heard about something called CPR?” he asked.
“No, Sir.” I responded.
“Well, it is dealing with bringing back the dead, or keeping someone alive long enough for
medical help to arrive. It‟s real name is Cardio Pulmonary Restitution, hence CPR.” He informed.
In my mind , I thought this was a rather strange thing to bring up, but I realized Skipper was
trying to tell me something. We keep the silence between us until Hale joged, or waddled by on his
forth lap. Skipper looked at me in his amused sort of way.
“ You see Whale over there? If he goes down, the two of us will have to perform this thing
called CPR. One of us will have to put their mouth on his to blow air into his lungs, the other will have
to push on his chest. ”
At this point, I now clearly understood where Skipper was headed with this CPR discussion,
but I waited.
“ You ever play paper, rock , scissor? “ he asked.
I laughed hesitatingly, “ Once or twice when I was a kid.”
“ Good,” he said, “ when Whale goes down, winner gets chest, and loser gets lips. Ready…., on
three…. One- Two- Three- Shoot!”

This was my introduction to Skipper‟s sense of humor. It seemed mean-spirited at first, and
though he laughed at his boys expense he stilled loved them. When Hale lost his grandfather in a
farming accident, it was to Skipper he turned to for love and comfort. I remember walking by
Skipper‟s office seeing the two of them holding one another, and I suspect crying though Skipper
would probable not have admitted to it. That boy would not have found comfort without Skipper‟s
broad shoulders to cry on. The Coach was always there for his Boys.
Chapter Five
Meet The Boys

****

When two-a-days started and the boys were all seated in neat little columns and rows I got my
first taste of how he “addressed the troops“, as he called it.
“Gents, I would like to begin this motivational period to talk to you about the challenges of fire
fighting. To go into a burning building and bring out babies, and old ladies as the building is burning
and falling down around you takes guts. To climb up a mechanical ladder two or three stories, and turn
on your sprayer and aim it at the raging fire while clinging to that ladder for dear life, my friends, is the
definition of a hero at work. But, you Gents are not fireman. One, you are too young, and two, you
cannot aim. So the next one of you little fireman who goes into my head (bathroom), and proceeds to
put out an imaginary fire all around the toilet including the toilet paper roll, is going to cause this team
to punish until they puke.”
“Do you Gentlemen understand me?”
“Yes, Sir!”
“Great”, he responded,” I‟ve missed you Boys, now lets get to work.”

During this beginning of two-a-days, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the Coach‟s Boys.
One of the boys that sticks out in my mind was David Shepard. He was one of the two captains on our
team that year. He was big and fast, and quick to put up his fists to end an disagreement. I would watch
him unload on other players that year, friend or foe, with a devilish passion. It was not till a “Meet the
Coaches‟ Night” that I begin to understand his anger. In coaching, as in teaching, the apple is the great
fruit we use to make comparisons. I call it the “apple theory”. In it the apple theory holds, that the
apple-player, does not fall far from the tree-parent. I meet David‟s father.
David‟s father was a large man also, whose anger rode the surface of his presence like a captain
of his ship. He bullied his way into the booster club meetings, cutting people off verbally, and would
stand up and shout at anyone who got in his way. As a despot, or tyrant he would have been an
excellent cast, if one was making a movie; we were not making a movie, and as for the role of parent,
he was not well casted.
After this meeting I begin to watch him interact with David. I was not the only one though. I
also saw Skipper watch, and take mental notes of all David had to endure. The father did not like the
way he looked, played, or spoke. I watched him slap him after our first loss that year, for missing a
finger tip tackle on a juking, deceptive-type runner that could have saved the game for us. It took
everything I had not to walk over there confront David‟s father, but Skipper beat me too it.
Mr. Shepard was standing next to his old Dodge sedan, where he had been waiting for David after the
game. Skipper approached with a rapid pace.
“ Mr. Shepard“, he began, “ Off campus David is yours, on campus he is mine. And, while you
are on campus you will be kind enough to keep your hands off him.”
The two men stood there sizing each other up, both leaning forward in an aggressive stance-
neither flinching, nor backing off. I found myself more curious, them fearful in how Skipper would
handle this hostile situation. The only one I felt sorry for was David. Win or lose, he would not have a
good night tonight at home. I waited.
Skipper‟s face was stretched back from the front of his face. His ears were laid back much like
a horse before he bites. His fist were clinched, and there was no doubt in my mind Skipper had decided
he would make his stand on this issue right then. Looking back on this scene from the security and
seasoning of years gone by, my reaction was just like one of the kids. Like the kids I wanted action, but
without the benefit of experience, I was unsure what action was needed.
Mr. Shepard finally spoke through his anger. “ Listen, you son-of-a-………, what I do with my
son on or off campus is none of your business. The next time you challenge my authority over my son ,
I will kick you‟re a...”
With a step forward, Skipper closed what little of the proximity remained fast. With fist
clinched, these two were going to go at it, and there was nothing I could do. But, I was ready to help
the Boss out should he need it, even though my money was on Skipper.
There may have been some slight doubt in my mind how this event would have turned out had
not Mr. Smith, the Vice-Principal, come onto the scene. I was not a big fan of Mr. Smith, but on this
occasion he proved why he was given a position of responsibility.
“ Gentlemen”, he stated in a commanding voice with his black suit hiding his corpulent size in
the dark, “ I have alerted the police, and they are on their way. I will ask you both to stop this
confrontation, in front of the players and the public. Mr. Shepard, you need to leave the school
grounds immediately, and Coach O‟Bryan you need to go back to the field house and wait for me
there. Should either one of you want to talk about this issue further, please make arrangements with the
school secretary to see me at your earliest connivance tomorrow.”
Both men eyed each other, but Skipper was the first to leave, turning quickly on his heels, and
heading out of the anticipating parking arena. He walked swiftly, and angrily back towards the field
house. I followed , but keep my distance. Skipper entered the main office, and went quickly to his
office and sat down. He did not shut the door, nor did he turn on the lights. He just sat there in the
darkness until Mr. Smith walked into the main office area.
Mr. Smith, continued walking on through the office area, looking around with disgust as he
barreled towards Skipper‟s door. He was met at the door by the Boss, whose eyes were still narrowed
with anger. Smith had just made it past the door, and into the darkened room which blazed with light as
soon as Skipper hit the switch. The door closed with bang, and voices rose in an angry and urgent
volume.
I heard Skipper‟s voice rise over Smith‟s voice, like a aircraft carrier versus a sailboat.
“ That Boy is going home to get the snot beat out of him! I cannot protect him if you do not let
me do my job.”
“Your job, Coach, your job?”, he bellowed, “ You would have no job if you had got into a fight
with that man. Then who would you pretend to protect and serve? We would have had to fire you, and
that jerk would have sued the school!”
I continued to listen, trying as I might to find something to keep me busy. I did not want to
leave in case Skipper needed me, either to talk to or to witness.
“Smith, you are a timid old woman! I do not pretend to protect them, I do it! I have no choice. I
cannot hide behind the district policy, or my desk as you do. If I had lost my job tonight because I
fought with David„s father, then I would have lost many of the things I hold dear, but if I did nothing,
then I would have lost my self-respect. And, when all is said and done it is self-respect that defines a
man. I would rather be remembered as a man who fought for what he thought was right then a man
who stood by helplessly not knowing what to do and doing nothing. I cannot be you!
Mr. Smith fought to control himself. I could not see his face, but I could feel his frustration
growing as he played Skipper‟s words across his mind again after the first installment questioned
courage.
“ Coach O‟Bryan, you are a self righteous man. You and your coaches are a sorry lot, and so
help me, if you lose this season, I will do everything in my power to throw you and yours out of this
school and out of my district! The principal has only one or two more years, and then I take over. I can
wait. Your days are almost over. No more of that, „Aye, Aye Skipper‟ crap!”
With that, Smith must have turned around, because the door opened with a bang, and Smith
walked rapidly out of the office and out the door.
“ Coach Sanchez”, I heard the growl from the inner office, “ drive around and look for David.
He will probable be near his house, over by White Street. When you find him ,bring him back here to
me.”
I was a little confused. I had not seen Skipper talk to David since the issue started between him
and Mr. Shepard tonight. How did he know David would not be at home?
“Skipper“, I asked, “what makes you think David is not at his home with his Dad?”
He looked at me with those intense blue eyes for a moment before talking. I guess I really was
missing something, but I could not put my finger on it.
“Muley,” he began softly with an edge of hardness, “ I have had personal experience. I know,
he will be there. Just find him, and bring him back. I will take care of the rest.”
“O.K. Skipper. I am on my way.”
I found David near his house, just south of White Street, sitting along the ditch of a vacant lot.
He came silently to the car when I drove up and stopped. He acknowledged my presence with a
grudging nod, and got into the passenger seat. We drove to the field house an uncomfortable silence ,
not knowing what to say, so saying nothing, as words and questioned formed and evaporated in my
elementary mind.
At the field house, a figure loomed in the Mercury vapor light which cast a hazy gray light on
the area spot-lighted. It was Skipper in his Notre Dame cap. He turned slowly towards the car‟s
headlights and waited for me to stop. He must have seen two heads in the vehicle, as he walked
towards the passenger side of the car and greeted David, first with a handshake, and then with a side
hug- a hug more common among men then women. David began to cry.
After that night, David stayed with Skipper for about a week, and then he disappeared for a
time from the town of Rocin.
Chapter Six
The Boy is More Important
****

Two-a -days is not a great time of year for the coaches and the boys. What with the yelling,
screaming, conditioning, and cramping. And, that was just what the coaches went through. Two-a-days
was both a conditioning time, a reviewing time, and a time for implementing new formations and
plays- both offensive and defensive. Putting in the Wish-bone offense alignment was not too hard, as
the boys had seen it on television, watching such college teams as Texas and Alabama line their
players up in the correct positions. Learning the calls and signals was harder as the boys were not
prepared for this prior to my coming. The in-between time from the morning and afternoon practices
were a hard time for some of the players. In the country, many of the boys had to help their fathers out
on the farms, doing chores and haling hay as this was one of the busiest times of the year for farmers
and ranchers. The time to make hay is when the sun is shinning. I have heard this often, and its
statement is true. If you need the hay for your livelihood, you will cut, bale and hail it, even during
football season.
I do not know how they did it. I remember helping out my grandfather and his friends hauling
hay, first onto the wagons, and then into the barns. It was not just the labor which took my endurance
away, but the cramps in my forearms from gripping strings after strings of those square bails. Even
taking a shower after this grueling work, and lathering up with soap could be a painful experience as
the hands took on a mind of their own, and locked themselves into a position of painful no-use.
A few of these country boys told of putting the truck into “granny”, which is your lowest gear,
getting out and letting it roll, all by itself with no one driving, while the boys threw the hay bails onto
the attached trailer. Those were some hard working boys we had playing for us in Rosin, and some
hard living.

Our two-a-days were hard, with a few losing their breakfast, and others wishing they could, as
the nauseous feeling in their stomach could get stronger then their feeling of pain from the exercise. On
a whole, the boys looked in good shape thanks to the work out program Harry and Holes had worked
on during the summer months. The seventy‟s were a time of limited water distribution and salt tablets
for athletes. Hydration was not an issue, but toughness was. The boys had one water break per
work-out. There were times they got none. No one dropped out of heat exhaustion, probably because
every young man work outdoors during the summer months in these farming communities.

****

One individual who had felt the effects of two-a-days, but had left after our first loss was David
Shepard. Rumors of Shepard smoking and drinking, and even stealing were all over town the rest of
that football season. And, it was in the midst of preparing for our game against Harris High School
that Deputy Zychek brought David into our office that Monday evening. Deputy Zychek was a good
man, who had played ball for Skipper years ago.
All he said was, “Skipper, David‟s in trouble and he needs to talk with you.” It was after the
afternoon practice, and Harry and I were at our desks. We could not help but over hear this exchange.
Coach O‟Bryan keep the door open and I heard every word. Skipper withheld verbal judgment,
but his look was both intent, and , yet, sympathetic. David, and some of his friends, had been caught
taking items out of the back of the local discount store and reselling them to others for a profit. This
profit had then been used to buy marijuana , or Pot as it was known. David had been in possession of
both the stolen goods, and a significant amount of pot when he had been apprehended. David Shepard
was eighteen that September, and he was going to jail.
Skipper talked quietly and let his eyes and manner do most of the comforting. He rested a
gently hand upon David‟s shoulder, but he spoke only a few words. He told him he would do what he
could, but there would have to be a price to pay. David nodded his understanding, and then left with
Deputy Zychek. I felt a deep sadness, not only for David, but for the team. He may not have been the
nicest captain, but he was the one the boys had turned to on the field. He was the one we had counted
on from that Monster spot to get the ball stopped and the job done. He had been hard to replace.
Skipper did not make it to practice or school that day nor the next. I began to feel a little angry
with him. How were we going to beat Harris High without having all our coaches here to explain the
job, and what needed to be done? No matter how bad I felt towards David„s plight, we, as coaches, had
a job to do, and Skipper was not doing his. He was letting his Boys, and his coaches, down.
It was after Thursday‟s practice and the boys were still on the field , with the team huddled up
for closing, that I noticed Skipper and David walking towards us. I had never seen the Coach all
dressed up. He was in a light gray suit, with black wing tips shoes , a red and navy blue bow-tie and a
fedora style hat. It reminded me of my youth and the way men use to dress when they went to work, or
even to church each Sunday morning. After watching him, I knew I also needed a gray suit, because it
sent a refined image in the Texas summer‟s heat . Without looking at David , Skipper told the team of
what had happened and where David had been. The boys knew most of the story, but they listened
intently to what Skipper was saying. Skipper had been to see the county judge and had worked out a
deal. He had not been able to get David off the burglary charges, but the judge agreed to letting David
join the army. Instead of going to jail, he would serve two years, and then be given a clean record with
his honorable discharge. The boys were a little shocked, Vietnam was still going on, and David most
likely would be headed there. David apologized to the team for his actions. It was here that the tough
shell that David had covered himself in broke in a wave of emotion. He could not speak, the lump in
his throat would not let him. And, with the tears starting to swim in his eyes and the magnitude of what
he had done, and how it reflected on the team, he turned around and followed Skipper back towards the
field house.
I waited awhile before I went into the office area. I wanted to talk to Skipper, but I wanted to
do it quietly without all the other coaches hearing. I wanted an explanation, or reason why he had
skipped practice for almost three days. I could not understand his decision.
When I finally entered into the coaches‟ office, Skipper seemed to be waiting for me. He was
sitting in the common coaches area, still in his suit, playing with his hat all by himself.
“ Coach, I just want to know”, I started out asking, feeling a bit sheepish, but a gathering
strength with each new word, “ why you brought me here if your emphasis was not on winning? Why
was it so important for you to help Shepard, when the team is counting on you to lead them to victory
tomorrow against Harris? “
“ Emile”, he said- I guess he had not forgot my name after all, “ that boy, really that man, is a
fine young man. He is honest, and brave. He has never lied to me…. I cannot say that about my own
son. I love him. Heck, I love all my Boys. And, if I can save even one, from the hardships I have had,
or seen then maybe there is a chance that I have saved a life. He will learn from this mistake. All our
Boys will learn from his mistake. But, what I want those boys on our team to take away from this is:
They are all equally valuable in my eyes. They are so precious, that I will forgo my plans and dreams
to show them how much I think of them, and how much I care.”
He looked down, and paused for a moment, when he looked up his face was strong with
emotion.
“Make no mistake about it, “ he declared, “ I love these boys. I have trained them, whipped
them and held them. They know who I am. I would rather charge hell with three of my good boys and
a bucket of water, then to have all the athletes in the world and a fire hose. They trust me, and I will
not lose that trust. No, Sir! I will not lose their trust because a game was more important them they
were.”
His passion had risen with these words, and he spat these last words out as if it had left a bad
taste in his mouth. In the pause that followed, his next statement showed his passion had abated.
“ Sorry, Muley. I have been having this very conversation with myself since yesterday. And,
though I respect your right to ask that question, I believe I have made the right choice. Sometimes Carl,
you have to make a stand. If you keep giving in on your values and beliefs, pretty soon you will have
nothing left.”
I was awed by the sheer power of his words and what they meant. Back then, I didn‟t know if
I could ever feel the same way that he felt, but for that moment in time, I loved and believed in
Skipper. I wanted to be that good Boy of his that carried the bucket of water, and stood shoulder to
shoulder with him putting out whatever fire came our way.
I was coming to understand Skipper‟s philosophy, and much of it would become my own. Two
days taken off was a lot of time during football season, and I am not sure I would have taken both days
off if I was him, but the life of one of these boys was worth the price, any price, I was beginning to
understand.
Chapter Seven
A Question of Faith

****
Skipper‟s comments about David that night, and my suspicions about Skipper‟s own
up-bringing caught me by surprise. It took me a couple of days to muddle through his words in my
own head, even as we lost that game to Harris. With my Roman Catholic upbringing, I saw Skipper as
acting on his faith. His actions spoke louder then his words and maybe that was what our Boys saw in
him.
I decided that when I next had an opportunity to talk privately with Skipper, I would ask him
about his faith. With such an Irish last name and a Saint Christopher„s medal around his neck, my
money was on him being Catholic. I never was sure what the difference was between Roman Catholic,
and Irish Catholic, but my French mother did and I would take her word over almost any others. I had
grown up in a nice Catholic parish in southern Louisiana, and what my mom did not know, my
Abuelita, my father‟s mother knew.
My opportunity to speak with Skipper came on a Monday night when we exchanged films with
Cleveland High. The Coach and I made the exchange, and went back to our office to set it up and view
it. Before we turned the projector on, I worked up the nerve to ask what religion he was. Skipper just
smiled.
“ What‟s the matter,” he kidded, “ did I forget to tell you the name of the Catholic church?”
“ No, I was just wondering what your faith was and your thoughts on religion?”
Skipper eyed me for a time, gave a small amused snort, and said,” Catholic, sort of... but, not a
practicing Catholic.”
That caught my attention. I asked him, what did he mean?
“ I don‟t go to church every Sunday, I don‟t go on holy days of obligation, and sometimes I
even go visit different churches to hear their messages.
He smiled again and observed ,“I tend to think of myself as a Protestant-leaning Catholic. I
don‟t believe in all things Catholic, and I don‟t agree with every Protestant group. At times, I just go
get my Bible- some days a Catholic Bible, some days a Protestant Bible- and read it. There is not that
much difference- same Jesus. That‟s my religious beliefs.”
“ And how will you be saved?” I asked knowing this could be the true test of faith between
these two groups.
“Through the Grace of God”, he answered. “ But should your question have been , which will
lead to salvation: Grace or deeds?, then my answer must be both. You see Muley”, he went on, “if you
have faith in Jesus the Christ, then the reflection of grace is deeds, and therefore the reflection of deeds
is grace. These two subjects live in the same house, and one cannot be removed without the other. Both
enter and exit using the same door.”
I don‟t know if I agreed with him, but I liked his answer.
Skipper had a way of putting things together that caused me to think, and each week I think I grew a
little wiser with his help.

Nearly every day I watched Skipper‟s faith in action. Whether it was on the football field, in the
school, or in the community. Yes, he could make fun of others periodically, but I think he always felt
guilty and tried to make amends. The team itself showed its spirit or, if you, will faith, by holding
food drive‟s and jacket- blanket drives throughout the year, especially at Christmas time lead by
Skipper. Not that he was perfect mind you. He had his faults, but they were more of the exception then
the rule, and when they were evident, they were glaringly so.
Harry ran the weight room, and based on the adoring looks he gave his muscles, he know what
he was doing. He even keep some weights by his desk to get that extra pump in when he was watching
films, and waiting for his next date. The constant click of his hand strengthener during the dark hours
of film watching use to grate on my nerves. The only relief we received from this noise, was when
Holes would steal them from his desk, and Harry ran around threatening whoever took them.

****
St. Joseph‟s Catholic church was faithfully served by Father Thomas O‟Carroll. This
interesting priest once told the story of the three lives of Thomas: Fighting Tom of his youth; Doubting
Tom of his twenties; and Father Tom, “the man you see before you”. He too had served in the Army as
a Chaplain during World War II. I am not sure where the deviation occurred; between Doubting Tom,
and Father Tom: before or after the war? Once he shared a sermon in one sentence, “If you are fat,
perhaps, it is because you are a glutton”- end of sermon. These short sermons were great days for the
local farmers, as they could return early to their dinners and labors. I shared this priest and sermons
every Sunday with Holes and Ski. Ski was still not very friendly, but Holes and his Misses knew some
nice young ladies, and Holes was not so afraid to push them off on me: big ones, little ones, and
annulled ones. After the football season, off-season was the only thing that took up my time and I
enjoyed the dating scene very much. But, I missed home, and church had a way of making me feel
comfortable and at peace. Some things had changed since Vatican Two, but the traditions were alive
and well at Rocin‟s only Catholic church: St. Joseph‟s.

Holes and his wife sang in the choir, and, behind them sat four of the most mischievous,
fun-loving boys you would ever want to meet. When it was time for the ladies in the choir to sing the
high notes, upward warbled four of the most horrible falsettos you could have ever heard. They carried
that tune, as if they were mucking out a horse stall and using the same bucket to sling both. These four
were distinctly related to Holes, both in humor and coloring. Their noise would continue till Holes
marched backward and behind them pretending to read the missalet. The falsettos would usually taper
off before Holes had the time to reach down and distribute to their bottoms a hard-turned pinch. If they
did get pinched, the whole congregation would know by the yelp that follow Hole„s arrival at the
disrupting pew. I never tired of this comic routine. I am sure Holes and his wife did, but I eventually
hired two of those boys as assistant coaches, and I watched them and their own encounters, and
adventures in child-rearing. They gave as good as they got with their own brood.
Ski on the other hand would not spend a second longer then he had to talking with me, or
anyone else at St. Joe‟s for that matter. I had taken his place, he believed, as heir apparent, and he
would not forget this injustice, nor would he let me. He sat towards the back of church, crushed into a
an empty pew end, looking moody and solemn. He was a talented coach who demanded nothing less
from his kids then excellence. If he had one fault, I recognized by this time, it was his inability to give
of himself to his athletes. He was not warm and kind, he was hard and demanding. Every player knew
where they stood with him, and he viewed no favorites in those reflecting glasses of his. I admired that
trait in him.

****
St. Joseph‟s was not the only church in Rocin. There were many spirit filled churches that
demonstrated both generosity and competition. In particular, the Catholic, Baptist and Lutheran
churches and their annual boat race down the Rocin River. The boat race was the brain child of both
Father Tom of St. Joseph‟s Catholic church, Pastor Chuck of the Prince of Peace Lutheran church, and
Rev. Hope of the New Covenant Baptist church to raise money for different charities in the county. On
a certain Sunday in February a portion of the collection from that day‟s take would be held out and
used to update and restore a row boat by each congregation. Now, there was some concern by the
Catholics that because they did not tithe, the Lutherans and Baptist would have the upper hand in the
contest, but that did not stop Father Tom. I believe, with whatever little amount of money he made , he
added a generous portion of his own funds to keep the race competitive. All three churches would meet
after services on the Sunday of Spring Break on Schrick‟s Bend; an area upriver from the churches and
the town. The row boats would be made ready by the men while the woman set out concession areas
loaded with homemade foods and candies. The finish line tape holders were those families who bided
the highest to buy this right. Everyone else who had made the trek took up positions on both sides of
the banks and rooted on their champion while buying refreshments and concessions from the senior
ladies of the three churches.
The Lutherans felt that Pastor Chuck was the better bet, should they want to bet, because the
walk form his house to the Lutheran church was longer and more uphill then Father Tom„s walk from
the rectory to the Catholic church: though I think both of them could have reached their destination in
thirty steps or less. I thought this argument, regarding the walking, was rather thin, but enjoyable. I
even enjoyed the light discussion on Father Tom‟s workout habits: lifting the beers off the counter,
and the ability of crushing the cans between his breasts- I would say his pectoral muscles, but you
would have been hard pressed to find them. Even Brother Hope had his detractors, based on his fleshy
size and the amount of water he would add to the boat due to the generous amount of sweat he
produced during his sermons, and physical excursions.
Even the non-church goers enjoyed this event, and bought eagerly from these big-hearted
church folks, laying down their money to buy concessions with the proceeds going towards charities
from around the county. I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community that this event brought about.
Everyone seemed joyful and happy. There was even a barbershop quartette
With a tremendous amount of fanfare, the Lutherans unveiled their boat, HMS Martin Luther.
Clapping and chuckles were heard from scattered areas around the river. Not to be out done the
Catholics unveiled their own boat which they had christened, HMS Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The
Catholics also applauded and whistled , eager for the race to begin. And, last but not least, the Baptist
uncovered their boat, with the proud title: HMS Paul‟s Journey. The Baptist seemed the most
determined this year, as they had not win in the past four tries. All the blame could not have been laid
at the feet of the rower, Brother Hope, but there was a general feeling that the Lutheran who had sold
them the boat was not as concerned with honesty as he was with winning. All these rumors were fun to
listen to and enjoy, but I took little stock in these light hearted attempts at justifying reasons for not
winning. Reasons were started with a chuckle, and ended with a laugh. That was all I needed to
understand it was all in good fun, therefore that is the way I took it.
The spirit of competition and the camaraderie of the race was good for all churches. I don‟t
think it really mattered who won that year, at least form my position and point of view, for I would
have had to take the word of someone else seeing that I began viewing the race near the middle. The
beginning point of the race was filled up with spectators and concession personal. The end of the race
was also full of people, but the difference was, it was for those who really seemed to care who won.
The middle was reserved for those who were not hungry, did not care about winners, and came to
enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Chapter Eight
Swimming in Faith
****

Looking across the river, I saw Skipper. He was sitting near the river bank in one of those
aluminum lawn chairs, with three or more of his former players in attendance. He looked comfortable
and relaxed in his faded denim overalls, white T-shirt, tennis shoes and ever present Notre Dame cap.
The question on my mind was, which church was Skipper counting on to win? I tried to make eye
contact with him across the narrow river, and moved closer to my side of the river bank.
I wondered, as I moved closer to the edge, what Skipper thought of this charitable event and the
money they raised. I was in the midst of these day-dreams moving closer to the edge, when I noticed a
particularly beautiful girl just in front of me coming up the bank. We passed, and I took my eyes off
the trail down long enough to get a last look at her from the corner of my eyes.
She had a way about her that was almost breathe taking, and I let my eyes linger a little too
long. I have always had a good sense of balance, so therefore when my foot slipped on the wet clay, I
reached out and caught hold of a small tree with all my strength, thinking I could stop my fall, and no
one would be the wiser. Little did I know that the tree I grabbed was dead, and decided at this time to
cease standing up right. It snapped, and I shot down the river bank, looking at the up-coming green
water with dire expectations. Therefore, I had the unexpected pleasure of not only falling in love that
afternoon, but also of falling into the river.
When I came out of the cold water my first thoughts were of Skipper and what he was thinking.
He did not disappoint. He was sitting in his aluminum chair laughing and, to my excellent eye
sight, tearing up. My next thoughts were of the girl, and I turned around, spitting water out of my
mouth and looking for her. I do not think she had seen me. She had disappeared into the crowd. All I
could hear in my red-faced, damped shame was the crowd calling me “Fish” and “Jonah“. As I trudged
out of the emerald green water and up the banks of the Rocin River, I truly hoped I would met that girl
again.

****

The following Monday brought me no end of grief with me being the butt of many humorous
jokes. I would have stayed there for quite a bit of time if Harry and Holes had not come up with a new
project. Mouse catching. It seemed that Holes brought his lunch from home daily, and sometimes he
brought extra food to stay in his locker or desk in case he was hungry, or forgot his lunch. This worked
out well until we came back from the weekend boat race. We all had come in early to start or finish
paperwork that was needed for the classroom. Holes made his usual grand entrance, producing a
snorkel and goggles, and placing them on my desk without saying a word, while informing us of his
weekend and the activities of his four boys. Being a true story teller, I think he stretched his stories
until the truth was nestled to far under the elasticized material one would be hard pressed to find it
again, but I liked to listen. As he opened the side drawer to his old and stained wooden desk, his voice
trailed off from the story he was telling.
“Dang it,” he exploded, “ There has been a mouse in this office, and he will be sleeping
peacefully today, as he has a full belly from eating my chips!”
With this Holes holds up a big bag of potato chips with gnaw marks, that, as he was holding it
up, pieces of shredded paper and thin crumbs of potatoes were falling out onto the desk and the floor.
Harry, who was combing his hair in the bathroom mirror near the office while he flexed his
biceps each time he reached the bottom of his hair and reached up to start over, looked over at Holes,
with a concerned look on his face.
“ Are you sure it was a mouse?” He asked
“If it was not a mouse, then it was a small rat. Quit playing with your hair and looking at
yourself, and come over here and look at these gnaw marks!” Holes sputtered.
I joined them both, while Ski looked on trying to act uninterested, yet not getting any work
done while keeping an ear and an eye on the unfolding events.
Standing there besides them looking at the mess that was Holes desk, I felt a little uneasy
realizing that I could have possible shared the same food with the mouse, not knowing he may have
left tasty tidbits in the bag along with the left over food. We had to do something. I looked around at
the walls with the stuffed heads of animals, and the day old trash that seemed to grow like weeds;
overnight. First, we needed to clean the office, and second catch that darn mouse.
Holes must have felt the same way, but his priorities were a bit different. Holes wanted to catch
the mouse, and it became something of a good-natured challenge for him. He asked Harry to bring him
a couple of weights from the weight room, and find a bit of rope. Then Holes opened up his lunch
bucket, and took out the chicken he had brought for lunch and de-boned it. He then wrapped the
chicken back up, placed it back in the lunch bucket. Even Killer Bob watched this part of the operation
with interest.
Holes then took the weights and, using a stick to hold up the weighted plate, placed some of the
bones and chicken matter under the propped up weight. He then attached the rope to the stick that was
holding up the weight and laying the excess cord in in front of him, he walked out of the bathroom
backward. The reason for the bathroom as the choice of the mouse squashing, was made evident as we
made a through search that morning looking for more evidence of the thieving, cunning mouse. The
evidence lead us to Harry‟s locker in the bathroom, where he keep his nutritious snacks and meals.
Once we had the locker open and examined the contents we found shredded bags and containers
containing food and nasty nuggets left by the rodent himself. Ski, had quit pretending a disinterest, and
was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder when we made this find. He and Harry were
grossed out, they left the bathroom, and Holes and I to our discovery.
We had a problem, every coach down here had to teach classes. There was no one who would
be free to stand outside the particle open door all day with the loose end of the rope in his hand, and
pull it when the mouse came out to enjoy his chicken under the weighted umbrella. What to do? Holes
had an answer. We would use the non-participating P.E. boys who always stood around, or looked at
the plant and bug life going on around them instead of enjoying the fun and games of sports. These
kids were not hard to identify, he usually found them bending over an ant hill and observing the eating
habits, and path finding abilities of this independent tribe of ants. I thought this was a good idea and
watched the trap, while he went out to find two of these kids from his first period class. Why we did
not use a trap of some kind is beyond me today. But, the thrill of the hunt was strong in my youth, and
Holes‟ outrageous leadership was infectious.
Skipper came in about this time, and stopped to look at me noticing my unique position outside
the bathroom door. He gave me a rather strange look, shrugged his large shoulders, shook his head and
went to his office. I felt an embarrassing flush rise to my face, as I reflected on what I was doing and
why. This was crazy! The Boss is going to think I am going nuts. I need to get to class.
I left my post about the time Holes returned with his little squad of soldiers. I could see he only
picked the most likely candidates. I was impressed by their willing and eager attitude. I keep thinking
to myself as I ran off to class: Maybe we will catch something.
It was not till the end of the day I heard about the accident in the coaches‟ bathroom. It seemed
Mr. Smith had come down to make a surprise inspection of the field house and see what mess the
coaches had made of things in there. The students on duty had had to leave their post because the light
we had left on for them had gone out. They had left to see the janitor about getting a new one. It was at
this time Smith had come in, snooping around, and had noticed the door to the bathroom had a rope
outside of it. He had tried to turn on the light, but without success, and then wandered into the
bathroom to discover the reason for the rope. He never found it. His foot hit the wooden peg, and the
weight dropped just like it was suppose to trapping the mouse, or toe underneath and causing pain or
death. In Mr. Smith‟s case it caused pain, and trauma.
The students had returned in time to hear and then report to us of Mr. Smith‟s unique
vocabulary skills. The students ran out to get the nurse, who then had to found a rolling chair and two
strong football boys to get him back to the nurse‟s office. There were some scary moments when Mr.
Smith was almost pitched out of the chair during the harrowing journey from the field house to the
school building. With the gravelly parking lot being uneven, and the wheels catching on each little
obstacle, the journey was perilous with each stopping and starting, sputtering and yelling along the
way. It was a successful hunt in some ways.
Chapter Nine
End of Season/ Texas Deer Season
****

My first season with Skipper and the Boys came to an end. The team had a
record of seven wins and two losses. Our last game of the season would be played
against Hartford High School in the primitively rough, yet stoutly handsome,
environment known as the “Rock Garden” stadium. A win against Hartford
would put us in position to play in the play-offs for this year, a loss meant we
could pack it up and close shop for the football year.
According to rumor, the “Rock Garden” stadium had been built by
prisoners from the state run prison facility close by. I am not sure, but the fans
were coarse enough, and the players big enough, that I could appreciate the rumor
that their mom or dad had been guest of the penal facility. I could appreciate
the fact even more when I saw two of their players drive up in old dilapidated car,
with , what seemed like, two children of their own a piece. Later I saw them in
their uniforms before the game, hugging and kissing their kids along the
chain-linked fence that ran across the football field near the end zone.
As I watched this unfold from the opposite end zone I realized that no
matter how poorly I thought about the school and their adult sized players, I had
to admit I admired their love for their children. It was one of the confused
emotions you feel, such as when you are rear ended in a car wreck, and when you
get out mad and confused, it turns out to be an old friend you have not seen in
some time.
Needless to say we ended that game in the forth quarter with about three
of their best players in the stands signing autographs and shaking hands with their
admirers. Many of the small children lined up against the rock, and fan retaining
wall, receiving hugs from their heroes and, I believe, their fathers, while
enjoying this lop-sided victory against the Rocin Bulls. The game was not our
finest hour; Aussie had gone done with a shoulder injury to his throwing arm, and
“Juking” Jones, one of our tandem backs, sprained his left ankle on a pull out to
the right side on the cleats of Rico Vasquez, as Rico went down under the
onslaught of the swarming defensive front line, known as the Hartford
“Assassins”. Petey and Mentz (known as “Mincemeat” to the Skipper, for his
aggressive style of play from the linebacker position), left their positions on the
defensive side of the ball, and joined their offensive team mates on the offensive
side of the pig-skin. Petey took the hand- off from center and delivered it in a
panic hurry to Mentz, who only know how to plunge up the middle, and gut
whatever he could before he went down. Grit, not skill was Mentz‟s style of play.
The mood on the bus was one of disappointment, and anger over the
loss of this game against Hartford. The seniors suffered the most at this time.
Their chance at a run for the state‟s high school play-offs was over. They came on
the bus with angry tears covered in dirt, sweat and blood; like mini hurricanes
coming ashore with stinging rain and ripping wind. We had played hard this
season, and had nothing to apologize for, but the injury to your pride, like this loss
when you are young, can last a seeming life time, but normally over in a few
days.

****
I cannot help but believe these same small fans who were giving and
receiving hugs of adoration were the brawn behind the stone shower the team
received on its way out of town. This was not the time of the head bangers, but I
believe we could have received an honorable mention in this category, as Skipper
had the Boys put on their helmets as a shower of rocks were unloaded on our bus
on the way out of town and glass splinters filled the air. And I , after some
reflection on the matter, have reason to suspect the larger fans of planning the
long delay at the red light, the only light in town, on our way out. This red light
had hardly changed from red before it turned to green on our way into town.
There was not even a car at the intersection when Holes decided to down shift and
proceed through the light. Tonight at the intersection numerous cars and trucks
were parked on either side of the street, and adult laughter filled the air as the
people-planned meteor shower attacked our bus, and the first windows gave way
under the flinty assault.
I should not have been surprised with Holes at the wheel of the bus that
there was a grinding of gears, and a barrage of bad language. What did surprise
my though, as I was standing in the aisle of the bus checking on helmet placement
for the players, was the rapid acceleration that throw me into a seat back and
down onto the floor as we shot through the intersection. I only had enough time to
look through the back window to see that Holes had run a red light, and that a
police car had turned on it lights and siren as if to give chase. As I continued to
look out the back window, and the players helped me up off the floor boards of
the old gasoline powered bus, I noticed that the police car was not giving chase
and the people of the town were crowding into the street bent over with laughter
as their amused contorted bodies grew smaller and the street lights began to fade
to black.
I would not forget this strange form of home town fun as we drove
through the dark, cold countryside with the wind whistling in through the broken
windows, nor would I forget to hold on to the seats in the aisle at every red light
when Holes was at the wheel. Their fun should have ended before they
endangered our players. I knew I could never stomach this type of behavior from
our fans in Rocin, and based on the look on Skipper‟s face after the incident,
neither could he.
As our bus pulled into Rocin after an hour and a half windy drive in the
cool of the November air, I felt exhausted. All I wanted to do was to go home and
go to sleep, but this was not to be for the coaches. We had to start the clean up
and clean out of the buses. Injured players and equipment were the first priority.
Next, would come the arrangement of rides for those players who did not have a
ride home. Many players offered each other rides, but there were a few we had to
take care of and take home ourselves. Uniforms, towels, and assorted items had
to be placed in the washing machine to get a start on the next days cleaning
activities. There was no need to worry about the processing of game films, as the
season had ended for us, and we would concern ourselves tomorrow with the
cleaning up and putting away of the football equipment for next year. The season
had ended. The Rocin Bulls had ended my first year with a record of seven wins
and three losses.

****
As we prepared to leave Skipper called us together, shook our hands and
thanked us for our efforts this year. I had watched him walk around to each of his
Boys, shaking their hands, patting them on the back, and offering the strength and
warmth of his personality. I had felt it myself, seen it in his eyes, and sought to
imitate it myself. This too was a giving of himself device that Skipper used, but I
do not think he thought of this practice as a devise or tool. It was his way.
After he finished his thanks, he grinned a sad, but honest smile and said:
“ Well gents”, he started. “ Next year is our year. And, I am going to need
all you folk‟s help to get us out of district play and into the big time.”
The three of us looked at him and shook our heads “Yes” all the way
around.
“ Now, Mr. Helfrich has kindly offered us a white tail hunting trip out on
his place west of town next weekend.” A half smile tugged at the left corner of his
mouth as his eyes searched me out and he continued.
“ Muley, I don‟t know if you have ever been hunting, but if this is your
first Texas hunt, you are in for a treat. Helfrich is a stingy old timer, and he
won‟t let just anyone hunt there. I have seen some of the finest deer around these
parts taken on his place. And, if you need proof, just ask Iggy over at the meat
market. Iggy processes most of the deer meat around here. Now, he is always
asking the hunters if they want the horns; some do, some don‟t, but those that
leave the horns will find them tacked up on the walls of the processing shacks
with their names and locations of the hunt .”

I wondered as he said that, if the size of the deer racks were in direct
relation to the size of the their vanity, courage, or something else. But no matter
what, this would be my first deer hunt in Texas, and the sleepiness was starting to
leave me, and excitement was taking its place. The other coaches seemed to take
the news in stride, but they did seem a bit more alive on the way out the field
house door and soft words and gentle jokes marked their passage towards their
cars and trucks.
I was more then ready for sleep, as I pulled into my driveway and realized
I had drove home without consciously knowing what I was doing till the car‟s
head lights lit up the garage that housed my apartment. I went in through the
unlocked door, walked into my room, and fell asleep fully clothed on top of the
covers. I slept the welcome sleep of exhaustion, and as the next day was Saturday
with no other games to prepare for till next season, I slept till about ten o‟clock, a
welcome change from the usual Saturdays in season what with processing of film,
exchanging film, cleaning up, and getting ready for next week‟s game.
Chapter Ten
A Gun?
****

I awoke to that single ray of sunlight that had found its way between the
blinds and into my eyes. I am not sure how it had found me this morning, but I
was of the mind to change it before I went to sleep tonight. I laid in bed and let
the morning beckon me from my slumber, with hunger as its bosom companion. I
needed something substantial to eat after an evening of sweet treats provided by
the team mothers before each game. I do not know how they had time to do it, but
their time and generosity grew in importance as I grew older, had kids, took on
more responsibility, and found less and less time to help others.
After a moment‟s thought, I decided to enjoy a large meal at Heinz‟s
City Café. The old man who ran the place, Manuel, knew how to keep the
breakfast buffet stocked. To this day I am not sure how clean that place was, but I
never got sick from eating there, just sticky from a non-descript substance that
seemed to combine all the attributes of grease with a touch of glue, which adhered
to all the tables, chairs and counters which surrounded the interior of that “grease
spoon“. The restaurant had a large plate-glass front window, that people could
peer in and see who was in there eating. This also worked the opposite way, and
allowed people who were eating to look out and see who was in town. Still, it was
the kind of place the people of Rocin gathered at the day after a game to banter,
gossip and make plans. Another reason I went to Heinz‟s was because I had a
notion that I could find, or borrow a deer hunting rifle for next week end‟s hunt
from one of the older regulars who frequented the place.
I did not want to indulge on Skipper‟s generosity, or the other coaches to
find a rifle. I wanted to try and obtain it on my own without being beholden to
them. Although the food was good, and plentiful at Heinz‟s, I made little inroads
into finding an instrument of death to hunt deer with. My next choice was to
check with old Mac about a gun. I knew I would find him in the town square,
holding court with any tourist or traveler who might have come to town, and like
a spider with prey in his web, he would not let them go until he had showed them
the town‟s sights and they had visited Heinz‟s City Café for Mac‟s well earned
free meal; the payment for a sight-seeing job well done.
I found old Mac right where I had thought. I would. He was sitting on a
bench in the middle of the town square near the city hall looking for victims, or,
should I say, tourist. He still had on his straw cowboy hat as the weather had not
gotten cold enough to change to his soiled and stained gray felt. But, what I really
liked were his “kill‟em in the corner cockroach killer” boots which were on
display from underneath his rolled blue jeans as he sat with his legs crossed at the
knees. He claimed the pointed toed boots were like slippers to him, and without
them he could never have been the best two-step/polka dancer in southwest
Texas.
The broad brim of his cowboy hat shaded his eyes, as I had to squint from
the bright sunlight that looked into my face as I sat down and turned towards him.
He smiled a crooked smile at me, and allowed me to see the brown stained teeth,
and flakes of chewing tobacco dancing about his mouth and on his teeth. I found
myself smiling back.
“How the hell are you, Muley?” he started. “And what the hell do you
need form me?” he finished.
It was as if he could read my mind. A habit others in this town also
seemed to share.
“Mac, I am going hunting next weekend with Skipper and the others, and I
did not bring my deer hunting rifle down with me. “
He just looked at me and waited for me to ask.
“ Do you know where I can borrow a gun for next weekend?”
“Muley“, he began, “ I got an old rifle just waiting for you to take her out.
Now, she is old, but she is good. I‟ve never seen a gun shoot straighter. “
I began to feel a sense of relief, and even pride as I realized I had taken
care of my little problem of no rifle. Now I was going to get one, without the help
of any of my co-workers. I had done it.
“ Meet me here tomorrow”, he continued, “ after church and I will give it
too you.”
“Thanks so much Mac. I really appreciate your help.” I stated with a
feeling of elation.

****

The next morning after mass, I headed down to the town square, but I
could not find Mac. I decided he must have meant after late mass, so I waited
around for a couple of hours more. Still no sign of him. With a small amount of
disappointment, and a sinking feeling, I went home, and tried to call Mac. First, I
called the operator, and asked her to put me through to Mac‟s number, and then I
sat down, holding the phone, waiting to be put through and listening to a third
party phone conversation talk about Friday‟s game and how bad the offense was.
I tried to explain, but in a third party conversation ,you share a line with someone
else, and you have to wait your turn to make a call, or be heard. Finally, the
operator came back on, and let me know no-one was answering at Mac‟s place,
and I should call back later. I thanked her and tried to think what I should do next.
The question was, should I look for a new means of obtaining a gun, or should I
sit tight, do nothing because I still had four days before it was needed? I decide to
sit tight. Mac would come through.

The school week started , but still no word from Mac. I tried to call him
again on Monday and Tuesday but without luck. I had decided that, if I could not
get ahold of Mac by Wednesday , I was going to find someone else. Thank God ,
Mac finally sent a note with one of the bus drivers on Wednesday morning: I was
out of time and patience. Mac‟s note contained some unusually spelling, but then
again mine was never perfect either. He wrote that the phone line to his place was
out of order, and he would be out of the county till Friday morning working on a
lease in Ledbetter, but it would be no trouble for him to bring it up to the school at
lunch time. This was before all the troubles the schools were having concerning
guns and students. I still remember a time when the students use to go hunting
early in the morning, came to school at the beginning of the school day, and
locked their guns in the trunk of their cars, or the floor board of their trucks and
went to class without killing anyone. Time, schools, and young people have
changed.
Mac‟s note made me feel so much better. I was happily satisfied again. I
was going on my first Texas white tail deer hunt, and it was as close to South
Texas as throwing a rock a dozen times over. Life was good, and I had done it all
on my own- well, with a little help from Mac.

****

Friday morning came with a rush of adrenaline. I was up early packing,


and preparing my gear for hunting. I have always had a tendency to over pack:
two pairs of gloves, four pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, and two head
warmers- just in case. I now realize this is my nature, but back then I was hard
pressed to explain it. As for footwear, I put away my cowboy boots, and took out
my army surplus pair so that I could wear them to school to re-break them in. I
was hoping that Vice-principal Smith did not notice, but the true test would be in
going into the teacher‟s lounge and no one running out to go tell Smith that Coach
Sanchez was wearing army boots to school.
I left my hunting gear in my car, and went directly to my classroom,
hoping Mac would be early. He was not, therefore I started writing the lesson on
the board. As I wrote I began to consider how many of these student would view
deer hunting as wrong. I wondered how many had an opinion they would be
willing to share. I decided that the Great Depression could wait till Monday, and
perhaps Mrs. Zemicki would be willing to share her struggles during the
Hoover-Roosevelt years. I would like to see math do something like this: I loved
teaching history!
The first three classes worked out just the way I thought they would. Most
of the boys in those classes hunted . No one challenged their right to hunt or kill
deer, but forth period was different. Two young ladies spoke up, and based on
their experience, including the movie “Bambi”, they believed it was wrong. How
could hunters kill animals that could richly communicate and have such emotional
feelings? I was ready to intervene, but was beat to the punch by a young lady
named Sarah.
Sarah let it be known she had been deer hunting every year of her life
since she was five. She and her family stored the extra meat at Iggy‟s Meat
Market, and cured and tanned the deer hides themselves. From the hides they
made slippers, purses, wallets, knife sheaths, and seat cushions. And, she
challenged anyone in class to check and see if they did not have something made
of leather on, and if they did, tell her how it got here without killing an animal.
Sarah eyes stared challenges all around the room. None rose to meet her,
because they had never seen her open up and talk like this. I was amazed by her
brass and skill: a deer every year since she was five? That would be about twelve
deer all together. I think I had a new found appreciation for Sarah.
After Sarah‟s outburst, all the other classes basically remained about the
same. Hunting was forgiving in this farming culture as killing animals was an
accepted means of putting food on the table. But my mind was on my own hunt
for a rifle and by the end of the school day there was still no sign of Mac.
Chapter Eleven
The Necessity
****

I waited in my class room till Holes wandered in and sat down to talk with
me about hunting and what type of rifle I had. We talked about the benefits of a
30-06, a 270, and even a 30-30 for brush hunting, and as we talked I found myself
growing more frustrated and concerned I was going to have to open up to Holes,
and when I did I would take a good amount of joshing, and kidding. I was not
ready for that event.
Holes asked again what type of rifle I planned to use, but this time I could
not ignore the question.
“ I guess you will just have to wait and see”, was my thin reply.
Holes smiled at me and a slight chuckle shuck his frame.
“Muley, do you even have a rifle for this trip?”, he questioned.
I must have blushed a purple hue, because I felt the heat on my face as
surly as if someone had thrown hot grease on me from a smoking skillet. I was
caught, but my pride would not let me answer truthfully.
“Of course I have a rifle for this trip”, I replied angrily, “but I want to
surprise you folks. There is no way I am going to tell you what it is and ruin the
surprise!”
Holes‟ smile had left his lips, and made a new agreement with his teeth.
The smile now appeared , stretching his cheeks back and forcing his teeth
forward, even his eyes seemed bejeweled and sparkling as they had seemed to
have read my face and my lie.
Holes keep smiling, but responded quickly,” O.K. Muley, there is no
reason to get this sore. You keep your little secret, I cannot wait to see what you
have brought. Skipper said we will leave by 3:30. We got about fifteen minutes.
See ya outside.”
I was relived, but confused. If I was going to tell anyone it would be
Holes. Now that opportunity was gone, but I still had my secret safe-but for how
long? Mac better hurry the Heck up!
3:28pm came way too quick. I was not ready, the rifle was not here. Still, I
was not going to be late. I went out to my car, grabbed my duffle bag, and walked
to wards Skipper‟s old truck, and my prideful disgrace. The other coaches just
watched me as I made my way towards them, and their amused faces. Just as I
thought all was lost, a rattle bones of a truck pulled up, and out swaggered Old
Mac with a hard leather rifle case. Thank God! Was the only words that came to
mind, and my spirits soared. Pride was still in tack, and a spirit of love towards
old Mac was renewed with vigor. I was saved, it was almost a religious moment.
Old Mac handed me the rifle case, and a small ammo bag he took out from
the bed of the truck.
Listen Muley”, he stated, “you might want to check on your rifle now
before you get to deer camp.”
Harry piped in, “ Yeah Muley, let‟s see what you are hunting with. If you
show me yours I will show you mine.”
There was a chorus of laughter from the others there by the vehicles, even
Ski. But I would not be trapped. I had made it this far, I would make it to camp.
“No way Mac, Skipper and the others are ready to go. We were suppose to
leave by 3:30. I don‟t wont to make them late.”
Taking Mac by the arm I steered him away from the coaches.
“Mac, I cannot thank you enough for bringing me the rifle, and helping me
out. But, I trust you, and know you brought me a fine piece to hunt with. So, if it
is alright with you , I will wait and check out your rifle when I get to camp. “
Turning towards him, I stuck out my hand, looked him in the eyes, and
genuinely thank him with a firm grip, and without giving him time to make
another loud statement about his gun.
I hurriedly turned towards the others and called with excitement, “ let‟s go! I‟m
ready and willing.”
I had only taken a few steps towards the truck when Skipper threw me the
keys and stated.
“Muley, I need to talk with Ski, you can follow us to camp. Stay close, Holes is
leading and likes to drive fast. “
Turning towards Ski‟s car, Skipper made a general command, “ All right,
let‟s move out.”
And like race car drivers we all hurried to our vehicles, jumped in and
started the engines. I was excited and nervous. I had no idea where we were
going, just a general idea of the direction. That would not help much if we got
separated. Off we went, Holes and Harry in the front, Ski and Skipper in the
middle, and me bringing up the rear. As I made the left turn out of the school‟s
parking lot I turned to wave at old Mac. He was just standing there by his truck
with a pleased smile on his face. He waved a gentle country wave back and forth,
and then he passed from my vision as the bricks from the school took over.
****

After a twenty minute ride we finally got onto I-10 and headed West
towards San Antonio. I was still excited as I turned on the radio and listened to
old country music on the scratchy AM station. I found my self singing with Hank
Williams, “ Move it on Over”, and doing a particularly fine job as usual when no
body else was around. As I made myself at home in Skipper‟s truck cab, I made a
mental inventory of what was there in case I would need it. The first thing that
caught my eye was a dented old soda can used as a spittoon. This was not
unsettling as I made use of the same fluid receptacle in my own car when need be,
but the idea of fluid led me to take account of the fact I had not gone o the
bathroom in quite awhile. That is when the urge started. The urge was gentle at
first, just a reminder of all the coffee I had been drinking that morning, and later
on in the early afternoon as worry concerning Mac and the gun lead me to lose
count of the numbers I had partaken. The more I drove, the greater the urge
became. It was during the first few minutes of my problem that Holes must have
decided to make his vehicle sprint, which made Ski press down on the gas pedal,
and then I had to put the hammer down on my accelerator. Skipper‟s truck was up
for the challenge, but I was not. The issue was pressing on my bladder harder then
ever. I was trying to use the breathing techniques I had learned in sports to control
the pressure, but that just made me feel light headed. One thing was for sure. I
would not let them know I was in pain. I would not ask them to stop for me. Was
I not a man! I would control this situation….. I hope…wouldn‟t I? Oh, crap!
It was as I passed the second gas station, that I realized I was in trouble.
Pride or not, I had to do something. With desperation as my traveling companion,
I rested my eyes on the spit can. A new sense of promise filled my head. Then, I
was taken down a notch by the small opening presented on top. No matter, I knew
what must be done. Taking the wheel firmly between my knees, I retrieved the
can and placed it in my crotch. Keeping my eyes on the road, and my foot on the
pedal, I took hold of the can with my left hand, and using my thumb on the
opposite hand, pushed down on the opening to widen the hole.
It was at this point that I realized our skin is not quite as tough as the thin
metal the can is made of and when your skin loses the battle you bleed a lot. Man,
did I bleed. Now I was juggling eyes on the road, foot on the pedal, left hand on
the can, right thumb pressed into my jeans for direct pressure to stop the bleeding
and mind over matter to control urinating in the truck. O.K. lesson learned. Step
Two.
When the bleeding had somewhat abated, I decide to try my luck with the
hole the size it was, no matter the problem with leak edge. And leakage there was.
All over the truck seat, and my jeans, but again, my pride was still in tact even if
messy and wet. I had to make two attempts with the can, each time holding the
soiled can out the window and letting the fluid drain out while a mist tried to fine
its way back towards the window opening as I continued to move and gyrate to
keep from being hit by the contents. I was not aware how problematic this was till
I reached deer camp at night, thankful the others could not see my still wet jeans,
and reach in to grab my duffle bag which had ridden in the bed of the truck right
behind the drivers seat in the direct path of my liquid waste. I was shocked and
mortified. Pride was a vengeful task master, that could laugh in your face , while
you suffered the cold consequences of your decisions, literal cold as I stood there
in the cool night air in wet pants. I was not ready for Pride‟s second strike.
The rifle would be my down full. It struck me as I helped unpack, and
readied the camp for occupation. I had to check the rifle. And, check it alone.
I finally had an opportunity to check the rifle when I had finished the
camp set-up. It was dark and most of the work had been by the light of the camp
fire and the many flash lights each of the coaches had brought. I made off to a
corner of the camp like I was going to the bathroom, strolling off with the leather
case which surrounded the gun I was to use on this trip. I stopped near a large oak
tree, large for that area, hoping the width of the tree would provide cover and
stripped off the leather case. It at least felt like a rifle, if somewhat long and oddly
shaped. Then, holding my breathe, I turned on the flash light and took a look at
my prized procession. It was a black powder rifle. A Gosh-Darned, gun powder
measured, load it from the barrel, drop a bullet into, ram down the projectile,
black powder rifle! Dear Saint Anthony! In all my life I had never shot one
before. I was in deep trouble. Trouble that was made brilliant by the flash lights
that flicked on all-around me with deep chuckles and guffaws cannonading
around me. Deeply embarrassed, I could have lived with this injury to my pride,
but then Ski‟s voice announced to the crowd:
“ Oh my God, he has pissed himself! What a coward!”
The urine on my pants had not dried quickly enough, and Ski‟s sharp eyes
had found it, just like he could find the weakness in an opponents offense. I could
have cried.
Chapter Twelve
The Hunt
****

That night as I sat around the campfire making my excuses about the state
of my pants, the butt of all jokes, and deserving of them, Skipper keep his own
counsel until I made an effort to speak.
“Sorry Skipper,” I started, “ I guess I wanted to do this on my own- the
rifle and all, I did not want to ask for help. And even the bathroom break, I did not
want to be the weak link on your staff.”
Skipper gave me one of his thoughtful stares, and finally spoke.
“ Muley, most of us are secretly flattered when someone thinks we can help them.
We are even more flattered when someone asks for our opinion. By asking our
opinion, they have let us know how much they think of us. Do not be afraid to ask
for help.”
“Skipper, I acknowledged, “do you think I should use that black powder
rifle tomorrow?” I asked with a grin.
Skipper smiled and let out a low chuckle.
“ Why don‟t you ask Holes, it‟s his rifle. I even imagine he has a rifle you
would feel more comfortable with, if you would just ask him.”
“Thanks, Skipper”
He nodded and sipped his coffee.
I started to get up and look for Holes. Skipper stopped me with his words.
“Muley”‟ he stated as he looked into the Mesquite fire, “ next time bring a
jar.”
“Got it.” I replied, and meant it.

****

The next morning I approached Holes before we left camp to go hunting,


and with a bit of sheepishness, I ask him for his help in obtaining a new rifle.
Holes just smiled, and without his usual verbal wit, swapped guns. We had
already awakened at about five in the morning to the sound of Skipper making
coffee and breakfast. The bacon was sizzling on the grill, and a large pan of
scrambled eggs was being coached along. He was making enough noise that we
all took it as a sign to get up without being told. I debated how long I would stay
in my sleeping bag, as I could feel the cold on my face and a certain numbness in
my toes. I was even a little concerned the zipper, which had been a might contrary
last night, would not open, and the sight of me hopping around seeking help was
playing strong in my mind. Ski was the first one out of his sleeping bag. He went
off a bit of distance to relieve himself. Harry joined him, and let out a smell that
took could take the good off the smell of a pan of fried bacon. Ski let out a
desperate, “Gawh” and hurtled back towards the camp to get away from the
pestilence of the smell. By this time we all were awake and out of our “fart sacks”
showing enough teeth with our smiles as Harry returned to camp to encourage
him to greater ambitions and feats of strength. My bag‟s zipper had shown the
good sense to release quickly and let me out without incident. I felt my luck was
changing.
The coffee was strong and the food was good as we squatted down around
the fire to enjoy our meal. The camp fire brought a sense of family to us, as we ate
in a comfortable silence with Skipper drinking his coffee and watching the rest of
us. There were no worry lines around his eyes this morning, although I am not
sure how well he slept. Clean up fell to me and Harry on this cold morning. We
had brought drinking and cleaning water in large “jerry cans” , and had left them
outside that night. We did not try and heat the water, just put it in a plastic
rectangular container with some liquid dish soap, and threw the tin plates and
cups into it. Skipper did not want his skillet in that mess. He just wiped it out and
declared it ready for service for the next meal. I looked at Harry, but he just
smiled, and shook his head- accepting but not really believing in what had been
stated. But, no one complained.
It was after Harry and I finished the dishes that I sought out Holes and
asked for his help in swapping out the rifles. I was grateful to Holes for the mild
humor, and even more grateful when he offered me a ride to my blind, and some
of his chewing tobacco. I had not had the presence of mind to buy any during my
continued worries about rifles and hunting. The band aide on my thumb had come
loose during the dish washing, and Ski, who was in charge of the first aid kit,
silently handed me another one to stop the blood from joining the leaves and
twigs from Holes‟ chewing tobacco pouch. I have to admit I had thought nothing
of it.

****
Never having been on this ranch, I had no idea where I were going or
when I would get there as the group parted company: Skipper with Harry and Ski;
myself with Holes. Skipper and Holes had been out here before in the early Fall
clearing the senderos and cleaning and fixing up the blinds. Holes‟ old station
wagon took a beating on the mesquite and other thorn bushes lining the trail out
to the deer blinds. Thankfully the roll down windows were up or I would have
received an unwelcome hair ripping and face gauging from these said bushes.
Holes did not seem to mind too much as he drove through the dark and talked
about the blind I was too be in. He explained that my blind faced a shallow creek
with a stand of winter rye and oats down each wing of my senderos. To the rear
was some rough brush that Holes suggested I keep an eye on from time to time. I
was ready. I had been hoping to go deer hunting in Texas, and now was my
chance. I could not wait to tell my Grandfather about this hunt.
The deer blind Holes lead me too was a one and a half story high clap
board affair, with curiously placed hunting windows, and boards so rotten that
when I went up the rickety wooden ladder, bits of the wood which made up the
blind landed in my eyes and open mouth. Even in the flash light envisioned
world, I could make out what a treat I had been handed by my fellow coaches. No
wonder Holes had let me off so lightly when we exchanged the black powder rifle
for the 30-06. When I had made it too the top of the blind, and before entering, I
shined my light back at Holes only to see a row of grayish ivory flashing back at
me. I knew I was being had again, and the only thing to do was fellow Skipper‟s
advice.
“Holes”, I started,” Do you have any advice for me before you leave?”
Holes‟ smile stretched a mite larger and he commented.
“Muley, I wouldn‟t rock around up there too much, and when you fire a
round, grab hold of something, perhaps the sides, as you will find yourself
see-sawing on these spindly legs.”
With this advice I shined my light down towards the small iron pipes that
made up the four legs. No new paint on these four, just an orange rust holding the
section of pipe together, My eyes followed my flash light out to the tie downs
which helped anchor the blind and keep it from leaning and rocking. These wires
were made of antiquated barbed wire, that would probable snap in half before it
would give. Holes‟ light snapped off and with a couple of deep guffaws I heard
him place the station wagon in Drive, and the rustle of gravel as he drove off. My
first Texas hunt was not what I had planned, but I was going to be happy no
matter what- just as long as I didn‟t sneeze, or cough!
After Holes left, I shined the flash light around the blind. There was an old
paint splattered folding chair, and enough cigarette butts to make the Marlboro
Man proud. Using my glove as a broom, I sweep out the butts and a couple of
bullet shells; the shells letting me know that someone had had a chance to shoot
something from up here in this stand and survive with this spindled legged
cracker box intact. I closed and tried to latch the swinging half door, but found the
round clasp had been torn off the rotted wooded frame. I would have to remember
not too lean on this side when checking my fields of fire. Now that my house
keeping was over, it was time to start settling down and prepare for the hunt.
I unfolded the old chair and sat down, gentle wiggling to into a
comfortable position with out compromising the tension anchor lines and their
comfort level. While I waited for the blind to stop shaking, I found myself
worried that the nausea made manifest from the swaying back and forth, would
not compliment Skipper‟s breakfast and that it would come up to join me in the
stand, but I made it. Next I loaded the rifle with three shots, one for the kill, one if
I did not make the kill the first time, and the final bullet for insurance. Now, I
would wait.
I do not know how soldiers feel when standing guard duty alone, but I
believe this was close to it. The feeling of being alone and waiting on the enemy.
In the dark every one of your sense heightened to a state of extreme alertness.
Noises and shadows fighting for your attention, but all you are looking for is a
mature Bambi.
A strange abrupt noise arose form my front, and I held my breathe till I
could identify it. It sounded like an animal, but way too loud for a deer. Maybe
these Texas deer really were monsters? I should have asked more questions before
I went out here-Dang it! With the light headedness, it finally dawned on me the
realization that I needed to breathe, and a raspy jagged breath was sucked in
through my mouth and nose. The strange noise from the front continued and grew
closer.
I took hold of my nerves and the 30-06 Holes had given me, and, using all
the stealth I could muster, placed the instrument of death out the window of the
blind. The shaking of the blind only lasted a few moments, but as the dawn began
to break, I could just make out a gray shadowy movement form among the brush
near the creek to my front. Worried my senses were playing tricks on me, I keep
my eyes on the light gray movement and hoped it would move again. It did. I
caught the movement and put my eye to the scope attached to my rifle. The figure
was hidden by the brush, but what caught my eye was the biggest rack of horns I
had ever seen. By Gosh, these Texans were right, everything in Texas was bigger!
I‟d show those other coaches! In my rifle sights was the evidence my luck had
changed, and with the animal‟s death I would show them a thing or two about
Louisiana boys. I‟d show‟em!
I waited for the deer to step out, so I could have a good view of his
shoulder for the kill. But, soon I found myself trying to count horns. I knew he
had two large main antlers, but I could not decide how many tines came off the
main shoots. Sometimes I thought it was three and other times I thought it was
two. Either way I knew I had a eight point or a six point, and it was a huge big
deer!
As the daylight grew stronger, I knew I was getting ready for the kill.
Something about the deer‟s body seemed odd even if it was hidden by the brush.
And the antler‟s looked almost as thick at the base as a soup can! But I brushed
off any doubt, knowing my luck had changed. My legs were tucked in behind me
and the chair, as I took a deep breathe, and prepared to shoot this beast. Finding
myself still uncomfortable and wanting a clean shot, I gently tried to ease my foot
out of its position under the chair rail. My foot would not budge. I tried again, and
still no give. With my frustration level building, I gave a tremendous pull, and not
only did my boot come free, but so did pieces of the building as it began to
violently shake and rock, making me fear for my life and the safety of the rifle in
the uneven cut window frame. Like a bucking bronco, the blind pitched and
rolled, and I just held on to the sides hoping the anchor lines would hold and I
would not find myself on a fast ride to ground level. By the time I realized I was
not going to die, and that the free ride was ending, I looked back out the front
window of the blind in time to see a large gray colored cow with at least two feet
of horns on either side and one point apiece on each horn jogging off down a
game trail.
I had almost killed a cow! Thank God, I did not kill that gray cow with
only two horns! I looked at my thumb, and remembering the rifle incident, if I had
shot that cow, I would have had to run away in shame. There was no way I could
have faced those other coaches, especially Skipper. Same old luck…or maybe not.
A good thing was I didn‟t have to explain the shot, or the kill.
Chapter Thirteen
Ask Questions
****
I spent the rest of the morning waiting for Holes to pick me up and doing a
bit of thinking. I was a more somber guest in his station wagon while we rode
back to the camp site then when we left out that morning. I had learned some new
lessons this trip. I needed to ask questions, and learn to listen more often then talk.
Skipper smiled at me as I made my way to the camp fire and poured me a cup of
coffee.
“Here you are Muley, just made it fresh.”
I nodded and spoke my thanks.
Harry joined us at the fire, sat down, and asked.
“How was the hunting Muley? I didn‟t hear any shots going off in your
direction.”
“It was fine.” I replied. “How was yours?”
Harry‟s face took on a confused look.
“Not bad , except no one told me they had cows on this place, and I almost
opened up on this gray colored cow this morning.”
Ski had joined us at the fire at this time and spoke up.
“How in the world could you mistake a cow for a deer? Are you blind or
something?”
Skipper turned his knowing eyes over towards me and I colored up.
“Harry“, I enjoined, “ I have almost made that same mistake myself. Just
be glad you didn‟t shot it.”
Ski looked at us dumbfounded and asserted,
“You are about the stupidest two coaches I have ever encountered. How
are we going to win a state championship, much less district with a coaching staff
like this? One cuts his thumb making a mobile urinal, and the other almost shoots
a cow! Jesus Christ, what„s next?”
“Bob“ Skipper calmly observed,” call on that guy when you really need
him and not when you want to tell someone how stupid they are. It‟s a bad habit,
and one I don‟t cotton to much”
Skipper gentled smiled and stated, “ I would appreciate it.” This helped let
out some the sting.
Ski just nodded and walked away.
While Harry left to go help Holes make lunch, I watched Skipper adjust to
find a comfortable spot on one of the logs that surrounded the camp fire.
“Skipper, you told me I needed to ask more questions, so I would like to
ask you one.”
“Alright Muley, go ahead.”
“What is life really about? I asked.
Skipper took his time looking at me, and finally said, “You must have had
a lot of time to think up in that deer blind today.”
“Yeah, too much.” I agreed.
Skipper looked back at the dying afternoon fire, and spoke as if viewing
something form the past.
“Many years ago in the town where I was raised, we had something called
a steeple chase, do you know what that is Muley?”
I shook my head, determined to listen and not talk.

****
“ A steeple chase was a race that started at a fixed point some distance
form the church‟s steeple. Once the race was underway the goal was to reach the
church‟s steeple first, and it did not matter the path, or the obstacles in the path,
you only had to win.
“ Every year right as Spring started, young men from around the area
would report to the town hall and sign up to join in this race. I was one of them. I
never was fast enough to win, but I tried for years. I loved it, not just the race, but
the excitement, and competition. The whole area seemed caught up in this event,
with mothers baking and fussing, fathers explaining their own losses in this event
many years ago, and young people dressing up and flirting. And every year, I
would pass this old man, struggling and straining , not to win but finish. “
“ You know what I mean, Muley?” Skipper asked.
Again I nodded.
“ Well, the last year I ran the race, before I went off to war, I had lost my
footing hurtling a fence and cut the back of my leg open. This slowed me down
somewhat, but thanks to a pretty girl with a silk scarf, I used it to tie up the wound
and keep on running, or hobbling.”
I smiled, I could picture Skipper trying to be brave for the young woman
who owned the scarf.
Skipper continued.
“ The old man had passed me while I attending to my leg, and now I was
catching up to him, only to watch him trip and hit the ground. I stopped to help
him up. He seemed older then my own grandfather, and still he was making this
race each year. He had badly twisted his ankle and was not sure if he could
finish without help. He then asked me for my help. I did not want to do it. I
wished I had not stopped for either my fall or his fall. “
“I was petty selfish back then wasn‟t I?” Skipper asked with a grin.
“ But I did it Muley. I helped that old man finish the race. And along the
way I gathered some insight, that has grown stronger as I have grown older.”
I knew Skipper wanted me to ask what that insight was, and I obliged.
“What was it Skipper?”
“It‟s is not whether you win the race, but did you participate!”
I thought he had lost his mind. Participate, not Win? What type of BS was
this? Was the Old Man pulling my leg? I waited for Skipper to speak again with
a credulous look on my face.
“Muley, life is a race, but we do not have to win- just participate. And by
participating we gain understanding and insight. We do not sit on the side lines
and become depressed, we engage life and take from it adventure, excitement and
life‟s own vitality. Now this doesn‟t mean we cannot practice and get better, or
that we cannot demand perfection from ourselves or the players who play for us.
What it means is we cannot sacrifice our Boys on the alter of our success. We
cannot use them while they are injured just to satisfy our need to win. We have to
teach them to play hard, and strive to do better, while loving and encouraging
them. “
I felt a little lost. Was this not the reason Skipper had brought me to
Rocin? To Win, not just the district play, but to get us to the state playoffs, and
win again?
“Skipper, what are you trying to say, I am confused?
“I am saying Muley, life is too short to teach them it is the destination that
matters. I believe it is the journey. Only through the journey process do we grow
and only through losing to we gain the needed strength to win the next time out.”
“But, Skipper“, I questioned, “ you went to war so what about war, is it
still the destination or is it about losing?
“Muley”, he answered, “ war is different. You win when you survive, and
you lose when you are dead. Football is not war, it may be a way our young men
can challenge each other, but it cannot be confused as war. War is death; yours or
somebody else‟s death. We want to bring life to our Boys. We want them
annealed and harden by fire, but soft enough to care for others.”
Skipper seemed to warm to his subject, as if these feeling were always on
his mind, and his mind was giving full birth to them in the spoken word. Perhaps
he was like the gathering storm, and the gale picked me up and carried me with it,
for I felt his energy, his intensity and it was becoming my own.
He continued, “Teaching and coaching these Boys right from wrong is
not only a job but our vocation. We are teaching them how to make decisions in
times of crisis, and how to protect and help each other during these times. We
cannot allow them to be soft. They must reach beyond themselves to something
greater then their own instant gratification: that is the Goal. Our preparations are
the journey, and the goal is the state championship.
I liked the Coach‟s words, but I had a question for him:
“What journey are you on Skipper, and what is the Goal?”
“ This is my journey, Muley.“, he laughed, “my journey is to help others
as I have been helped, and my goal is to one day be worthy of heaven.”
“Skipper“, I echoed his slight laughter, “you know you are still a Catholic
at heart?”
“But not a perfect one”, he acknowledged.
We both waited and stared out at the smoking wood in the fire ring as
our thoughts sought consideration in our heads.
“ Did you enjoyed the hunt this morning?”, Skipper asked, breaking the
silence.
I nodded my head.
“ Then are you disappointed you did not kill anything, or did it give you a
chance to think and prepare?”
I thought of that gray cow with the long horns, and my blaring escape
from killing him.
“ Coach”, I responded, “ this whole trip has been a learning experience I
would not have traded for anything, even the biggest deer on this place”- or cow I
thought.

Skipper looked around at the two sticks of firewood we had left to cook
the afternoon meal.
“Come on Muley, lets go find some more firewood.”
Before Skipper could leave the dying fire, I gathered the nerve to ask:
“Skipper, I commented quickly, “how do you know you have made the
right decision, how do you justify a decision?
“Muley, you know you have made the right decision when you can look
into the mirror each morning without blushing, when you see it reflected in the
eyes of your Boys each day, then you will know it, because it allows you to face
each person with a firm grip and unblinking and unashamed eyes. When you can
do this, you have made the right decision. “
“Muley, give me a minute, I need to make water.”
With that Skipper stood , took the coffee pot off the fire grate, and threw
the coffee and grinds out. Then, he walked away from the fire and out to the area
we used as the toilet.
I looked away as Skipper started his business. My world was still in a
pensive uproar as I pondered what Skipper had said. This always happened
whenever I spent time talking with Skipper.
Chapter Fourteen
Off-Season

****
Back at Rocin High School, our boys were paying quite a price that year in the
off-season. Skipper was merciless. But, he was not the only one. The other coaches had
found my weakness- pride, and I came in for my fair share of merciless ribbing. Holes
left one of his kid’s slip-and-slide near my desk after practice one day to remind me of
the ride down the banks of the Rocin River. Even Killer Bob gloated over my free ride,
the hunting trip ,and continually smiled while hearing of the details behind my notoriety
in the town. The town of Rocin would not let me forget my sins either, and on the
afternoons when I ran my errands and on the weekends, I felt myself blush endlessly at
the finger pointing, head nodding, and spastic giggling that I received. Small sounds like
“splash”, and “ whoosh” trailed behind in my wake, making me quicken my steps and
hurry my errands with, I am sure a delightfully pink expression darkened from my
embarrassment.

But Skipper did not let his coaches or his boys have that much time to laugh and
giggle. He still loved them and placed his arm around them from time to time, but he
drove them to excel and do more. All the coaches worked together, taking their cues from
the Boss. It was at this time, I began to see Killer Bob’s quality. He timed and memorized
everything. He keep us on schedule.

When he blew that whistle to change stations, the coaches knew he meant it. He
would stand there with his tight polyester shorts cinched tight to his waist, and mirrored
sun-glasses glinting in the sun while he stood in an aggressive, arrogant, hands-on-hip
stance, until you followed the directions blasted from his whistle. And, you can bet, we
all did, even Skipper, rather shamefaced at being too caught up teaching his linemen, and
not hearing the whistle until the third or forth blast from Ski’s screaming whistle siren.

Ski kept order and method to Skipper’s seeming turbulence. There were times
though, when nothing could change Skipper’s mind, nor move him from his
self-appointed mission. It was not just winning that drove him. He wanted them to always
perform at their best: whether it was in school or on the field. If they started goofing
around, losing their focus, he hammered them. And, if they ticked him off, there was no
practice, just re-motivation of those young minds. He always talked to them, but you
could see it was personal with him. He took his expectations out on them, but after it was
over he would make an effort to seek them out and explain to them, if he comforted them
it was not out of guilt, but out of a need for understanding on their part. He was never
negative about them. And if his talk sounded negative at the beginning, by the end of it
there was no doubt how much he needed them, and how important their performance was
to the success of the whole team. Now, this sounds strange, a man who just punished
these boys in his anger, is now comforting them with his fondness and expectations. It
was strange to me also, but the more I watched it the more I began to understand his
ways.
I asked him about this ability not to lose kids after he had ripped into them during
practice or games. Before he spoke he spit out a brown stream of tobacco juice, and
smiled.
“Muley, I once coached a terrible game early in my career, and left that field with
an injury to my pride that would not go away. I went over to my Boys, and laid into them.
When I was not yelling at them with my mouth, I was blasting them with my eyes. I
focused on all the people who I felt betrayed by, and , without a doubt, I wounded their
spirit. At no time did I tell them what they did right, at no time did I encourage them. I
told them what they did wrong, and blamed each one for our lose. “
Skipper’s voice and actions betrayed his depth of feeling as he continued.
“ I almost lost three very important boys to me that night. I went home, and
looked at the source of my anger; I looked back at their faces in my memories and I could
not sleep. The reason I could not sleep was that the fault of that loss needed to be laid at
my feet, or wrapped around my head tightly, hopefully not depriving me of oxygen, but
of my shame. I was angry at myself, guilty, and embarrassed because I had not
adequately prepared them to defeat that team. I made up my mind then and there, that
never would I fix blame on a team, or an individual. The blame lies with the coach. And,
should I lose my temper with a player, I would always go back and let that person know
what I really think of him; what are his qualities and how I want us to fix the problem
that we share.”
With that Skipper smiled.
“And sometimes I just act mad, so they will run a little faster around the track.”
With a chuckle he added,” Now, that’s what I call good coaching.” And off he
went, with his khaki trousers, and faded Notre Dame cap, leaving a line of brown spit as
if a trail to follow back towards the field house.

****

I don’t think what he said was new to me, but it made an impression. Looking
back, there are times I am not sure what was my own original thought, or what I took
from his thinking and sharing. I guess it really doesn’t matter. He is apart of me. I think
Skipper said to me once, he was a product of all the men he had ever known. He had
taken from them the things that worked for him, and made them his own. Even the men
he did not like or trust, he knew he did not want to be like them, and therefore, choose not
to carry himself in the same manner as they did. Skipper always had a way of making
everybody feel special and needed. Besides the nick names he would try to remember
something special about each one, and ask them about it later. This tactic was not a
gimmick, but a way of life for him. He used it very successfully, not only with the boys
but also with his coaches. I think every coach that ever coached for Skipper feels like he
was the closest to him. I know I did.
I knew by the end of my first season, that Skipper had good friends in town. He
was involved with Rocin’s Rotary group which met the second Tuesday of each month
during the afternoon for lunch. Skipper would try to make these meeting, and encouraged
me to come.
At the time I didn’t, but I wished I had because some of these people were also
involved in another group which was a big part of Skipper’s life. The Hibernia Society of
Rocin was a strangely large crowd. They too only meet once a month, wearing kilts, tams
and assorted Irish tweed garments. They did not seem to take this organization too
seriously, for they had no a service object: no selling or contributions for projects or
causes. They met so that they could have fun listening to Irish music, dancing and
conversation. I did not understand the depth of their commitment to titillation until I went
to a meeting in January. I was invited by Skipper, but I did not come with him, as I had
committed myself to improving my strength and endurance, through lifting free weights
with “Handsome Harry”. I had lifted weights over the years while I had been involved in
sports, but Harry made it a science. He exploded a muscle group, through multiple sets
and reps. I had the hardest time that night curling my drink to my mouth, and
straightening my arm, as both would send a torrent of pain and stiffness to the offending
muscle group. I had not planned to go out that night, but I did want to learn a little about
the history of Rocin, and the people who called it home. And that I did.
Chapter Fifteen
A History of Rocin
****

Leon (Mac) McCall was a former professional rodeo rider, or so he said, who
had broke every bone in his 64 year old body at least once. He had a small ranch west of
town, but I don’t think he was there very often. If God had ever smiled on a cowboy, it
was him. He had enough money from his sale of real estate, and enough work that by
eleven o’clock in the morning he was done for the day, until feeding time about five
o’clock, which was when he fed the horses. He could smile that fairly toothless smile all
day long, and with it, radiate good will and peace on earth. He was a joy to be around,
and fun to hunt with, as I found out later. His favorite place was the town-square’s bench
outside of the courthouse.

He sat there day after day enjoying the visual scenery provided by the passer-byes
in his faded and frayed blue jeans, snap button work shirt, and worn down, pointed toed
“cock roach killers“. If they stopped to talk to him in the morning, they would still be
there by the afternoon, listening to and enjoying his stories, yet wondering how they
would be able to get away from him for lunch without hurting his feelings. If Leon could
hold on till after twelve- thirty, most folks would offer to buy him lunch. Then he would
unwrap himself from the bench, and amble over to Heinz’s City Café with them in tow to
sample the town’s hardy food stock. One could not be a food aficionado when they ate
here, but there was always more then enough food slung across the large plates so that
when you left there you were satisfyingly full. He ate pretty well during the summer
months because he was such a genial regaler of tall tales and cowboy historian.

Leon found me two minutes after I walked into the American Legion Post where
the Hibernia Society met. I had chatted with him outside the courthouse myself when I
first came to Rocin , and bought him a meal at our first meeting at Heinz’s Café. Also, I
had seen and spoke with him many times since our first meal at the City Cafe at St. Joe’s
Catholic Church before our chance meeting that night. I was still a bit tender on the
subject of the black powder rifle he had lent me, but he had the good sense to stay off of
that subject.

His walk through the American Legion Hall led me to believe he had been there
at least an hour prior to my entrance, as he unsteadily made his way towards me. His
seasonal felt cowboy hat sat nestled down across his right eye at a jaunty angle giving
him the look of the Wild Irish Rover he used to be in his youth. He placed his left eye
upon me, and even that eye seemed to be feeling too ill to travel as it rolled around
dangerously in the socket. As he leaned against the wooden bar for support, he began, in
his Texas drawl, to point out the people who sponsored this monthly meeting, and the
ones who spiced up the event. I listened as he enthralled me with stories about his life and
the changes he had seen., all the while I was scanning the room for the whereabouts of
Skipper. By the time I got around to buying him his second drink, he had changed topics
and was starting into the early history of Rocin.
****
He began by telling me that Rocin had been part of a small land contract during
the time of the European Empresarrios, who came to Texas for land in the early 1800’s.
There had been two Irish colonies: one was the San Patricios Colony and the other was
the Armagh Colony. Early on, in the development of the San Patricios Colony, there had
been a disagreement in land distribution and two of the men had decided to take their
followers and supplies and make their own colony. But, along the trail, the two leaders:
James McStay and Shamus O’Rourke had a disagreement over a women traveler who
had shown both men affection on alternating nights during the journey west towards the
new colony.
It was at this point the story stopped as I bought Leon another beer. He turned his
face towards his new glass of the amber liquid, and gave it a benevolent smile as if
looking at a long lost friend and enjoying their companionship. As he drank, I looked the
large smoky room over again for Skipper, finally finding him sitting in one of the round
tables which were placed in a semi-circle around the saw dust plied dance floor.
He must have been watching me for sometime, for when I looked over at him, he
gently raised his glass of iced tea in a silent toast as if acknowledging and thanking me
for the amount of time I had given to Leon that night. I raised my glass back at him, and
we drank at the same time, almost laughing as if a silent joke had passed between us. I
had just placed my glass back down upon the wooden bar when I realized Leon had taken
up the story of Rocin again.
“The town of Rocin“, he started, “was named after Shamus O’Rourke who had
lost the affection of the women based on a coin toss between the two men, since the
women could not make up her mind as to whose company she enjoyed the most in the
middle of the night.”
He followed with slightly slurring words, “Jimmy McStay had taken part of the
followers and that good looking gal and continued to head northwest, O’Rourke, on the
other hand, had taken his group and figured to head due west with some slight northward
movement as his mind wandered and become poisoned by anger and resentment he felt
towards his old side kick, Jimmy. He finally stopped at a place that would become the
town of Rocin, not knowing that McStay had stopped north of him and together they
formed the colony of Armagh. Now, Shamus would never marry after this tornadic event
and became an angry old coot.”
Leon was not sure whether the town was named after the draft horses Shamus
used to haul freight to the closest railroad station, or after the way he treated folks from
the north side of the colony and settlement. In Spanish, the word, “rocin”, means work
horse or rough man, both would have fit in well with the attitude of Shamus to Jimmy, or
the draft horses Shamus used to pull freight around the area. All this I got from Mac as he
rambled on about the Armagh Colony of old.
I finally excused myself from the verbal barrage of Leon’s history lesson, and
reminding him of his humorous generosity concerning the use of his black powder rifle
during this past deer season hunting trip, made my way towards Skipper’s table. Skipper
was wearing a thick wool Irish fishing sweater, and a old eight piece tweed cap. The Irish
Society had hired a bag-piper for the night along with an Irish musical group, that played
with fiddles, tin whistles, flutes and accordions.
The sounds, smells and the clothes all made me feel as if I was in Ireland, but the
closeness of this falsified Irish community made me wish I was back in Louisiana with
my relatives, enjoying all the accouterments of my Spanish-French Cajun upbringing.
I watch Skipper dance with, what I thought of as, out of character for him,
unusual vigor that night, and I found myself enjoying this strange evening, and the town
of Rocin.
Chapter Sixteen
Prettiest Girl
****

I found myself enjoying this town even more when Skipper introduced me to the
prettiest woman in Rocin who may have watched me fall into the Rocin River during the
row boat races between the three churches. How he knew this was the girl, I have no idea.
But like I said, Skipper did not mind listening, and when someone from the Lutheran
church told the story about the new coach going for an unexpected dip in the Rocin River
while enjoying the view of a pretty young woman from his church during the annual race,
Skipper probable just asked for the name of the girl. He got it, and shared it with me the
very day he embarrassingly introduced us after school in the coaches’ office.
It has been a tradition at Rocin High that whoever was the new coach that year,
and until another new coach arrived, he would have to give the sex-ed talk to the Physical
Education classes- this included the football team. Therefore I was given the prestigious
task my first year. Holes thoroughly enjoyed my discomfort, and tried to ruffle my
composure with Playboy pictures stuck inside my text and notebook. He succeeded more
then once.
I had inherited this job from Killer Bob who had taken over for Harry after an
incident when Harry was teaching the class. He had started with an introduction to his
subject that had caused a stir in the town and turned the town mothers against him as the
illegitimately enlighten educator of love between the sexes.
His first salvo on sex education sent the town mothers to the town fathers, who in
turn bent the ear of the school principal. The saving grace here, was that the principal
went to Skipper himself, and left Asst. Principal Smith out of the loop. Though I am not
sure what Harry had said in his first class, whenever the subject was brought up, Harry
left the room in haste.
But, because of this opening, he had been placed on waivers, and sent to the
showers, and the more solid and serious Killer Bob had been given the mission. Now it
was my turn.
After helping with off-season equipment pick up that afternoon, I was called to
Skipper’s office by one of his linemen. At first I was a little worried I may have done
something wrong, but I could not figure out what that could have been. I continued on my
way past the assistant coaches’ office, stopping at Skipper’s closed office door, knocking
upon it, opening it, and poking my head into the room. I saw he was with a young
woman, and believing I was intruding, I begged their pardon, and started to close the door
and wait outside. I was brought up short by Skipper’s command to, “ Come on in,
Muley”.
With a gleam in his eyes, he teasingly remarked,” Coach Sanchez, this is Nurse
Beckingdorf.”
I could not believe my eyes! This was the girl from the boat race!
Skipper continued, “She is here to show you the particulars on the Venereal
Diseases class you are scheduled to give next week to our Boys. Now, I will leave you
two alone to get to involved in the subject matter.”
With a whimsical look, Skipper got up from his desk and proceeded from the
room, leaving me red-faced and embarrassed with the girl of my dreams.
Her name was Anne, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and the type of figure a man
cannot talk about , but only dream of. I was in love; love at first sight. I had heard of it,
and wanted it, but I had not expected to find it in this small Texas town. I listened to what
she had to say, but I could not understand it; thankfully so, as the subject she was talking
about was not one I could have shared with any women including my mother. My
thoughts were on would she remember me, and how can I ask her out after this
conversation? Her words seemed to go over me, and around me, as I stared into her
strikingly clear blue eyes, and perfect skin. I looked at her golden hair, and delicate
features and felt myself taking a deep breathe for courage and steadying myself to ask her
out.
Her last sentence included the words: “warts” and “ sores”, not the two best words
to begin a courtship. I almost gave up, but her kind, genial smile was an encouragement
to me. After she had exhausted her disconcerting topic, I took a deep breathe, and shakily
asked her out. She blushingly said yes, and after we had a good laugh at the awkwardness
of our situation we fixed the time and place for our first date. She, very kindly and
conveniently forgot, that the reason I fell into the river was making a decisive effort and
maneuver to get a better look at her coming up the river bank during the boat race.
Skipper and Holes had set the whole thing up, and later that afternoon had
laughed uproariously at my benefit, but I joined them both understanding the humor, and
the fact I received something very special out of this little comic episode. Life in Rocin
was good, very good.
Chapter Seventeen
First date
****
Anne: what a treasure. After the first meeting she had to put up with the date
cretin. I have always tried to be a romantic guy, but it never failed, whenever I would go
out with a pretty girl something strange, weird, or horrible happened. Our first date night
was one of these occasions. I could not believe this beautiful girl had agreed to go out
with me. I also could not believe that Skipper had made this happen after the boat races
and my inopportune swim in front of Anne and the town of Rocin.

I ran home and took a hurried bath in the old claw-footed bathtub that had come
with the garage apartment. I always felt a bit like a king whenever I had a moment to
enjoy a bath in at home. Many times I just showered at the field house, and I never
touched the bath until the weekend, but that night I felt like a king and still was able to
hurry as I had no intention of being late. I even re-shaved the bearded region around my
face, and splashed it with a liberal dose of Brute. The sting of the after shave made me
feel like it was the end of the old me and the beginning of the new. The teeth were next,
and I started by flossing and then brushing. I hardly ever flossed back then, and besides
the substantial amount of blood and crud on the white string, afterwards I found those
annoying and marginally painful lumps that start to poof out between the gaps of my
teeth after a white string gauging attack. These bumps, while not comfortable, were never
really noticed by your date. I brushed back my wet black hair, and after putting on
deodorant from an aerosol can, I took a quick look-see in the mirror to see if I was
presentable to the prettiest girl in town. I passed, not great, but I could always throw in
the part about playing college football, which sometimes helped me appear more
adventuresome then I actually was.

Dressing was not hard, as I had only one suit: black to marry them or bury them
as my Uncle use to say, and two sports coats. I choose the lighter colored one, as it was
still warm during this part of the year.
I did have to dig around to find a pair of clean pants. After a hurried and frantic
search, I finally decided on blue jeans, not because they were the only ones clean, but
because I wanted Anne to think it was sort of a causal date. The jacket made it special,
and the blue jeans made it causal- at least I hoped this is what she would think. I was
getting more nervous by the minute. As far as shoes, I would wear my relatively new
wing-tipped cowboy boots, after all this was Texas.

****
I should have remembered to clean out the car before I got all dressed up, but I
didn’t. I ran out to the car opened the door, and stared at the trash that had accumulated
over the past few months. I had taken no dates out recently, and the football players I had
taken home only giggled and left no lasting comments. I could not have Anne see my car
in this condition. I ran back upstairs and grabbed a broom. I was starting to sweat in my
light colored jacket as I ran back down the stairs and decided to throw it off in the grass,
before I opened the car door and stuck the broom inside and started to rake out the trash. I
keep checking my watch as I worked, it was clear I was still early, but I was losing my
time cushion fast. Mrs. Shupac , my landlady, came outside and in a firm but gentle way
reminded me to pick up the mess on the driveway before I left. I ran up the stairs,
grabbed a brown paper sack, and, now dripping with sweat, ran back down to pick up the
left over bits of food, and the wrappers. This was accomplished quickly, and seeing the
trash can open with no lid down the alley, I made a most satisfactory throw into the open
can with the full bag of trash. On this note, as I ran to my car, I felt the world growing
warmer and happier. I reached down and picked up my jacket, throwing it on as I got in
the car and started it up. Backing out of the drive all I could think about was Anne; her
smile, hair, face, and , well, everything else. But as I drove I began to smell the
unpleasant aroma of dog feces, or should I say dog mess. The longer I drove the
stronger it smelled and I did not have that far to go. Anne’s house was two more streets
away. I braked the car hard into a parking lot, and cursing my luck under my breath, I
jumped out and checked my shoes. Nothing. I stuck my head into the car and looked to
see if I had wiped it from my shoes onto the heavy vinyl of the floor boards. Nothing!
What was going on? I could not really smell it when I had got out of the car, and I had
only caught a light whiff when I reentered. I checked my watch, and jumped back into the
car, thinking, perhaps, it was on the tires. This made pretty good sense to me, and I did
not bother looking.
The smell came back strong and brutishly hard as I turned down Anne’s street and
stopped the car. I took one more look around the inside of the car, checked the tires and
saw nothing. I was right on time, and I was not going to be late, therefore, I went to the
door and nervously rang the bell. I should not have been nervous. Anne met me with the
biggest smile and had the warmest welcome. It was like I had known her forever, and it
made me feel as if we were meant to be together, or at least meant to have a good time.
She invited me into the house to meet her parents. Her father was one of three City of
Rocin’s police officers, besides the police chief, He was a strongly built bull of a man,
but he greeted me with a generous smile and a firm handshake. Her mother could have
been an older reflection of her daughter. And the warmth in which she greeted me was
one of incredible tenderness. The family was real and loving. This was not faked, and
neither was the discomfort with which Mr. Beckindorf was experiencing. He was looking
around, with a strange look on his face, as if he had watched a Clint Eastwood movie and
was trying out a new squinty eyed expression. But the crow lines around his eyes began
to deepen, and his eyes seemed to lock onto mine as if to say ,“there had been no smell in
this house before you got here!” I decided at that point to suggest we get going. Mr.
Beckindorf did not make a big fuss about where we were going or when we were coming
back. He seemed preoccupied with the strange awful scent that had entered the house
when I did. I swept Anne along in my hurry, and with my hand gently, but firmly in her
back we made it to the car. I opened the passenger side door for her, and hastened around
the car to my side. Anne seemed quite pleased with my attention, until we reached the
end of her street.
I caught the panic in her eyes from the corner of my right eye, as she tried to
make sense of the overpowering dog scent in the car. She began to take small shallow
breathes and her head began turning slightly as if looking for something without seeming
to get my attention. Her kind heart would not let her speak of the difficulty she was in.
I knew I should have told her, but I could not bring myself to speak of it either.
This fuming perceptible dog tang was not going to ruin the best night of my life, no way,
no how. Little did I know Anne not only had a keen sense of smell, which I grew aware
of as she turned red holding her breathe, but she had keen eye sight as well. In a gulping
breathless tone Anne told me to stop the car. I did it in an unbelievable hurry so as not to
make her waste her breathe by saying it again. With the dust cloud rising through the
open windows of the car, she took her long fingers and pointed at the right side of my
jacket and then reached up and held her noise. One did not have to be a great detective to
gather information to discover guilt, I was the guilty party, and I knew it. I jumped out of
the car and tore off my jacket. Quickly I looked at the offending party, and with
embarrassment and anger, I throw it down on the ground. At that point in my life I knew
two things about myself and that jacket. One, I wanted to leave it and my embarrassment
on the ground and drive off, and two, if I drove off without the jacket, I would not have
the money for another one fro a long time. Logic won out. I apologized to Anne, and
went in search of a faucet. I cleaned off the offending article of clothing at a house across
the street and two doors down, and tossed it into the trunk for a through cleaning later.
Anne had just watched me throughout the whole decision and cleaning episode. She had
not spoken, but sat there quietly in the car watching me with gentle understanding blue
eyes.
When I returned to the driver’s seat, I waited for the joking to start, but it never
did. She just pushed over beside me in the car, took my arm in hers and laying her head
on my arm asked me where I had planned to take her. I felt an enormous amount of relief
and thanks. Not only was she beautiful and smart, but also caring and considerate. I knew
I had found my girl.
Chapter Eighteen
Second Date and Another Woman

****
I made it through the second date with only a flat, but the third date is the one that
almost did me in. Instead of chewing tobacco most the time, I chose to chew gum in
hopes this would sweeten my breathe. I chewed it in the classroom and out coaching, and
especially when I was nervous. As I was when I went to pick up Anne for the third date.
We were not even out the door when Anne’s interest in football took over our
conversation, and by the time we reached the stop sign at the end of her street, I had
agreed to show her how to throw and kick the football on the high school football field as
a lark. Anne was athletic enough to do anything she wanted to do in sports, and a willing
learner. Though she did not have the shoulder strength, she rolled back and fired that
football like a champ, a little girlie, but man, what a girl!
It was the kicking part which almost did me in. I decided that as a coach I did not
want Anne to kick without warming up her legs. I had seen too many guys hurt
themselves without a proper warm up. Also, I wanted to impress upon Anne how
important a job I had besides teaching health and sex education to adolescents. We
started out with the hurdler stretch, where you place one leg out in front of you, and the
other one you bend and place your foot behind you. We were able to stretch both legs
easily, especially since Anne was in pants. The problem was I decided we needed to do
butterflies to warm up the groin muscles. This exercise is called butterflies because you
place your heels together and bring them into your crotch, so it looks like your legs are
butterfly wings. I knew this was not necessary but I wanted to show off to Anne how
limber I was.
Boy, was I limber. As soon as I pulled my heels into my crotch, and pushed down
with my elbows, that was all it took. Anne was right in front of me, watching me,
mirroring whatever I did. The only thing was I had a full tank of gas from the beans I ate
last night, and it sang a note off tune-right in front of Anne!
This was par for the course. She just rolled onto her left side and broke up laughing.
There was nothing I could do. I had not had any warning, and could not have recalled it if
I wanted too. I felt myself go crimson from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.
But, I decide to stay in the butterfly position and act like maybe it never happened.
Perhaps she will think it was my pants ripping, embarrassing, but on the scale I seemed to
be weighed on, not too bad.
Anne was laughing so hard, she could not breathe. I could hear nothing , but a
small inaudible gasp for air every few moments. Finally, a long drawn out, “ Oh MY
Gosh” erupted from her and spewed out onto the football field covering me with shame. I
guess my little ruse was not going to work, and I decided to relax my butterfly position,
without upsetting my colon. While I was thus entangled, Anne had gotten to her feet, like
a prize fighter who is punch drunk, and launched herself at me. I could not believe it she
had tackled me, and I loved it. She gave me our first kiss right there and then. She
explained to me she had never had a date that had felt so relaxed he could do THAT in
front of her. We both broke up over that, I rolled on top of her and kissed her lips deeply.
I knew everything was going to be alright after this tackling session.
And, because one is never enough with a girl like Anne, I decided to go in for
another kiss. At that very moment I went in for a second kiss only this time on her tender
white neck The wind moved her hair as I made my romantic approach, and the gum
which I keep in my mouth at all times competed with my lips to see who would get there
first. The gum won. Panic again! And gum was stuck!
Just when I thought it was over, I am back in panic mode. I knew what I had to
do. I could not lose face twice in one night, so I set about trying to get the gum out with
my tongue. The only problem with that was my tongue was bigger then the gum and only
succeeded in pulling in more hair from around her neck. I felt myself begin to lose hope.
I knew I had to tell her. But no! Another idea came to me, one born of necessity: all I
have to do is cut the gum out, and teeth are meant for cutting.
I began slowly, and methodically. Starting with the first hairs up front, I began to
gnaw away, and at the same time making excited noises like I was enjoying kissing her
neck. The noise and urgency, I think, began to give her clues something was amiss as I
chomped harder at the middle of the gum tangle where more hair was located. If I had
had better acting skills, I believe I could have gotten away with it , but acting under the
pressure of losing face, and perhaps losing the girl, the urgency took over, and
completion of task was utmost in mind. With these clues she knew something was up.
She pushed me away at the same time I cleared the gum tangle. With a questioning look
she saw the hair and gum ball on my lips, with the realization dawning as I spat it out
upon the turf in triumph what had happened. As for me, triumph turned to embarrassment
when I saw my scheme had been found out.
I did not know what to say, except I am sorry. I tried to explain about the gum, the
wind, and her hair moving, but all I got was the same Clint Eastwood look her Dad gave
me when I met him for the first time at Anne’s house. Her finally words on the subject
that night are probably the secret to our marriage, “ Don’t ever do anything without
asking me!”
****

The second lady in my life was Mrs. Mary Belle Koreneke. I met her on my
second day at Rocin High School. I had just obtained a key to my classroom, and I was
not expected by Skipper until about ten o’clock that morning. I figured it was a good time
to check out my classroom, and see what was needed to dress it up before the next school
year started. I had been told by the principle that if I needed anything I was to go see Mrs.
Koreneke in Room 103. She was in charge of history teachers, and she would be my
mentor this first year.
I was feeling pretty sure of myself, but after visiting my room, I decide to go
down to Room 103 and introduce myself to her. I found Room 103 alright and I stuck
my head in, but there was no sign of Mrs. Koreneke, just the smell of cigarette smoke and
a slight haze near the cracked open window. I decided to investigate, because I had seen
the sign that stated NO SMOKING in big letters near the office in the front of the school.
Mr. Koreneke’s desk was near the open window with a small petition behind it. It
was just big enough to hide a person sitting down. And that was how I met Mrs.
Koreneke. She was sitting down, staring out the window and smoking a menthol
cigarette. She must have heard me coming, because she had not turned around, but asked
in a strong raspy voice, “So, you are the new history teacher.”. It was more like a
comment then a question, and more like resigned acceptance then joy. I did not think she
had the right to judge me so quickly without knowing me. I was preparing to engage in
verbal combat. She stopped me with a look.
She turned to face me, and beamed a smile both mischievous and familiar. She
had short red hair without a hint of gray. Her eyes were at first hidden behind those silver
cat glasses women and girls found fashionable in those years. But later I saw they were a
clear blue. Her face had been weathered by both the sun and tobacco, but it beheld a
strength and ruggedness that was both handsome and attractive.
She was in her sixties when I met her, but she ran that wing of the high school
building as a earl would have run his fiefdom. She knew the principal was the boss, but
everything needed to go through her to get passed up to him. If you needed school
supplies, she got them for you. If you needed advise in handling a student, you went to
her. And if she didn’t like you, you did not keep your job at Rocin High School. I did not
receive all this information that morning, it came to me over time. Time spent watching
her and learning from her. She was amazing the way she worked people: mothering on
one hand and dictatorial on the other.
She looked at me through her cat glasses with the smoke curling up around her,
and asked the question that was on all the teachers’ minds.
“ Coach Sanchez, are you a coach or a teacher?”
I paused a moment to figure out what she was asking. If I said coach, she would
not believe I liked history and teaching, and if I said teaching she probably would watch
me and decide for herself.
“I am not sure Mrs. Koreneke.” I started, “ I guess I am a teacher first, and a
coach second, but both seem to be helping students.”
Again Mrs. Koreneke smiled her familiar smile. “What does Skipper call you….?
“Coach Sanchez”, I answered.
“Don’t worry, he will come up with something, he always does.” she remarked.
“That man, he couldn’t pronounce his own name if he had not been born with it.”
“Well, Muley“ she continued,” that was an honest answer you gave me about
teaching and coaching, and I am looking forward to working with you. If you have any
problems, you come see me.”
She smiled and turned to look back out the window. I realized I was excused, and
as I turned to go, she made one more observation for me.
“Coach Sanchez, I hope you realize that smoking in school is against the rules,
and in the future I would appreciate you knocking so that I can use the window and
prepare for your entrance.” There was a twinkle in her eye as she stated,” You do know
what I mean? Don’t you? “ I nodded. “Good“ ,she acknowledged,” I will come by and
check on you later.”

****

And she did. She never missed an opportunity to teach my something about
people. She always made me feel welcome, and periodically she would invite me outside
her room where the teachers’ picnic benches were to eat her home made fried chicken, or
chicken fried steak for lunch. She was one of those people who could acknowledge the
difference between students and teachers. If a teacher smoked on campus, they took their
chances. But if a student smoked on campus he was a “flippin degenerate”. The same
applied to possession of a knife. A teacher/coach is an adult with many types of jobs to
do, and a knife is just a tool for cutting. When a student was caught with a large knife,
his parents made a big deal of Holes having a pocket knife during a football game on
school grounds cutting tape off a player. Mrs.Koreneke, stood up at the facility meeting
and laid the logic out for us.
“ To start with, Holes is a grown man, and not some teenage adolescent with
something phallic to prove. Second of all, he has to cut items daily as part of his job,
including tape, mouth pieces, and jerseys. This little jackass and his cow of a mother
should realize that the only tools the mule headed one needs are paper, pen, textbooks
and brains. “ And with a grin, “No offense, Muley”.
“No kidding”, Holes responded before I had an opportunity to, “ if only we had
the tools to make more touchdowns as easy as cutting tape”.
That was the end of the meeting, but it left me with a fond memory. My own
mother was back home in Louisiana, and Ma Koreneke treated me like one of her
own-with love and care.

When Ma Koreneke found out I was dating Anne, she made sure I dressed nicely,
and knew the best places to eat out when we were out on a date. I even took Anne on a
long afternoon date to San Antonio, where a former student of Ma’s had taken up
residential and financial success in that rare picturesque city by opening a restaurant near
the River Walk. The lunch had been wonderful after visiting the many Missions that dot
the landscape throughout the city, and when I opened my pitiful wallet to pay for the
meal, I was told the bill had been paid in full. Someone else had paid. I was glad Anne
had not been present to see my relief at the news, but when pressed, the manager had
looked me in my eyes and told me he had taken care of it as a gift to his favorite teacher,
Ma Koreneke. He also told me that there was no way he could truly ever repay her for all
she had done for him, and therefore this was a token of his esteem. I never forgot that. As
a teacher, one never knows how far into another’s life we have crept. Whether on cat’s
soft feet the memories flow into their thoughts, or like an elephant roaring in with the
rough surf, demanding an accounting of why a decision was made, and how can one be
so stupid! I remember both types of teachers in my own life, but only one type fondly.
Mary Belle Koreneke was one of these to both students and rookie teachers.
Chapter Nineteen
The Kitty and Old Henry
****

I cannot begin to explain the things that moved Skipper, but a few items stick out
in my mind when I look back over the years with an eye tuned towards understanding his
motivations.
First, Skipper had a knack of being a bit of a hypocrite when he was trying hard
not to be one. This maybe hard to understand but just thinking back I can think of a few
examples which still brings a chuckle to my throat. Those red Folgers coffee cans were a
bit odd looking when I first arrived, sitting on the coaches‟ desks as dirty, rusty symbols
of some long ago wakeful triumph. Sometimes the coaches would put the lids back over
the red, dented cuspidor so as to keep the contents from pouring out should the can be hit
by someone in haste to leave the office or caring balky equipment to and from the field.
This was the state of the office spittoons when I arrived.
Now Skipper did not believe in using profanity around his Boys, and he stuck to
it. He made the rest of us walk this same line, and all of us had to make a quick apology
to the Boys when in a rare moment we might slip and let an unflattering word get away. I
had grown up in Catholic schools when I was younger, and had lost the habit of using
impolite words in polite society after an incident with Sister Mary Margaret and a bar of
Ivory Soap. As far as the other coaches, they fought their own battles over this
issue-including Skipper.
Holes‟ contribution to this rare event came after he attended a play put on by the
high school drama department. He not only attended, but every year he would slip into a
play and have a minor part, which he claimed generated more revenue for the school due
to an increase in ticket sales the night he was performing. I doubted it, for the drama
department never let me see the ticket sales results.
It seemed that during the months the play was in rehearsals a “kitty” was used to
help keep profanity off the stage and out of the theatre. A “kitty” would seem to be like a
purse, where when you screwed up and used foul language, you had to add a dollar to the
purse, or “kitty”. This money was then used to have a party after the play was over and
splurge for food or entertainment. Holes came in with this idea one day after Skipper had
a firm talk with all coaches after a particularly hard day in the off-season. Holes took one
of the dented Folgers‟ coffee cans, walked over the bathroom and rinsed it out, before
making the declaration that the can could be used as the “kitty” to hold a dollar each time
we swore or cursed around the Boys. We all laughed about it, but agreed to use it and
talked about how small a party we would have with the amount of money we would raise
due to foul or profane language. Even Skipper liked the idea and agreed to keeping it in
the coaches‟ office. But, I had not counted on the Henry and Mr. Smith incident.

****
Henry was seventy odd years old, and had seen many sights in his lifetime besides
being the janitor for the field house. He had gone overseas with General Pershing‟s
Rainbow Brigade during World War I, and had survived the Ardennes and numerous
mustard gas attacks. How he had survived so long after these attacks and his habit of
chain smoking , I do not know-but he had. He had worked as a cowboy, a policeman, a
logger, and now a janitor. His most interesting short lived jobs included working as a
security guard and body guard in Hollywood during the 1940„s. I think this was the main
reason Henry and Skipper seemed to be such good friends. Skipper enjoyed spending
time talking about movies and actors with Henry, and Henry enjoyed sharing insider
information about the people he had meet.
Every once in awhile after hours, you could find those two enjoying a beverage
in Skipper‟s office: scotch for Henry and a small bottle of soda for the Skipper, laughing
and talking about their love of movies and gossiping about the people they knew in
Rocin. There was not too much to do in Rocin in the evening if you were not working, as
the television stations in Houston and San Antonio had a hard time reaching Rocin in
those days. Every so often though, Henry seemed to lose his focus on reality and his light
hazel eyes seemed to dart about with a paranoid agitation, looking for the enemy or a
surprise mustard gas attack. When this happened, the coaches or teachers ran to get
Skipper so that he could calm Henry down. This dementia is what caused Mr. Smith-the
Vice Principal, and Henry to butt heads.
Henry had an old military cot in the laundry room hidden to the left of the
washing machines, where he could lay down if he needed to rest. He usual needed to rest
sometime after ten in the morning and before one in the after noon. Sometimes the nap
lasted from ten to twelve , but Henry always got the P.E. and athletic clothes washed and
the dressing rooms cleaned up prior to football practice. The Boys loved to come into the
field house and see him working with his stained coveralls, and Rocin baseball cap
placed on his head at a precarious angle. Because Skipper treated him with respect, the
boys, and the rest of the coaches treated him the same way. A couple of students over the
years had even interviewed him for school reports over World War I. He loved telling a
good story, and Skipper loved hearing them.
The day Henry‟s problem become general knowledge was much like any other
Spring day in our high school world. Henry had started the clothes in the dryer that
morning after mopping the dressing rooms floor, and had fallen asleep in his cot, keeping
warm while enjoying the rhythm of the dryers. Soon though, he began to feel slightly
cold during his restful slumber, and awoke to find the pilot light off on one of the two
dryers, and the startling rank smell of natural gas filling the air.
Before Henry could make a through investigation of the problem, Mr. Smith, on
the prowl, had come into the field house and was making a quick inspection of the
problems in the athletic department that he would addressed when next he spoke with
Skipper. Besides, it was a well known fact that Mr. Smith did not like Henry and could
not wait to catch him sleeping on the job. Henry, for his part, returned the feeling with
similar vigor.
Like a full bellied pot-stove in his dark suit, Mr. Smith waddled into the laundry
room, and found Henry on his ancient knees, looking into the bottom portion of the dryer
trying to find the problem.
“ Henry,“, he demanded, “ what have you gone and broke now?
Henry just pointed, and grunted, “Pilot light is off.“
Mr. Smith, who loved his polyester and wool suits, and hated dirt, throw a clean
towel onto the floor and knelt down beside Henry, nudging him out of the way with and
elbow and a look of contempt.
Now, the way Skipper told me the story, may not have been the way Mr. Smith
saw it, but I prefer Skipper‟s version probably because it always made me smile.
It seemed that Mr. Smith, with dripping disdain, turned to Henry and asked for a
light to get a better look at the problem under the dryer. Henry with a gleam in his eye,
reached into his shirt pocket and took out a box of matches, and with deliberate care took
one single match out of the box, shut the box and looked into the frightened bi-speckled
eyes of Mr. Smith not more then six inches away from Henry„s green eyes. For Smith,
the world must have gone into slow motion as fear took hold of his senses. Unfortunately,
his rotund little body did not move as well as it once did, and as he moveded to get out of
the way of the impending destruction of the field house, he jumped up and dove out of
the way, hitting his foot on the edge of mop pail while his short stubby legs tangled up
with the mop itself, tripping and trapping him into a pile of filthy, sweaty athletic
uniforms.
When Mr. Smith finally came up for air, he saw the match had not been struck,
and the slight smile that was on display across Henry‟s face he became livid as he
realized the joke that had been played upon him.
“You son-of-a-biscuit”, Smith shouted, only he used the correct term for a female dog.
Henry light the match.
The sight of the corpulent, squatty figure of Mr. Smith running out of the field
house in cowboy boots, and dark suit with the brightly colored polyester tie, shouting
“GAS!” should have been strange enough, had it not been for the old man with silver
white hair, coveralls, and a Rocin baseball cap who was following Smith and closing
ground rapidly with a pronounced limp. The race was on.
Skipper caught sight of this peculiar race on his way back to the field house and
watched in amazement as Henry tackled Smith to the ground. Skipper swore the only
words Henry keep repeating, as he pulled Henry off of Smith, were “these damn Krauts”.
He was suffering from what would become known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or-
when he felt threatened- flash backs.
Chapter Twenty
The School Board

****
After the incident, the old janitor was relieved from his job for two days, and a
special session of the school board was called to hear his case and consider his dismissal.
Skipper, as a follow veteran and friend, went to help represent Henry and his feat in the
school board session. After an impassioned plea by Henry, the Board left and returned in
an hour‟s time with a verdict of guilty, and sentenced him to be fired from his janitorial
duties within the district. This would be a crushing blow to an old man who had very
little left in life but his time with the coaches and Boys of Rocin.
Skipper stood up in his slow measured way, cleared his voice and asked to speak
to the school board. He was a tall man made taller by the old and dejected man sitting
beside him. I was there for this part, as was most of the town of Rocin. The school board
was made up of men from around the town and area of Rocin. Encouraging smiles and
acknowledgements came from some of these men who had had sons play football for
Skipper and thought the world of him, plain faced were those who had not.
“ Gentlemen”, he began, “ when I first came to the town of Rocin in 1952, I was
greeted by a man who was out cutting the grass around the football fields. He was not so
gray or so old, but he was very kind to a strange man in a strange place, and asked me to
share his lunch with him. I spent a wonderful afternoon listening to stories about the town
and people that would become my home.”
Every eye in the room was either on Skipper, or Henry as they sat their listening.
Skipper paused and scanned the school board members from left to right checking their
eyes for understanding.
The Coach‟s eyes stopped at one of the members on the right side of the table.
“ Say Ben, he even asked me to say a prayer for your mother who was sick with
pneumonia at the time.
Skipper looked to Ben‟s left.
“And Paul, he was so happy with you and Linda on the birth of your new son, he
almost sounded like he was the new grandfather. I can even remember when Randall
there threw up in the locker room after a tough days practice, and Henry mopped it up
without complaining, patted him on the shoulder and went and brought him a glass of
water to rinse out his mouth.”
“Folks, this man who sits in front of you has nurtured and prayed for you people
for more years then I care to remember, and now you are making the decision to send this
good and righteous man away, and never allowing your children a chance to be loved by
this man.”
Skipper‟s eyes took on the all to familiar look of flint, while his squint and voice
betrayed his deep feelings about what Henry‟s friendship meant to him. Henry keep his
eyes lowered to the floor, looking like the old frail man he was.
“ My friend Henry‟s only fault was having being a veteran during W.W.I, and
during a moment of crisis, reliving a memory where he had to fight or die. We can not
blame Henry for this experience, even if he did volunteer to fight and die for his country-
your country.”
“And now, as he has reached the twilight of his remaining years without his
cherished wife, or children- except for those of us who look on him like family- we are
sending him out with nothing going nowhere? We owe this man more then that! He did
not mean to attack Mr. Smith, and he has apologized. What else will we have him do? “
Some of the heads around the table were slowly beginning to nod in agreement as
Skipper continued.
“Many of you fought in World War II or Korea, or knew people who did. We
watched brave men cry, and young men die. The dead are forever young, but the ones
who survived are old and gray. Henry survived World War I. He survived and taught our
youths the skills he learned as a young man defending our country. He has taught them
respect, honor, valor, and honesty. And how do we show him our thanks and give him
respect -by firing him because of one forgetful and stressful moment?
“Because if we must judge him on one moment or action of his life, let us use his
act of volunteerism for the First World War, or the loss of breathe he suffered in the
mustard gas attacks he endured, or even the Silver Star he earned at the Ardennes.”
Skipper‟s voice had risen with his feelings during this discourse to the
school board. Now, he returned to the quiet yet commanding voice, which held long
pauses to control feelings.
“I am asking that you, the school board, give him another chance. Give this brave
veteran the chance do the job he has done for all these many years, and influence the lives
of another generation of young men as they pass through this school on their journey
through life.”
Henry‟s eyes lifted off the floor, he raised his head, and squared his shoulders.
The years dropped off, and there in the chair next to Skipper sat the man who had fought
the Germans and lived to roughly enjoy old age. One who had treated the boys under his
care with kindness and fairness. Rather at opposites with the way Mr. Smith had treated
an old man in the laundry room. Henry did not ask to speak to the board himself, but the
effect of Coach‟s words had made a difference in his appearance. He had heard in public
what Skipper thought of him. And, with the esteem he felt for Skipper‟s opinion, he
looked on himself in a new light. Whether he got the old job back or not, he was still a
man with dignity and pride. Nothing could change that.
I watched and admired this change in Henry‟s demeanor, while he stood up, and
thanked the school board for their time. Then, he turned around and walked away from
the table he had shared with Skipper, and with all eyes on him, proudly walk down the
aisle and out the door. The admiration I had felt a moment ago was now lost in sorrow
and veneration as I watched Henry leave, so much so, that at first I did not hear the
crackle of a clap as one set of hands pounded together to create a rhythmic noise of
approval. This one set of hands was joined by another, and then another until the whole
group was standing up, looking out the door that had just been vacated by Henry.
I had been sitting with the other coaches throughout the proceedings, and I knew
who had started that clapping. It had started right next to my right ear. The only person
who had been right next to me was, my nemesis, Killer Bob, who had begin the standing
ovation. And picking it up from him was Holes, who seemed not just proud of Henry, but
defiant after Skipper„s gallant speech.
The school board upheld their ruling. Henry would no longer be employed by the
Rocin School District. It was the general opinion around the field house that the school
board had to take the side of Mr. Smith to let him save face. The older I have gotten , the
more I understand politics. I understand it, but I do not like it, and I wish that common
sense or a sense of righteousness had taken hold of the school board on that day, but it
was not to be.
****

Should Henry have been given another chance? The unanimous consensus in the
field house was - Yes! The School Board had got it wrong.
The coaches returned to their office, and threw themselves down at their desks
with nods of disbelief. Skipper did not say anything, but that did not stop Holes. He
began to curse and swear, until Harry reminded him of the Kitty, and the payment of a
dollar for each swear word that had been uttered, that would have to be placed in the red
coffee can on his desk. Holes reached into his skin tight coaching shorts, and only came
out with a small pouch of Redman chewing tobacco and a ring full of keys. At this point,
due to his exasperation with the situation, his language reached a new level of flowing,
similar to the profane rappers that share the air waves with religious and political talk
shows today.
Holes keep this up until Skipper got up from his chair, left his office, and moved
towards Holes‟ desk. Once at the desk, Skipper opened the coffee can lid, and reached
into his pocket. He then pulled out one twenty dollar bill, and then a ten dollar bill, and
put the money in the can without saying a word, never taking his eyes off of Holes. The
Coach then turned around and left the field house without saying another word.
Harry, smiled at his old friend Holes, who had stopped speaking after Skipper„s
actions, and said:
“ Looks like Skippers O.K. with your word choices. I guess you can keep it up.”
Holes looked at him in disbelief, and then back at the coffee can in disgust.
“Harry, this is the „Kitty‟”, Holes exclaimed, reaching over to my desk, grabbing
a different dented red coffee can.
“The coffee can Skipper put the money into was my spittoon. Now, before I say
another word, get your butt over here so that we can clean the money off. I have not
gotten Skipper‟s money worth yet.”
Killer Bob stared in stupefied disbelief at the two of them gingerly picking the
money out of the tin can, and tipping the brown, lumpish contents out into the sink.
Chapter Twenty One
A peaNutty Buddy
****

There were other things about Skipper that were not hypocritical. One of these
events was the peanut-butter event. Never let it be said that anyone coming to
Skipper needing food was turned away.
Harry had told me of the Steptoe boy who always found himself with
Skipper at lunch time. Johnny Steptoe was the son of a gas pipeline meter reader,
who spent much of his hard earned money on booze. Johnny had neither money
nor food for his dinner, and would make his way out to the field house so no-one
would see him go hungry, or he would not have to suffer while watching the other
students eat.
According to Henry, before he left his position as janitor, during one of
these lunch interludes, Skipper saw Johnny sitting on one of the benches outside
the door going into the locker room.
Skipper stopped by the corner of the field house and studied the young
freshman before he spoke to him gauging his age and reason for being there. He
had not seen him out for football, or track, and he looked way too short for
basketball.
“Hey there, Young Man“, Skipper started with a growing smile,” You new
or something?”
Johnny just shook his head and looked away embarrassed. The old pine
plank he was sitting on sat there just as quietly as he did.
Coach , standing up in the doorway, leaned an elbow on the door sill, and
cocked his cap back over his head and thought silently. He had seen this look
before over the years, and he was guessing the boy was hungry. Maybe that
explained why he was so small and puny.
“You know, I was fixing to eat my dinner, how about sharing it with me?”
Johnny looked back toward Skipper hesitantly
“There is way too much for me, and I would not be able to finish it all
today, and a portion of it would have to be thrown out“. Now, I‟m not doing you
any favors, and actually, you would be doing one for me.”
Johnny thought this over, smiled and gently nodded his head.
“Well”, Skipper declared, “let‟s go to my office and have a look. “
This was just the beginning of the many shared lunches between the two.
Ever day after that Johnny could be seen in Skipper‟s office sharing lunch with
him. It was a heart warming sight the big white man and the little black boy.
Though he never played football Johnny would be one of Skipper‟s boys. And
when Johnny wrote his first book, he dedicated it to the man he shared lunch with
his freshman year.
Even Harry would find some spare coins to buy Johnny a candy bar now
and then.
What Skipper did not know was that Johnny‟s dad , though a drinker to
excess, loved his wife very much, and proved it five times over six years. And,
though Johnny was the oldest, he was not the hungriest. Therefore with each year
another Steptoe would enter the high school, and another mouth to feed. When
Skipper finally figured this out, he changed plans. He could not stop feeding
Johnny and the others, he would just have to change their eating patterns.
Once there were two Steptoe kids in high school, Skipper gave them their
own locker in the field house: Locker Number One. Then, he gave them a
combination lock with the combination to allow them to get in when needed.
And finally, he gave them a large jar of peanut butter and honey, and
supplied them with a new loaf of bread every week. This changed to a new loaf
every three school days, once there were four Steptoes in the school at the same
time.
I had a hard time believing “Handsome Harry”, who told me this story
after it was told to him by Henry, until the day I took off from school for a much
needed Rest and Relaxation day, and having slept in, made it to school in plenty
of time for lunch and to prepare for off-season that afternoon. Since I was on my
own time and in no hurry, I went down to the field house and into the locker room
looking for evidence of the famous locker, Number One, next to Skipper„s office.
There before my eyes were three students eating peanut butter and honey
sandwiches while sitting on the blue painted wooden benches neatly placed in
front of the lockers. I could not believe my eyes.
They looked at me as an intruder, and I very much felt the part, as I had
nothing to hide me from their enquiring and suspicious eyes. I had come looking
for them, had found them, and could not think of anything to account for my
being there.
Harry‟s entrance into the locker room helped me make an excuse and gave
me an opportunity to leave. He nodded after me with a knowing smile, which
allowed me to turn red, as I turned left to leave the building.
But, I was soon to find out this was not unusual among teachers,
supporting their students. Ski supported one of his players, and even Harry
supported one of his players whose mother , no surprise here, was an attractive
divorcee. The difference was Skipper did it in the open, with more then one
student. It was school gossip and with gossip there is always an ear for the
hearing, that was Mr. Smith.
A directive came down from Mr. Smith, that no students could leave the
cafeteria, and go down to the field house during lunch for any reason. A point had
been earned by Mr. Smith, but counter-point was not too far away. Skipper, upon
hearing this decree took his concerns for the Steptoe‟s to the high school
principal. A new directive came out from the principal‟s office the next day
making the Steptoe‟s boys, Students Assistants, to the coaches during the lunch
period. In this way the boys go to eat, and Skipper added more fuel to Mr. Smith‟s
fire concerning the conspiracy to get him in the coaches‟ office.
I have often viewed Skipper and the other coaches through bits and pieces
of memory. They stood by each other and their Boys, whether players or just
adapted students. They armed me with the knowledge how to share and care
deeply for our Boys, our school, and our town.
Chapter Twenty Two
People Do Change
****

There were a couple of more interesting things that happened during that first year
at Rocin. David Shepard returned from boot camp and Military Police training in
February. The first place he came to visit was the field house , and the first person he
came to visit was Coach O‟Bryan. He meet Skipper right before off-season practice, as it
had taken him about a day and half ,coming by bus, from Alabama. He did not look the
same: he looked better. He had always been tall and muscular, but, now he held himself
ram-rod straight, and looked you directly in the eyes as a man should. Even his grip was
firm with strength, and, in my case, seemingly with genuine warmth. I was surprised at
how glad I was to see him, and see him looking so well. I guess the military life had
appealed to him after all. He had won some honors coming from his schooling, and had
been made a rank similar to that of corporal. If I appeared glad to see David, then Skipper
was ecstatic.
He not only gripped his hand readily, but pulled him into a bear-hug in front of all
the boys scattered around trying to re-energize after a stout work out. This collision of
tender paternal bonding surprised all of us, as could be witnessed by the look of
astoundment on the players faces. I do not know why I was surprised, but I was. I look
back with the advantages of time, and believe it was because of the depth of emotion that
surfaced on Skipper‟s face. I saw moisture build up in his eyes and begin to over flow,
dropping over the rim of his eyes skipping down his face as a pebble skips across a pond
with bold and brave jumps.
I felt the lump in my own throat, growing large and tightening up my windpipe
with tender emotion.
David‟s response to Skipper‟s greeting was one of surprise, at first, but he
returned the paternal greeting with such affection as to end any ideas of impropriety. His
tears could not be stopped, and could only be compared in duration to his huge smile,
which would not, or could not, leave his face. The only problem I had with this reunion
was the fact that it took Skipper‟s attention away from working on my offensive game
plan I was putting in during the off-season after the boys had gone home. At Skipper‟s
insistences, all coach were excepted at these meetings in the field house. None seemed to
mine the extra hours put in after work, except maybe Harry, as it limited him to a date
nearby, instead of foraging further a field for feminine companionship.
At that time in my life, I am sure I was a little envious of the Coach‟s success and
friendship with the boys. He had years of experience doing this, and all I had was
months. The only word I could use to describe this relationship he had with them was
Love!
I wondered then if Skipper had any children of his own. I knew he had been
married sometime in the past, and he lived by himself now on a little five acre plot of
earth he called his ranch. Holes would know the answer, and I resolved to ask him when
we were alone after the work out today.
****

After the meeting, which Skipper had missed to take David out to lunch, I tried to
Holes alone to ask questions about Skipper‟s early life. But, Harry and Holes were
cutting up and I could not get Holes alone. I chose not to waste any more time and I
asked them both about Skipper‟s children.
“ Skipper had one son,” Holes said, “ but they were never close.”
Harry nodded in agreement. “ He left when his mother left Coach.”
Holes and Harry looked at each other with a kind of telling glance.
“ Skipper‟s son died in a car accident five years ago.” Holes delivered these
words sadly.
“ He was a real ring-tailed cat. “ He continued.
“ A wild man.” Harry agreed
“ He had numerous run-ins with the law before he was fifteen years old and
caused a lot of grief for the Old Man.” Holes divulged.
I felt miserable. Why did I not know this? Why had I not asked earlier? There was
nothing I could have done, but still, I could have walked more gently if I reached these
rocky paths of inquire.
Skipper had said nothing to me about this area of his life.
“ Muley, Skipper thinks these kids are his, if you haven‟t noticed yet.” stated
Harry.
“ I sometimes think he believes if he loves them, disciplines them and helps them,
he is making up for not being there for his own son.”
Holes agreeing with Harry,” It is his penitence. And though he loves them, I
believe it is his guilt that drives him.” But, there was absolutely nothing he could have
done for that boy of his that he didn‟t try, short of forcing his wife to come back to him.”
“She left him because of all the time he was spending coaching and scouting
football.” he added.
Harry looked over at me and winked,” that‟s the reason I wont get married.” he
quipped.
Holes shot Harry a look that could have said,” shut your mouth,” but didn‟t.
With this reprimand, Harry quieted down and let Holes finish.
“ There was only one kid, but it‟s part of the reason he is who he is, and why he
does what he does. I know he turned to alcohol for awhile, and maybe for a little while it
helped, but it did not last long. He put the bottle behind him, well, I think he put it behind
him. I haven‟t seen him drink in years.”
I thanked them for sharing this information. Because of this trust we shared, I now
had a little more information to shed light on Skipper‟s life and what made him tick. I do
not think I could have handled the death of my son as he had. If he had chosen this
mission of helping others to justify his guilt, then so be it. It was a worth whiled mission
and one to be proud of. This fact had been exhibited by the look on David Shepard‟s face,
and the look in Skipper‟s as they meet in the field house that day; I did not begrudge that
feeling one bit- at least, not after that.

****
February was an interesting month that year with another sudden appearance, only
this time it was the missing link for my offense. Jimmy “ Aussie” Knowles entered my
life ,and later, into the record books of Rosin High in the same year. His parents had
moved to Australia seven years before to work for Esso and the off-shore oil exploration.
He had had to learn to fight to be accepted by the youthful Australians, and being a good
athlete, he had been accepted after a few wins ,and some painful loses. His dad had been
a high school quarterback growing up in Texas, and loved to throw the football, therefore
Aussie was his constant throwing companion while in the Land Down Under. And Boy,
Aussie could throw that pigskin. The only problem I had with Jimmy was his long,
free-flowing hair. Though I was highly impressed with Aussie‟s throwing and athletic
abilities, what I was not impressed with was his rather take-it-easy attitude towards life.
But Skipper just smiled, and asked me to give him a chance. This was easy for him to say
as I was the quarterbacks coach, and Aussie had just slung his long golden locks around
and out of his face, and stated that he wished to try out for quarterback in an accent the
girls found adorable, and the boys found a bit effeminate. I was ready to just say no, that
is until he picked up the ball and lofted the prettiest dang pass I ever saw about one
hundred yards down field off his back foot. But when he threw off his front foot, and
drilled one of our better receivers, with a pass that could have gained five yards more
based on velocity alone, I was excited. Needless to say, I was impressed and with a
haircut, this Australian was my type of football player-a good one!
.

I almost lost out on coaching one of the two best quarterbacks I have ever seen in
high school football. I was ready to make Aussie‟s hair an issue. I told him he could not
come into the off-season program without getting a decent haircut. He just looked at me,
nodded and walked off. He was not rude or disrespectful, just decided. Every day during
last period, for this was his Student Aide period, he would come out to the stadium and
watch our boys go through the off-season program. And, every day I would see Skipper,
stop and spend a few minutes chatting with him. I do not know what was said, but they
always seemed polite to each other. Me, on the other hand, I was angry at the Aussie for
not following directions and choosing not to become part of our football program. My
feelings were hurt, and I would refrain from talking to him until he did what he had been
told. In other words, I would ignore his existence, I would shun him. The other coaches
followed suite, except for Skipper. All Skipper every said to me was, “give me a little
more time, he is softening.”
I waited. And, I waited some more. I was on pins and needles, and feeling
betrayed by Skipper‟s since of warmth to this disloyal Hippie from Down Under. About
week three, I found Aussie dressing out and I hit the roof. I went and sought out Skipper.
I told him, I would not abide Aussie coming in here and making a monkey out of me, by
dressing out with his long hair still on his head. On the athletic field, it was still the time
of crew cuts, and no hair on the collars or over, the ears. I also told Skipper, if Aussie
went on that field with his long hair flying, I would needed a letter of reference because I
was going looking for a new job!
Skipper gave me a serious look of consideration with his chin held in his cupped
hand.
“ Are those your final words on this subject?” he asked in a serious tone.
I nodded that they were.
With a light smile betraying his intensions, Skipper told me,” Knowles is suiting
up as a manager today, and tomorrow he will join us as a freshly sheared recruit for our
football team.” he smiled even wider when he saw the look of disbelief on my face.
The wind was out of my sails, and I felt the relief of nervous energy. I was not
sure how to leave the room. I guess I was in a minor state of shock. I hesitatingly smiled
back at Skipper, and turned to leave, but stopped to ask him what had made Aussie
change his mind.
Taking a moment to enjoy his response to my answer, Skipper finally told me the
secret.
“ I told him, with that amount of hair, it is my professional opinion, that it would
be unsafe for him to play football and risk injury or the loss of hair. I also told him we
needed him to make the state play-offs and I was tired of watching him hold up the fence
over by the field. So basically the old poop or get of the pot line. He is getting off the
pot.”
I looked at him in disbelief, “ Is that all you said to him?”
Skipper nodded.
“ You basically told him it was unsafe, and we needed him?”
Skipper just smiled and nodded again.” Some times just letting them know they
are special, and that you need them is enough. It was for Aussie. Now, you get to training
and grooming your quarterbacks outside there, and I will show our new manager
around.”
Chapter Twenty Three
The Fight
****
As my first year at Rocin drew to a close, May brought another example of
Skipper„s philosophy to fruition This was the time of the school year when nerves are on
edge and tempers flare. The second week in May, Skipper held a meeting to discuss
fighting with all his male coaches. I was told that each year, during the last two months of
school, young men take every insult and witticism uttered by another to heart, and are
ready to engage in battle. I looked on this, my first year, as so much talk, but I was to find
out it was true.
Rico Vasquez was a barrel shaped offensive tackle, who handled the taller
defensive linemen with a great center of balance and bull strength. He had the smallest
legs you ever saw, but what they lacked in length, they made up for in strength. He had
no length to his stride, and therefore went without speed, but his quickness would have
made him a great boxer. I was just thankful he was not the center, because the
quarterbacks would have had to squat down real low, or get on their knees to receive the
snap at the line of scrimmage. The only problem I could see concerning Rico was his
fierce loyalty towards the team. No one could say anything against the team in his
presence. Especially anyone who would not play football, but instead choose to play
basketball, and was taller then him by a foot. This someone had a name, and an aloof
style that drove those on the football team half crazy with his condescending attitude:
James Stuckey the III.
Stuckey was the center for the Rocin basketball team the past three years. He was
6‟6” that year, and the local papers were proposing him to be All-District again, and
perhaps an All-State candidate this, his last year at Rocin High. I just knew him as the tall
kid that wouldn‟t play football for us, even though he was a gifted athlete and an intense
competitor. I don‟t think he would admit to it, but his parents may have been part of the
reason he did not play football. They did not want him playing a collusion sport like
football so that it would minimize his chance of getting hurt, and increase his chance of
getting a scholarship to play basketball in college. Not that his family would admit they
needed the help financially, but every little bit helps when you are from the country, and
a scholarship would give them bragging rights within the community of Rocin.
James on the other hand, had to build up his defenses as to why he did not play
football, and therefore, chose to look down upon those who did. With this prideful
attitude on James‟ part and Rico‟s fierce loyalty towards the team, these two were bound
to come into physical conflict. And conflict they did.
It was during my lunch duty on Tuesday afternoon, and I was nodding hello and
chatting to some of the students and players from my classes, when I first heard there was
a problem. The rectangular lunch room tables were arranged in a scattered pattern around
the cafeteria.
Rico sat with the football players and their girlfriends, while James sat with a
table of up-and-coming socialites. The identifying terms that are used today might be
Jocks verses Preps, but whatever the terms, they were at odds: Rico representing the
Jocks, and James the champion of the Preppies. These two group sat back to back, and
had enjoyed humorous exchanges all year long without troubles until today. Things had
reached a volatile point between the two groups, and I found myself in the midst of it.
James had taken it upon himself to talk about the brutish sport of football, and
how the weight training had begin to make them look like gorillas, and in some cases,
“thick necked bulls and short, stout legs“, turning around and looking directly at Rico.
That stung Rico, and he barked back, “ At least I am not afraid to play football!”
The gauntlet had been thrown, and both young men stood up to retrieve it; ready
to do battle there and then. I felt the adrenalin start pumping in my body, and into my
head, and faced with a fight or flight response myself, I closed in on these two. I would
not have them fight in here while I was on duty in the lunch room, and I took it as an
affront that they would even think about fighting here. But, I was not quite fast enough.
James, under pressure this year after an injury, to play with pain, attacked with a
straight jab to Rico‟s face. Rico took the punch like an oak tree takes a dull axe
stroke-unflinching, and caught James‟ hair in his left hand, twisted it up, and landed a
hard right handed punch to the left side of James‟ face. That is when I got there.
I grabbed Rico‟s right hand, and yelled at him to stop. His eyes and grip were
rock hard on winning this battle, and I could not get him to focus on me. He just keep
twisting and pulling James‟ hair, trying to work his right hand free of my grasp. James
was throwing some wild punches, with a a couple of them landing harmlessly on Rico‟s
upper body and my back. I realized after a few yells, Rico was not responding to this
noise level, and changed tactics. I got near his face, and quietly asked him to stop. His
eyes finally focused on me, and with recognition, came obedience. He let go of the hair
and backed off. James stood there holding his hair and the right side of his head. Rico
stood there with blonde hair strands in his hands-a lot of hair! Instead of taking them both
to the principal, I took them to the Athlete Director for the school: Skipper. He would
know what to do.
Skipper was eating his own lunch with Johnny Steptoe when we arrived. A roast
beef sandwich wrapped up in wax paper. I was feeling a little hungry myself, and wished
I had remembered to bring my lunch kit from the cafeteria. That could wait. I was ready
for Skipper to light into them, but if this was my expectation, but I was way off base.
Skipper dismissed Johnny, waited for him to leave, asked them both what
happened. He listened quietly as they both took turns giving their own versions of the
incident, listening with his eyes and ears, squinting when he needed clarification, and
nodding when he understood. He then asked James to leave the room, and he spoke with
Rico.
“ Rico, he started, “I trust you to make good decisions. You are one of the best
leaders we have on the field. But, I cannot have you engaged in a fight in the lunch room
in the middle of the school day.”
Skipper looked deeply into his face, until Rico blushed and looked uncomfortable.
Then Skipper spoke.
“ You are one of my Boys. I am so proud of you, and all the hard work you have
accomplished this year. Just this one little episode, and you could have ruined the
reputation you have so carefully built. You wanted a chance for a football scholarship, so
that your parents did not have to worry about paying for your college. You have that
chance of getting out of the fields and becoming an engineer, but I cannot guarantee you
that opportunity if you continue to behave recklessly. The head coach at Sam is too busy
to put up with this nonsense. I need your word that you will leave him alone, no matter
that he had it coming. I want your word that , for the rest of the year, you will put this
matter behind you, and make an effort not to fight. “
“Your word”, Skipper repeated again. Rico sorrowfully and respectfully gave it to
him, and they both shook hands in the solemn ritual that men have when they trust each
other. I knew Rico would keep his word, he had given it to Skipper.
But Skipper stopped him at the door with by calling his name.
“Rico, he said and Rico turned around, “if you have to fight, and I am not telling
you too, mind you, but if you have too, you get two pairs of gloves and come back here to
the field house. I will referee, and you two can get this out of your system.”
Rico smiled, nodded his head, and left with a bounce in his step.
I was a little surprised, but Skipper did not bother to enlighten me, and told me to
call in James.
James came in a bit tentative, yet surly, and waited to be told to sit down. The
Boss invited him to sit down right away, but sized James up in silence for a time before
beginning to talk with him.
We had all agreed, we being the coaches, that we could sure have used James on
the football team, but no one else had bothered to talk with him since Killer Bob struck
out with his parents. I waited expectantly to hear how Skipper would start off this
conversation.
“James”, Skipper started, “ you are a fine young man who has an opportunity to
play basketball in college. That sure is something. Most folks around here have yet to
shake the hand of a young man who has played college ball-any type of college ball! I am
very happy for you. But I cannot have you and Rico fighting in school. You are both
leaders in your peer groups, and on your teams. This will only lead to trouble for both of
you and the school. I want your word this will end here and now. “
This last statement Skipper delivered with a hard and intense look. I hoped James
would catch on quick. He did not.
“No, Coach. He attacked me, and it‟s not finished. I am going to get him. Today,
tomorrow, the next day, I will get mine!”
I was surprised James was this vocal to Skipper, but the Coach just waited, and so
did I.
“ James “, he explained, “ I will do whatever it takes to have your scholarship
offer revoked, if you chose this route. But, I am going to offer you this one, and only one
alternative.”
I could feel the stress set in for James as Skipper let his face do the talking. His
eyes took on the hue of ice berg blue, with an intensity that would have pierced rock.
His small framed glasses sat on the base of his hawk shaped nose, and with the sharpness
of his face gave him the appearance of that same said bird hunting prey. James was the
prey, but what was Skipper hinting at, I did not know. I waited.

****

“ James”, he delivered, “ if you want to really fight him, I will call Rico back. I
will let you both suit up in your gym clothes, and duke it out with gloves on wearing a
mouth piece, with one condition, that whoever loses after three rounds, they are the loser
and that is where it ends. There will be no retaliation by either parties- agreed?”
That six foot, six inch basketball center sat there in his chair in front of Skipper‟s
desk and slowly began to nod his head, and then to gently smile. He had made up his
mind, he was going to slug it out with Rico. He knew he had the longer reach, and he
believed he was quicker. Rico wouldn‟t stand a chance.
Skipper called in a student aide and gave him a pass to find Rico and bring him
back from class, or lunch if there was any time left in the period.
James looked confused.
The Boss sat at his desk and kept his gaze on James finally inquiring of him,
“Well, James are you ready to get changed?”
James hesitatingly uttered, “Coach O‟Bryan, you want us to fight now?”
“Right now, he replied, “hurry it up and get dressed. We will meet in the gym in
five minutes.”
James almost sprinted out the door to get dressed , and in doing so almost tripped
over Rico on his way in the field house.
Skipper barked at Rico as he came through the door, “Get dressed you line Hog,
you are boxing James in five, no, make that four minutes!”
There was no time for James to rally his group, or Rico to rally his. Both got
dressed in their respective dressing rooms, and met in the gym, eyeing each other like
gun slingers at high noon, yet keeping their distance as if realizing their time would
come.
Coach O‟Bryan marched into the gym with two old leather boxing head
protectors, and two pairs of gloves. He gave James first choice of both items and then
gave the other three items to Rico with a wink. Rico just smiled.
He then grabbed a sand bag that was holding down one of the P.E. volleyball
standards, took out his pocket knife, popped a hole in the sack and used the small trickle
of sand to mark a modified boxing ring. I watched with amazement and then self pity, as
I realized someone would have to be in charge of cleaning it and that would probable be
me.
Skipper gave each of the Boys a new football mouth piece after he had cut off the
hanging part of it, and the gagging part that rode past the teeth and into the back of your
throat and always made some of the Boys gag and wretch. When I was young, I too
suffered through this cruel time until I could take my new mouth piece home and cut off
the gag reflex part. Here was Skipper taking care of this for both of them.
I listened as Skipper told both boys that each round would be 90 seconds, and
when he blew the whistle both parties had to stop or he would enter the ring and finish
the fight. Both boys seemed to understand, as they nodded their head and flashed peeks
out towards their adversary. I felt the excitement building. The student aide who had gone
to get Rico, had let Killer Bob and Holes know something was up in the gym. When
Holes realized the situation upon seeing the combatants, he strode over to the coaches‟
office grabbed the chains and , handing one to Ski, chained the doors to the gym shut in
case Mr. Smith made one of his unannounced inspections.
James and Rico had been informed of and adjourned to their respective corners
when Skipper blew the whistle. I am not sure that James knew how to fight, but Rico did.
While James came at Rico like a young colt full of life and vigor; Rico came out like a
pistol slug,: coiled and lethal with elbows tucked and face protected. There were three
punches thrown: James throwing a round house from the shoulder, that missed; Rico
throwing a tough jab that stood James up straight, and Rico hitting with number 2 punch
that took James down for the count.
Skipper took the count up to ten as James laid on the basketball floor lifeless.
Skipper then put his hand on James throat feeling for a pulse. He must have been
satisfied, because he smiled up at Rico and told him to get dressed and back to class.
Holes had disappeared into the dressing rooms and had come back with a bucket of water
from the shower. He wanted to throw it on James but Ski stopped him as it would be hard
to get all the sand and water up off the floor without ruining part of the wood floor finish.
Instead they just threw towels into the bucket and put them on James‟ face. He awake
quickly as his nerves must have still been on fire from all that nervous energy from the
beginning of the fight. He looked around for Rico, then slowly realized he was alone,
and therefore, he must have lost the fight. He shook his head a couple of time to get rid of
the cob webs, we now would consider it a concussion, and keep his eyes on Skipper.
Skipper had not left his side after the knock-down, and just looked at him with a
gentle gaze, quite unlike the ice hard look he had fixed on him as they sat near his desk
prior to the fight.
“I always wanted to play for you Skipper.” Tears brimmed James‟ eyes as he
spoke these words.
“I wanted too , but my parents wanted that basketball scholarship. Yeah, I act like
we have money, but we have nothing. Without that scholarship I couldn„t go to college, I
would be nothing, just another kid trapped in this town. Then I would be an old kid
trapped, and then just old.”
The tears that had brimmed James‟ eyes now cascaded down making rivulets on
his face as they ran.
“ I am sorry Skipper.” He stated quietly as he got up and walked off to get
dressed. Ski stayed with him while he changed to evaluate him , and after a positive
report, escorted him back to his class.
“What was that all about with James?” Holes asked
“He use to tell me when he was younger, that one day he would play for me. I
wish he had.” Skipper stated as he turned and walked away, back to his lunch and his
office.
I knew I had to ask Skipper a question before he left.
“Coach, did you know Rico could box.“ I asked
Without turning around Skipper nodded his head, and replied:
“I taught him in junior high when he use to get picked on for being fat. He is one
of my Boys, you know?”
The light that blinded me came from Skipper‟s departure as he exited out the back
gym door with the strong mid-day sun beaming through. I thought I had almost made it,
when a voice came from that blinding light.
“Muley, don‟t forget to clean up that mess on the gym floor. I would hate to see
the gym floor finish ruined.”
As I turned, Holes and Ski were hurriedly exiting though the formerly chained
schools doors that lead back into the side central hallway.
I turned back towards the door Skipper had exited, and with the door drawing to a
close, I realized that with its closing, it also stopped the blinding light and my idiotic
remark that was geared up, but not discharged from my mouth.
****

Later I asked Skipper about the boxing match between the two athletes; why had
he let them fight, what did he expect the outcome to be?
He was sitting at his desk, looking over his magnifying granny glasses, thinking
about my questions.
“There are times boys, really men, need to get physical with one another. They
need to put their strength on the line, and challenge others. We are becoming a society
trapped between men and women. Most women would rather have a good verbal
exchange, and that fits their needs of one upmanship.”
“But, men, I believe”, he said with a smile, “ have a biological need to be
physical. Maybe, a need to dominate one another using their strength. Just like two bulls
in a pasture need to go at it sometimes or even two dogs to decide who is the better one.
I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I pictured his words, and
remembered, from my past experiences, the dog fights I had seen over the years.
He continued his train of thought into the future, “ There may come a day, our
society limits our Boys on how to get out their testosterone; penalize them for doing what
comes naturally, and then, when they cannot get a physical release for their anger, they
turn inwards and plan not just vengeance but deaths.”
This last part scared me for the aftertime of our Boys. But, I never thought it
would happen, not in the rough and tumble atmosphere of the early seventies. I left his
office soon after that exchange with a depressed feeling, as I attempted to mentally
prepare for my date with Anne that evening. But, I realized as I pointed my Chevy
towards home, I had learn a valuable lesson: if there was to be another fight while I
worked at Rocin, I would make darn sure I brought string or rope to outline the boxing
ring, and hide the sand bags.
Chapter Twenty Four
In Love
****

The school ended with very little fighting after the Vasquez and Stuckey fight.
Word had traveled through the teachers‟ and students‟ ranks about the fight, but Mr.
Smith had not been able to obtain an eyewitness. Rico and James had even taken up
working out together in the weight room after school in preparation of strengthening their
own particular athletic scholarship for the next scholastic year. We, coaches, were off for
the summer.
I had asked Anne to marry me in March, we decided on a summer wedding, and
we settled on early August as the time frame before school or football started. A two
night honeymoon stay in Corpus Christi would be the limit of our meager travel budget,
we had decided.
The only problem was, which church? This was no problem for Anne. Though
her parents may not have liked it, after talking with Father Tom, she agreed to convert to
Catholicism, and my Catholic family could not thank her enough. This charming women,
who had made the VD information seem frighteningly casual, would become my best
friend, and wife by August. I was overjoyed.
Holes agreed to become my best man after some prodding. I had wanted my
brother Louie, but he had joined the Army Rangers program and would be out on
maneuvers, and not available till after training.
Mid June brought me to Anne‟s house, and, after a quick inspection by Mr.
Beckindorf and hand shake, down to the business end of the marriage. Anne too
scrutinized me when she opened the door, making sure I had on the proper scent, one that
she had bought at the store.
Anne and her mother asked me to help address the cards for the wedding and the
reception. My penmanship had a mind of its own, going in and out with fine lopes, but
lopes that looked very much alike and seemed to merge into the same shape no matter the
letter„s form. I knew my presence was expected by the engagement team: Anne and her
Mother, and I joined in the obligation of addressing the cards, thinking of it as a working
date: a time to share with Anne after a long day of idleness and reading.
We spent days working on those invitation and glorious but tedious moments
together. Glorious in the delicious way that young couples bask in their time together;
eyes only for each other, thoughts of the time they will spend together, and mostly, from
a bachelor‟s state of mind, because there was always superb food in the house. I do not
mean junk food, or left-overs, but Anne‟s mother knew how to cook, and was always
pleased by my appreciation of a fine home-cooked meal. So, while my stomach was
full, so were my eyes: my stomach full of fine cuisine, and my eyes filled with the
loveliness that was Anne. To top things off, once my future mother-in-law saw my horrid
hand writing skills, she would not let me address any more letters, at least not any letters
going to their friends or family. And since the majority of my family had to work in
Louisiana, and the distance they would have to drive to Texas was too far, I did not
have to many envelopes to address. This put me in the unusual situation of having to be
there but, with hands free to eat.
****
Food may not have been my life, but the joys and sensation of eating good food
with pleasurable companionship holds a special place in my heart. This is the time of
friendship and family. With this in mind, I had planned to have a memorable rehearsal
dinner, since I had found out three days before the end of July that this was my
responsibility as the groom. We had talked about it, and I had listened to suggestions
from my future mother-in-law, but I had not known , even with all my agreeing, that the
job was all mine to finance. This information came painfully to me as I had not greatly
improved my finical situation since I had moved to Rocin.
I counted up my miserly holdings, and opened my coin jar from my dresser, but
find the situation somewhat lacking. I had given up the garage apartment, and the small
house I had just rented for both of us had taken up too much of my saving. I was in
trouble. And when in trouble I had learned to turn to Holes. He knew how to embarrass
me, and tease me, but he also knew how to help a friend out. A true gentleman, perhaps
not, but a trusted friend- yes.
Holes suggestion was to hold a beer and barbeque rehearsal dinner, provided my
in-laws where not planning this for the wedding reception. I knew Anne wanted
something more then a country wedding reception, and therefore I was safe if I took the
easy route for the rehearsal dinner. Safe from Anne‟s reception hopes, but not from
Holes‟ special brand of humor.
The phone number Holes hooked me up with was for one “Tiny Joe” Martinez.
Holes claimed Tiny made the best barbeque in Southwest Texas. He was of
German-Mexican ancestry, and all American in ability. I went and visited Tiny at his
place on Dubina Road, just west of town. Tiny Joe‟s place was a medium sized
independent building which served as both a meat market and restaurant. The meat
market portion was run by his cousin Ignacio “Iggy” Martinez, and the business consisted
of holding portioned frozen beef for those people who did not have the space or freezer
unit at home, and would pick up the beef as needed. Deer venison processing and sausage
making was also a part of the meat market business in this part of the country and it
involved both cousins: one to make it, and the other to smoke it. Undoubtedly it was The
Martinez‟s‟ best moneymaking venture besides the smoked meat department near the
restaurant. The wood smoke smells were incredible as I stepped out of the car and looked
at the distressed wood building. My mouth began to water as I perceived the wood smoke
smells- mixed between pecan, oak, and a half measure of mesquite- tingling in my nose
reminding my brain of the flavors and sight of the smoked meats and sausages of years
from years past, and the acknowledgement from my stomach, as I stepped onto the porch,
that I was hungry.
For those who have never seen an old-fashioned meat market or butcher shop, it
was a treat to venture in there and view the surroundings. Two large screen doors would
swing open and allow the customers in and out , while keeping the flies at bay. The
interior was lighted by both natural light from the large front windows and two valleys of
regular light bulb fixtures overhead. The man behind the counter used either a large
wicked looking knife, or a fearsome cleaver to cut, chopped or butcher a side of beef,
lamb, or pork. Should the butcher and the counter clerk both be wearing a white coat,
patches of blood, and specks of red would be wedded to one of them, and, therefore,
these sanguine decorations would keep you from having to guess which one was the
butcher. The building itself would be chilled from the coolers and freezers where the
meat was keep. But the one constant for each butcher shop that I was ever in, was the
smell and sight of saw dust which was keep on the floor to absorb the blood and grease
which would cascade around the butcher as he swung the cleaver separating the pieces of
animal flesh. Tiny‟s was such a place.
I looked in the window of the butcher shop, but proceed into the small restaurant
attached next door where I had been told Tiny would be waiting. The meat line was not a
help yourself, but a tell-them-what-you-want line. All types of smoked meats sat waiting
in warming pans to be chosen and eaten by ravenous customers. On the right side table
there were loaves of bread, where you could grab however many slices you might need,
and eat with your meal of smoked meats. The ever present onions and jalapenos were
keep next to the bread to add spice to your choice of meats. Although it was late
morning, and I had eaten breakfast late, I found myself a bit peckish and ready to
consume a hefty sample of all the meats making an appearance behind the counter, that
is, until I saw Tiny.
Tiny was not tiny. He was huge. A bear of a man well over 6‟5”, and probable
topping the scale at well over 350 pounds. A dirty white felt hat rode dangerously high on
the back of his salt and pepper melon shaped head. Although the day still held the
coolness of a Texas morning, he was already perspiring with the droplet zigzagging
across the hairs on his for displayed upper chest and soaking his blue denim work shirt
underneath. He was chewing tobacco as if it were a wad of chewing gum, while he sat
back in his groaning, gasping wooden chair. He was staring at me, and when my eyes
focused on him, he smiled a brown tooth smile and nodded. Not wanting to make any
mistakes on identity, as I did when I met Skipper, I questioned him about his name,
received confirmation and introduced myself.
I told him about my wedding, and the need for a inexpensive rehearsal dinner, and
my thoughts on a beer and barbeque for the rehearsal dinner. He listened, smiled,
suggested meats and side dishes while he spat into an old can on the floor near his table. I
was almost sold on his presentation until he pulled out an old blue bandanna out of his
hip pocket of his faded jeans, and slayed a fly in front of me with it. Killing the fly was
one thing, but what bothered me was when he stood and used it to wipe a dirty table next
to us, polishing the old table with the remains of the fly. I found myself imaging little
wings and legs being smeared back and forth around the table. If he had then proceeded
to wipe the sweat off his face or chest, the deal would have been called off. The price we
had discussed was right, but the revulsion that incident invoked and, what may awaited
my in-laws and guests for the rehearsal dinner, was throwing me off this track of choice.
I left there feeling dirty, and unsure of my choice. I called Holes and spoke with
him. He let me know that Tiny had a dramatic flare, and not to worry; the food would be
wholesome and sanitary. I felt better and called Tiny to set-up the date and time for the
dinner. I then called up Anne and told her of my arrangements. She did not seem overly
pleased with my choice, but, with a few silent reservation on my own part, I brought her
around to my way of thinking through a forced enthusiasm.

Chapter Twenty Five


The Rehearsal Dinner
****

The night of the rehearsal dinner arrived in haste. I was nervous, and called Tiny
to confirm everything was on track for the dinner, even the beer. Catholics and Lutherans
do not seem to have a problem with drinking beer, therefore I was hoping I would have
enough of a supply on hand to tackle all thirsts. I keep thinking about that darn blue
bandana, and the flies. I said a prayer to St. Anthony for help, and left it in his hands.
The wedding rehearsal went off with only one or two small hitches. Anne and I
giggled throughout the practice ceremony ,and we almost caught the church on fire when
we went to light the Unity candle together, which represented our new life together, and
Anne lost her grip on the candle. I was lightly holding her hand and could not catch the
candle as I watched it fall and settle on the yellowish hued church carpet. I had the
presence of mind to stomp on the flame before any real damage had occurred to the
carpet. During the flight of the candle, I had heard a “Damn”, explode from somewhere
directly behind me, quickly followed by an apology. Later that night Harry told me the
priest had let that fly, and the Catholic side of the church had been deeply embarrassed,
while the Lutheran side exchanged knowing looks.
A major issue concerning my lack of knowledge of the rehearsal dinner was, it
had not left me enough time to reserve the Catholic church‟s hall. Therefore I had to
reserve the Baptist church‟s hall for the dinner, and luckily, it was only two blocks down
on Harper„s Way. After the wedding rehearsal, we all jumped into our cars and drove the
four block to the First Baptist Church of Rocin-the first and only Baptist church in our
town. The wedding rehearsal had been finished by 6:45pm, and Tiny was to meet us with
his crew for the rehearsal dinner at 7:00pm. He was late, and I was nervous. Holes patted
me on the back and informed me that he and Harry would look around and see where
Tiny might be.
When I went back into the hall, I saw Skipper looking over at me. He smiled and
nodded, as he was want to do, and then he shook his head back and forth in a slow
exaggerated way. That alerted me. Something was wrong.
Holes! It had to be Holes. He was the one who had suggested Tiny, it was he who
had offered to go look for him, and now something was up and Skipper knew it!
I searched the room for Anne and spotted her in a group of people who were
engaged in happy, animated conversation. I could not help but notice how pretty she
looked in her light white dress with blue floral prints; buffonted hair-do. I was not going
to let Holes, or Harry ruin my rehearsal dinner. I continued to search the room while
visiting with our guest, as my eyes made sweeping searches of the party area, with a
sense of desperation my nervous companion.
As my thoughts turned towards protection of my domain and party, someone
turned on a record player, and the music coming out was like a burlesque strip-tease
number. All eyes were now turned towards me. Though I tend to tan rather easily, red is
not my primary pigment color, but I was beginning to look a lot like the fire hydrant
outside on the curb. Right then it would have been hard to tell us apart, except for the
size, if we were standing side by side.
I do not believe I could have turned an even deeper shade of red when a large
cake came out from the kitchen pulled by Harry and Holes. I looked around for Anne, but
she was nowhere in sight. She was probable so embarrassed for us that she had taken off
to the Lady‟s Room to hide. I could not blame her. I wanted to run myself but instead, as
the host, I waited for the impending disaster to present itself.
Holes and Harry pulled the cake right up next to me, and began to sing, “For He‟s
A Jolly Good Fellow”, with everyone joining in, they gave me three cheers, and at the
end of the third cheer Anne popped out of the cardboard, plaster cake laughing and
smiling and full of good cheer. Holes announced to the crowd, as I would not have time,
money -or friends- for a bachelor‟s party, they wanted to present me with a girl in the
cake, and that they had. It was the most fitting, proper, beautiful girl a man could hope
for and she was all mine!

****

The beer and beef were excellent, and quickly served by Tiny Joe who had been
in the kitchen all along- thankfully without his blue bandanna- he had just kept his truck
hidden further down the street. I made my way over to the beer keg, and was pumping the
keg up when I happened to look across the room and see Skipper.
I had not been sure Skipper would come when I had invited him. He was not in
the wedding, and he was not a family member, but in the time I had known him he felt
like one. I wanted and needed his approval in all things. A smile and a slight wink from
him was all that was needed for me to feel like I had been given the “go-ahead “ sign. In
life there are few times you feel absolutely right about a decision, a smile and a nod from
those you trust adds wings to your momentum.
My mother, grandmother, and grandfather would be there the day before the
wedding, so it was nice to have someone around you could think of as family. Skipper
had become the father I wish I had had. And anyways, it was he who had introduced us
in his office concerning a topic usually indelicate to new couples.
He was dressed in his tan suit, with a green bow tie accompaniment. He was
drinking sweetened tea which Tiny had provided with the barbeque. After I had finished
pouring my beer I went over and sat down with him.
“You knew about the cake, didn‟t you?” I asked
He smiled and nodded, casually eyeing my beer.
“Holes and Harry just wanted to do something special for you, and Anne was
happy to join in.” He answered.
We were quiet for a minute, and I could feel the joy and happiness that permeated
throughout the room. Now, I also felt a bit uncomfortable with the beer in my hand in
front of Skipper, but he made no comment. I took a good look around my surroundings
with the dark wood paneling, a copy of a picture of Jesus at the Last Supper to my front,
an old ceiling fan above my head, and the stale smell of old cigarette smoke awakened
me to the irony of my location.
“Can you believe it, I am to marry a Lutheran girl, in a Catholic church, and I am
having my rehearsal dinner here in a Baptist church. Can you believe that?” I asked with
a laugh.
“Muley, it does not matter which church you go to, or which one you are married
into. All that matters is that you have chosen each other in the sight of God.”
I liked his answer. But I had a question for him.
“Which church do you feel you belong to, Skipper?”
He looked at me for a moment, and I waited.
“I think I told you, I visit most churches around here from time to time, but I do
not go every Sunday and I may skip a month or two. I am comfortable with my faith
Muley, many aren‟t, but I am. I know there is something or someone greater then me“,
he rejoined.
“I don‟t think God treats you any different because you changed the name on the
label.
“You know Skipper, I always thought you were Catholic, what with that Notre
Dame cap, and you being Irish and all.” I asked this question with a laugh knowing I was
getting personal.
“Muley, I was raised an Irish Catholic from the mid-west, who else should I root
for? I seem to remember a quote: „If God is for us, who can be against us‟. I expect the
Fighting Irish to win- they„ve got God on their side.” He said with a laugh.
He was silent for a short period, looked over at me.
“You know Muley”, he started, “ I do not believe in praying to God before a game
for victory, I believe in praying for protection for our Boys.”
Holes joined us about the end of Skipper‟s sentence and coalesced into our
conversation.
“There is a prayer”, he blurted out, pickled with the smell of free beer as he sat
down, “ that has always fascinated me over the years. Tell me what you think.”
I had not idea were he was going, but waited, looking forward to a bit of Holes‟
insight on the subjects of God and games.
“It comes from a famous Texas Ranger in the early eighteen hundreds. His name
was Captain Jack Coffee Hayes, and he was a heck of a man. Here goes..I think..

„Oh Lord, we are about join in battle with vastly superior numbers of the
enemy, and Heavenly Father, we would like for you to be on our side and
help us; but if you can‟t do it, for Christ sake don‟t go over to the enemy,
but just lie low, and keep dark, and you‟ll see one of the damndest fights
you ever saw in all your born days. Amen.‟

“How about that for a prayer, calling upon God with one hand of the prayer, and
then ask him to remain neutral if he could not?” Holes barked as he laughed.
About this time Anne came looking for me, she walked over and joined us at the
table. In a most pleasing and protective manner I found myself placing my arm around
her waist.
Skipper looked at us, stood up, and raised his tea glass as if to make a toast. Holes
and I followed suit reaching for our glasses as we did. I placed my arm back around Anne
and waited.
“To my assistant coach and his beautiful fiancée, may your children be many and
your troubles be few. Best wishes to you both, and thank you for the wonderful dinner. I
must say the dessert was the most appetizing about the whole evening.” This was said
with a wink, as he smiled broadly at Anne.
He started to leave and then he stopped, turned around and walk slowly back
towards me, and with a bemused look in his eyes stated: “By the way Muley, did you
think to ask the minister about the use alcohol on the Baptist church‟s premises? “
And with that statement and a chuckle he was gone. The party ended soon after
that, with myself, Anne and her family quickly picking up the cups of left over beer,
loading the keg hurriedly onto Holes‟ truck, and mopping down the floor with Pine-sol in
hopes of getting rid of the odor. I had forgotten the Baptist where not drinkers and no one
had thought to mention it to me. As we were cleaning I had an odd sensation of being
watched, and every time I looked up I found Anne‟s dad‟s eyes were boring into me with
his malevolent looks of disgust. Another choice plume to add to my hat of misfortunes
when visiting Anne and her family. Finally, Anne and I made our way back to the car
holding hands and laughing embarrassedly about serving beer in the Baptist church hall.
As we walked and laughed I noticed Harry out in the parking lot, but he was not alone. I
did not recognize this woman, but Harry was not one to stay long with one woman. I
hoped one day he could be as happy as I know I would be with Anne.
Chapter Twenty Six
Wedding Preparations
****

I had heard a bit about John and Jackie Kennedy‟s wedding, but Rocin was not
Camelot, and I was not JFK. Anne wanted me to wear a powered blue polyester tux to
match the powered blue dress she had found in San Antonio. I really did not care what I
wore as long as I could have Anne as my wife. But over the years as my grand children
have taken out our photos of the wedding, all I see is a beautiful woman in a powered
blue dress and a clown in light blue polyester and ruffles.
With my brother Louie still finishing up Ranger school, Holes was my next
choice for the job as the Best Man. Looking back, I guess I thought of Holes as a crazy
uncle, or demented older brother, whatever he was, he endeared himself to me with acts
of kindness, and acts of mental torture. I did not feel I could have asked Skipper to be the
best man. And, Harry was busy chasing the young women between San Antonio and
Houston; a secondary reason may have been my own insecurity that his body and blond
locks may make Anne reconsider her decision to marry me. There was no way I would
have asked Killer Bob. If he had found something to like about me, he did not let it get in
the way of acting like he hated me. I had followed up my best man question by asking
Holes to keep the practical jokes out of the wedding as I would be nervous enough
without having to worry about him, Harry, or his own sons. I should not have been
worried.
“Muley”, he began with a flash of a smile, “ you and Anne have earned a break
from me, especially after the cake episode.” He laughed. “ I promise to leave you two
alone, that is, until the wedding is over.
I thought about that for a minute.
“Alright Holes, but I want you too say that again, and this time with yours hands
were I can see them.”
He laughed, held his hands out, and said it again. It was that easy.
Harry was happy for both Anne and I, but he was keeping his eyes focused on
improving the symmetry of both of his biceps muscles while wearing his new Bausch and
Lomb aviator sunglasses. He still enjoyed the view of himself in Ski‟s sun glasses, which
is perhaps part of the reason symmetry added a new dimension to his work-out program.
Harry was now adding mirrors to our weight room for our Boys to look at their new parts
as they were developing, but those same young men would have been hard pressed to get
Harry out of the mirror when he was in their working out with them after school.
Ski on the other hand kept a cool and aloof attitude, which at times seemed frosty.
I placed his invitation on his desk when he was not there, so that I would not have to deal
with his sneer and my own partially scared reflection in his glasses.
I hand delivered the rest of the invitations to the other coaches, and felt a tad
self-conscious before I handed it to Skipper. The Coach wore his usual school khaki
pants and white t-shirt. He took the card with a smile, ripped it open, and read it. He
nodded, smiled, allowing more teeth to show, and said he would be there. I was very
grateful that he came to both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. His approval was
important to me. Perhaps, the disappearance of my Dad gave me a greater need for a
older male‟s approval.
My Dad had left the family when I was ten, and Louie had been eight. It had not
been easy on Mom, but my Dad‟s parents had helped. They were determines to be apart
of our lives, even if Dad was not going to be. My Dad‟s father, Papi, never missed a
hunting season without Louie or me. Also, he never missed one of our football games. He
did not talk much, but everything he touched was done well. He had been a carpenter for
many years, working with his brother and their helpers to build custom homes for oil
executives. After he retired from carpentering, he farmed a small plot of land near his
house, and sold the produce he had grown from a couple of galvanized coolers he left
under his car port next to an old cigar box. He used the cigar box to hold the change
customers left or made from the produce he had raised when he was not there. He had
grown older since I had left home to go to college, and had a hard time going hunting
anymore by himself.
My Abuelita, on the other hand was still a fireball. She was Irish and French, and
all emotive as those two Gaelic people can be. One minute she could be happy and
singing in French, and the next minute she could favor the wolf‟s anger right before she
sprang with a switch in one hand and a belt in the other. The weather might change
quickly in Texas, but it had nothing on my Abuela. But, no matter her sensitivity, she was
always there for us, whether swinging a wooden spoon in anger, or swinging a spatula
full of frosting, ruining our dinner - or so Mom said. She like to cook, and cooked
more Cajun and Creole food then Mexican food, for that was the food she had been
raised on. Grandfather Sanchez claimed he would be glad to come to my wedding as it
had been a long time since he had had good Mexican food.
My Abuelita wanted to know if the Anne had any insane, or retarded people in her
family. Back then the fear was it would pass down from generation to generation. I had
not thought to ask Anne, but I also realized I was not going too. It did not matter to me.
Nothing mattered but marrying my Anne.
My Mother was a wonderful women, who could say more with a look then any
women I have ever met. When I told her over the phone I was planning to marry, she did
not ask many questions. She waited till she saw Anne and I together and just observed. I
saw her intensely watching the two of us together when she came down to visit. I was not
sure what she was looking for, but she must have seen it, because she never questioned
my choice, or asked me about any second thoughts. She had a quality about her, that was
unique and rare. In my romantized mind she was a noble women among commoners,
with qualities that expressed this very idea. Why my father had left , I have never known,
but he had left and things could have been rough for her except for my Dad‟s parents. Her
own parents had died many years ago in a car crash near New Orleans. Louie and I were
very young ,and we had seen her cry when she had heard the news, but she never
complained to us, her family, about the death of her parents being fair or unfair. Her
belief in God was absolute.
Perhaps, it is because my Mother did not complain, or comment about my Father,
was why I never felt like I could hate him. His own parents, my grandparents, were good
people, and worked hard to be apart of our lives. Rumor had it, my old man, had skipped
to Mexico and done well in the oil business. Rumors usually have a way of being wrong.
I did not peruse it. If he wanted to find me, he knew where his parents lived. I would not
hate him, I had been well raised.
Over the years, thinking on this, maybe this is why Skipper meant so much to me.
Maybe his acceptance gave my the fidelity and sentiment I needed to feel worthy, and
needed. The difference between a love for a man and the love for a women is this: I
lusted for Anne‟s love, but I needed Skipper‟s love to feel worthy of being loved and
protecting those around me.

****

The day of the wedding found me in a powder blue tuxedo with white patient
leather shoes that caused blisters when I walked, therefore I sat down as much as
possible, or so the photos from our wedding show. Anne had wanted to have four
bridesmaids and her maid of honor, therefore I had to have four groomsmen and a best
man. Holes stepped in as the best man, and Harry stepped in as one of the groomsmen,
but I still had to ask two friends from college, and one friend from high school. I had
asked Skipper and , at the last minute, asked Killer Bob, but both bowed out. Skipper
claimed it would be an honor, but it was not a time for old men, but for the young ones to
stand up there at the altar. Killer Bob, whose invitation I had left on his desk, just looked
at me through those darn mirrored glasses, and stated that he might be going out of town
on that weekend but appreciated the offer. I could not tell form his mirror masked eyes
whether he was telling the truth or not, but, I have to admit it, I was a bit glad he had
turned me down. Duty had lead me to ask, but I felt relieved with his negative reply.
The whole day was dream-like and whimsical as I look back in retrospect.
Except for the magic of seeing Anne for the first time in her wedding dress, and being
told by the priest to hush, and quiet laughing, I only remember the disconcerting false
notes that came from the area behind the soloist and organ. This was the area that Holes
and his family used during the regular Mass. From somewhere behind the soloist a pair
of quivering falsettos rose up and matched, somewhat, the pitch of the soloist on one of
the songs we had planned for the wedding. I do not remember which one, but I hesitated
to look at Father Tom who was already on, what looked like, his last attempt at marrying
Anne and me this day. I do not know what was the problem with Father Tom, but he had
run out of patience with the two of us. Each time I started to look out of the corner of my
eyes towards the soloist, Father Tom would move in that direction, and with a stern look
and a quick, savage head shake attempt to bring back my eyes to front and center of the
alter. I never actually saw Holes‟ successful attempt of quieting this adolescent attack on
our sense of hearing. First, he bowed towards the alter and descended the steps, marching
with precision movements, in the direction of the soloist and his own family, who were
seated directly behind the music area there in the church.
The sound of the falsetto mocking the soloist was not too bad, but it was awkward
as the soloist wanted that position of attention all to herself, plus her competition was not
up to par. The soloist‟s voice soared up to amazing heights, and hit every note with
perfection, but there was a nasal reflection of her song following each advancement on
the scale. I did not know how long this song would last, but I hoped it would end soon
and Father Tom could relax his vigilance. All of the sudden, at one crucial moment, there
rang out a slight scream from behind the soloist along with a loud bang as if something
had hit the pew, this neatly ended the echoing falsetto, soon followed by the end of the
soloist‟s song. When Father Tom‟s eyes had fled the scene of Anne and my sacrament of
marriage at his alter to check on the disturbance behind the organ, my eyes searched out
Holes, ready to laser him with my reprimanding eyes, because I knew it had to be him
behind this ruckus.
Holes came walking back from behind the soloist as if he was one of the
bridesmaids, in a slow measured step, with a huge smile on his face. As he drew closer to
me, he gave me the thumbs-up sign like he had a flower bouquet, and a fierce triumphant
look. I was unsure what this meant until later, at the time, I was waiting for something
large and awful to happen, as if the sky might fall with a sign from Holes to the cosmos
and I waited with darting eyes and a flinching attitude. The humor had left the wedding
for the time being, but nothing else happened. We were married and the world was a
brighter, more beautiful place then it had appeared that morning, and I had one of God‟s
most special creatures- Anne.
Holes kept his word and nothing happened that during the wedding. Even the
reception was went off without a hitch. I was so happy, so happy until we were leaving
the wedding reception and someone threw rice right into my eye. Some slight matter
must have entered with it, and I could not get it cleared. My eye hurt and I could not open
it to see. I was ready to blame Holes. Anne saw my discomfort and tried to get me to
come back and rinse the matter out, but I took a stronger hold on her hand, and with a
most determined state of mind, pushed my way to the car using my one good eye to scan
the area for more assaults on my personage as I approached the vehicle.
We made it! I pushed Anne into the car, bunched her dress and train up, and threw
it into the car, shutting the door and sprinting to the driver‟s side to complete the
post-marriage ritual of leaving. While running to my side of the car, I had almost tripped
over the cans which were tied by ribbons onto the back of the bumper. No big thing I
thought. But when the car was placed into gear and started to move forward there was a
horrible sound coming from, what sounded like, undercarriage of the car. The sound was
of something heavy being dragged and rolled over and over until I thought about stopping
the car. I was in no mood to stop, using my one good eye to stay on the road and keeping
away from the people surrounding our car. As I continued to search the area while
creeping forward, my eye made contact with Holes. He was standing there with a sign,
that read:
“Congrats! The wedding is over. Take the rocks out at the next stop. Love, Holes.”
As we continued to move away from the church with a grinding and rolling sound , I
realized Holes must have put rocks in the hub caps. He had kept his promise, and I was
almost blinded by the love I felt for Anne..
Chapter Twenty Seven
Marriage
****
Corpus Christi had lent itself to be great fun for the two nights we had decided to
stay there. My dating period jinks should have ended when I got married, but,
unfortunately, it stayed until the honeymoon was over. The first day there, I turned to
throw a suitcase into the hotel room, and my back went out. That afternoon, as I shuffled
to the beach, leaning on Anne‟s strong shoulder and weathering her gentle, caring
attention, I cut my foot on a piece of glass wading in knee deep water. As I prepared to
leave the water to take care of my one and a half inch long wound, I was, not once but
twice, stung by a jellyfish. I limped and shuffled my way off the beach and back to the
hotel room, in a Qusimoto sort of way, using my one good eye- uninjured by the rice-,
hoping I could get into my room without going through the lobby and leaving a blood
trail in my wake. As usually, luck was not on my side, and a bellhop followed me from
the back entrance off the beach, through the main lobby- to the disgust of the other guest-
to the door of my room using a bottle of club soda to blot out the crimson foot prints I
was leaving on the carpet. But, our time was so pleasant there, I did not even mind
changing the tire on my way back home. Thank goodness Anne was there, and strong
enough to lift the tire for me, as my back and foot had not quite healed yet.
After we had returned home to our small rented house, I decided to enjoy my new
head of household title after my marriage to Anne, by growing a mustache, and taking up
the art of projectile spitting by dipping a form of ground up tobacco called “snuff”, or
Copenhagen. I had chewed loose leaf tobacco before but this snuff was different. Ground
snuff was not new to me as my grandmother had used powered snuff around her plants to
kill the grub-worms. When she was not looking, I would sneak into the shed, and liberate
some of that powered stuff in a brown glass bottle, put it in my mouth in front of my
teeth, and sucked on the brown powder, trying to make spit like the young men I had seen
down the street from our house.
I am not sure what really happened the first time I tried it in my youth, as the
world began to spin and tilt, and I fell to the ground striking my head , and momentarily,
blacking out. When I came to and rejoined the world, I decided I would forgo the
pleasures of tobacco, for awhile as I did not enjoy the effects it had on me or my head.
But, I was a man now with a wife, and I would enjoy all the pleasures of this good
fortune.
Anne did not enjoy my new found pleasures. At first, she did not seem to mind
the bulging lower lip, the repetitive clearing of one‟s throat and the spitting, but after
awhile, she grew resolute, and tried to do everything short of divorcing me to get me to
stop spitting and shave. I , on the other hand, became obstinate and tried to enforce me
ideas of free spirit. Because we were new to the marriage, I did not realize just what a
hold she did have on me, and when I did, I allowed myself to learn the art of
compromise. I quite dipping that night, but I told her I wanted to try this mustache thing
out a little longer, as I thought it made Burt Reynolds handsome, and some people
believed I looked a lot like him in certain lights. Well, I was dark headed anyways.
I had spent part of that summer with the school district‟s maintenance
department, mowing the grass fields and painting the insides of the school‟s buildings.
In a way, it was nice sitting on a tractor or pushing a hand mower up and down the fields,
quietly in tune with your own thoughts, while adjusting to the smelly output from the
mower‟s exhaust.
Each morning after I had showered and dressed, Anne would have made me
breakfast, and would be finishing putting my lunch together. She was a hard working girl,
who never seemed to mind taking care of me. My weight became a bit of a problem in
those early years, as far as my pants were concerned, but never as much as each one of
our pregnancies. Whereas Anne would gain thirty to forty pounds with each pregnancy
and then loose it, I would gain twenty-five pounds with each pregnancy and never loose
it. With twenty-five pounds put of my frame with each pregnancy, clothes have a way
feeling a tad uncomfortable. Perhaps manufacturing male pregnancy clothes should have
been the route I could have taken to fame and fortune, but, alas ,I loved football.

****
The daily drive to work that summer was quick, and I did not have to have anyone
there to tell me what to do, or how to get started. The first part of the week was mowing
the fields, the second part of the week was painting. The mowing part started by lubing
and fueling up the tractor or mower I was to use that day. On the drive into the school
area, I could see where the grass was high and start my mowing there. There was nothing
romantic or exciting about going around in rectangular circles. My mind would sweep
through football plays, classroom lectures, and cowboy scenes with me in the lead roles.
This continued to be my boring existence until the day I ran over the cat. Holes can think
what he wants, but that cat attacked the mower.
I was driving the old riding mower on an area they called the “sidelines”, it was
the area between the two main practice fields which was rather large and cool with some
very nice sized oak trees planted by the high school‟s first principal and football coach
many years ago. The trees keep the area cool, and were far enough away that no one ran
into the trees when they were tackled out of bounds. The cat in question stayed near one
the trees in the middle of the “sidelines”, and would come out and , it looked to me,
attack the mower as I want by. At first, in my solitude, the attack frightened me. Later, as
I got use to it, I looked forward to these moments as a relief from the boredom, and
would try and guess when the cat would come out. The cat attack was quite an event for
me, and I hastened each week towards the “sidelines” and the attack by the killer cat.
Week after week, the white and black spotted cat would spring out of her nesting spot
and run at the small tractor, as if to ward off the mechanical bull infringing on her area.
She would spring out, then bat at the machine with her paws, as if she was trying to box it
with a one two punch. I did not waiver from my mowing path after the first attack. I
always thought if I did move wrongly, I might accidentally run over her: let her decide
the path to take. I am not sure what made her attack the machine, as I never saw any
kittens she might be protecting, therefore, I think it was a game to her. The game ended in
a loss for her side.
Something went horribly wrong the last time she attacked the mower. This was to
be my last mowing before my football duties took over. I do not feel I can take credit for
what happened as I did not vary my speed or direction, but it happened non-the-less.
Spots, as I named her, attacked the mower as usual as I came down the path towards her
tree. The only difference was she moved in much closer then in past attacks and placed a
paw under the mower carriage, and to my horror, got pulled or sucked into the mower
carriage where the blades are located. One second she was there and the next second she
was gone. There were unmistakable noises that came from the mower: surprised screams
from the cat, a thunk- thunk noise inside the mower carriage following the blade‟s
rotation, and the sound of rushing wind followed by Spot‟s ejection, or what was left of
Spot, out of the side of the grass discharge.
I had been caught by surprise, and did not stop the mower until the discharge of
the cat form the mower carriage. This was a shock to me, and I could not believe what
had happened. Was it my fault, the cat‟s fault, could I blame the mower? I did not know
what to think. I decided to drive the riding mower to the out buildings where the field
equipment was held and get a shovel to bury the cat. As I drove the mower towards the
building, I began to wonder about life and how quickly it could be taken away. Who
would know that cat was gone but me? Who would care? I buried the Spots by her tree,
and always thought of her whenever I mowed the “sidelines”. I also thought about my
dreams; was I following them, and did I really know what they were? Life was too short
not to be following my dreams. I needed to plan now.

****

I had also had the pleasure of seeing Aussie Knowles work out in the evenings
during the summer. He had thrived down here in Texas. As August drew to a close, he
looked primed and ready. With about ten to twelve extra pounds of muscle filling up on
his body, he looked ready to play on the offense side of the football. Free weights were
coming into vogue in the high school football programs around the country, but many
parents were afraid that the use of heavy weights would stunt their child‟s growth, but I
didn‟t think so. How many times had I met farm boys who lifted heavy weights daily in
their work routine, and still were giants? This always amused me, but when it comes to
someone else‟s child, the parent of that child knows best. Aussie, though was not afraid
to use the weights. He and Harry seemed to hit it off, and Harry was a good teacher,
especially when he could point to his own body as a reference point. And speaking of
Harry, the rumor was, could not show his face in Austin County after a certain unnamed
rehearsal dinner as there was a certain husband who had made a date for Harry with the
point of his shotgun.
Harry acted like it was nothing, but for awhile, loud noises made him jumpy, and,
at times, he could be found hiding under his desk. This lead Holes to incorporate many
teaching devises into his Civil War summer school activities that made thunderous and
earsplitting sounds. The grenade simulator was the worst as it detonated in the coaches„
office , and lead to Harry chasing Holes out of the field house and down the crushed shell
road. Poor Holes had taken off his shoes moments before the explosion and, after the
explosion, Holes found himself running for his life with Harry in hot pursuit, out the door
and into the crushed shell parking lot. It was there his bare feet had taken a beating with
jagged cuts and tears, and with this accidental beating, Harry decided Holes had paid his
dues for setting off the grenade.
And though I enjoyed the antics of Harry and Holes, it was Aussie I found most
interesting, as he had this air of non-chalance about him. He was not overtly intense, and
did not lead with loud shouts and curses. But when he was around, the other boys
listened, and did what he asked. His leadership was not forced, but seemed a part of him
and natural. In the cool of the evening, as the linemen danced their summer runs, I
watched him throw to his receivers from the fence near the football field, and saw his
Dad look on with pride from the opposing bleachers. At that time, I could only imaging
what he was feeling.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Getting Ready
****
Skipper was Skipper, as the summer drew to a close, watching everything ,and seeming
to know everything. He did act a little more tired then usual, but he used his fatigue to
take the time to get his Boys to run errands for him, and then he could talk to them and
make them feel special. I just chalked it up as one of his ploys. He once told me he used
the Knute Rockne approach to individuals. He made it a point to tell players that, “ they
are the piston that runs the engine”, and without them the engine, team, could not
function. It worked. I saw it work, and later, used it myself. Others may say they use this
approach, but Skipper meant every word he said, at least I think he did, when he said it to
our Boys and to me.
He also took to keeping a bottle of Pepto-Bismol around for stomach aches.
Holes thought it was an ulcer, but Harry thought he just needed to exercise more often.
Ski would not comment. He would just stare at us with those mirror sun-glasses,
seemingly daring us to continue. He was loyal to Skipper, and, I think, felt it a betrayal to
discuss him in front of each other. Holes had no problem, and paid no attention to Ski‟s
dramatics. Harry was different. He would just stare back at the glasses without
expression, and then start to flex his muscles in their reflection. At other times he would
pick his teeth, or clean his eye snot in the reflection, upsetting Ski, and grossing out all
who were present. There were even times Killer Bob was human, and would laugh with
us at this coarse humor, but those times were rare.
Another thing that struck me as peculiar was the numerous times Skipper changed
pants during the day as we were thrust together each day for long stretches at a time with
the beginning of school and football practice. He was a man of comfortable habits and
enjoyed his school khaki trousers, but sometime during the day, after I had seen him in
the mornings, he would have changed. I only noticed this because of the times he
changed to blue jeans. Blue jeans were not allowed as facility apparel even in summer for
our administrators, and Skipper , by wearing them was either in need of a change of
pants, or flaunting the administration. Knowing Skipper, he was in need of a change. This
probable did not occur to Mr. Smith the Vice-Principal.
I remember the afternoon he caught Skipper in jeans. He stormed into the field
house right before the start of football practice, acting like he was the overseer, and we
were the slaves who could not please him. His stomach preceded him, but his little legs
caught the rest up fast. He was angry at the condition and smell of the field house, but
what caught his eye was Skipper in jeans. He leapt on this issue with relish, and
demanded to see the Boss alone in his office. The look in Skipper‟s eyes were as hard as
flint as he passed me on the way to his office. Skipper went in first, followed by Smith. I
do not know what words were passed at the beginning of the conversation, but I know
what was said moments later when Skipper opened his mouth and roared back.
“I am not doing this to prove a point”, he roared, “ I am wearing jeans because I
needed a change of pants, but I could not leave my post here at school, and these were all
I had in my truck in the way of a change of clothes. So, if you want to write me up, start
writing. I am sick of your attitude, and sick of your presence here in my office. Now, I
have work to do, whether you think it is important or not. My Boys and my coaches are
waiting for me, I have nothing more to say to you. Whatever I have to say to justify these
pants I will say to the Principal. So, get the Sam Hill out of my office and out of my
business!”
Smith started to sputter and bluster, but he left Skipper‟s office in an angry hurry
to inform his boss of Skipper‟s indiscretion, and to lick his wounded pride. Holes kinda
looked at me in a quizzical way, but then he shrugged his shoulders and followed Harry
out to practice. The rest of us followed, in a confused dazed, trying to figure out what had
happened. Even Ski looked a bit preoccupied under those reflective lenses. Skipper came
out later in shorts to start practice, but said very little to the other coaches.
That was not the only strange behavior I saw from the Coach, I also remembered
him coming out of the bathroom, with a spray of water across his pants. This happened
more then once, and each time he asked us to get the school‟s plumber out to fix that
“darn jet” of water that had attacked him when he turned on the water faucet.
I even went in the bathroom once after he had made this excuse to check on the
water flow that came from the tap. It was medium pressure without much push to it. I
guess Skipper was just zipping his pants too soon after he went to the bathroom, and
things were getting a little messy. He had come up with a pretty good excuse, but it
would not work forever. I was not looking forward to getting older.

Officially the summer ended with our annual meeting in the field house and
Skipper‟s concern or comments in the middle of August, but we had been working on and
off all summer with meeting and equipment issues. After the first official meeting we met
everyday at nine o‟clock and worked on personal, practice plans , and housekeeping. We
built the lockers, and added shelf space in the equipment room. We painted goal posts,
the mascot sign, and the even the large “R” in the middle of the stadium. I don‟t think the
old stadium could hold more then 1000 people, so the “R” was not too toilsome, and it
was a tradition, therefore the coaches did not mind.
Killer Bob continued to stay away from me so the time I spent in physical labors
were either done with Holes, or Harry- I considered myself in good company.
Throughout our labors I would see Skipper walking back and forth between the
school and the field house. I guess most of that times was spent talking to the
administrators about the schedules: both football and the Boys. I was worried that he had
gotten into trouble over the blue jean incident, but he never mentioned it. But, he did not
seem to have the spring in his step he had had when I first met him last year. I thought I
noticed a limp, and, perhaps, a wince in his expression when ever he had to step up onto
the an elevated area. Again, I should have seen the beginning of a problem when he
would come out of the bathroom, angry and red from exertions, of what I do not know- I
would find out later.
****
The boys showed up for two-a days on August the 20th. We were ready. The balls
were all aired up, the uniforms were issued-we had done that days before, and the
coaches were rested. Skipper told us to keep up the positive energy and attitude, but stay
on top of them. He reminded us, we are not drill instructors, but his Boys needed to be
reminded from time to time who was in charge. They needed to feel good about being
here, but they needed to obey orders without questioning them. Holes asked him, “ like
good little marines?”, Skipper just smiled.
The Boss took a few minutes before practice and after practice each day to
re-focus the boys, and let them understand the mission for this year. It was easy to see he
loved them, and it was just as easy to watch their faces and understand they felt the same
way about him. I never could read much on one of our Boys„ face, named Billy, but
when he watched Skipper, he watched with his eyes and ears, which was a good indicator
of understanding and respect. Although, if Ski caught them looking down, they would
pencil roll after practice. To roll meant to lay down on one‟s stomach, with your hands
out in front of your head, and your feet behind you. Then, starting at the goal line, begin
to roll continuously without stopping until one gets to the opposite goal line, and then
starting over again towards the other goal post where they started. The usual distance for
a first offense was 500 hundred yards. This was also a tradition, but one none of the
boys wanted to volunteer again after once having attempt it, especially if one had to roll
through their own vomit.
Skipper would walk up and down during the breaks speaking with the Boys and
encouraging then to do better. The action caused the rest of us coaches to follow his
example. It worked for me for over twenty-five years; I watched many head coaches use
it.
Some people believe that the football players have changed over the years, and
that is not true. They have not changed, our society has though. We give them too much,
and empower them to be different. All this while parents are telling their kids that their
coach is an idiot. Sounds like an argument I heard of fathers being put down on T.V. and
in the movies. Neither the coaches or the fathers are idiots, but both have lost a lot of
ground since I started coaching. I guess moms and dads read more, or look up things on
the internet and feel they are now a professional based on what they have just read, and
not what they have learned through the sweat and hard work of the real professional who
has been in that position for years. Coach O‟Brien was a true professional, and his calling
was a vocation, and not just a job.
And, even though I am not in the medical profession or a doctor, I knew there was
something wrong with Skipper without the aid of a medical degree, or the internet. The
pain seemed to have grown into his lower back, and into upper legs, as he was always
holding his back and messaging it through the shirt he was wearing in the field house. He
would not rub his back around his Boys, it would seem unmanly. He tried to hide it from
everyone, but all of the coaches saw it, and pretended to look the other way whenever it
manifested itself. He was a prideful man, and I think we all recognized ourselves in him
during this time. He even took to keeping extra pants- khaki‟s this time- in his office in
case he needed them after an accident. He needed to see a doctor, but I did not have the
courage to confront him-yet.
The coaches were not the only one who noticed there was something wrong with
Skipper. Homer “Hal” Halichek of Rocin‟s Fan Stand Hamburgers, gave me an inquiring
look from underneath his greasy hair do and white stained T-shirt as I walked in for a
quick bite to eat for lunch one afternoon. He leaned his U.S. Navy tattooed arms on the
counter, looked around at the almost deserted lunch room, and stated in conspiratorially:
“What is going on with Skipper?”
I shrugged, “ What do you mean?” I quire.
“Something‟s bothering him. He doesn‟t come around here as much, and when he
does, he‟s quiet and, I don‟t know, maybe thoughtful, or something.”
“Hal it is going to be a big season for us”, I answered, “ he is proable worried
about everyone doing their best.” I smiled. “He‟s O.K.
“Good, Muley. I can‟t wait to avenge that rock throwing assault you guys took
from those rednecks last year in _________. And, this season,” he declared, “ we are all
following the bus home! Mark my words, Muley!”
Hal left me to flip his frying burgers, and give my own personal reflections a
time to cultivate Hal‟s deduction about the Coach. No, it did not take a doctor to see
something was wrong with Skipper.

****

One of the benefits of summer life for a coach is going to one or two of these new
ideas called coaching schools. This is where you or your group of coaches report to a
college campus near you, or as near to you as can be found, and spend the day or
weekend listening to winning coaches form around the state tell their tales of success. I
have attend to quite a few in my days, first as a spectator, and later, proudly, as a speaker.
Harry begin telling a story one afternoon that concerned he and Holes and a
coaching school held at Texas A and M College in College Station, Texas. This use to be
a sleepy little cow town that catered to expectant farmers, ranchers and engineers at a
Boys Only ROTC college. These Farmers, proudly calling themselves “Aggies”, drew on
such traditions as The Twelfth Man. The Twelfth Man legend keeps the faithful standing
at every game in case someone from the crowd is needed to play and finish the game. By
the early seventies the school board had figured out that they needed women to attend the
school if they were going to keep functioning and survive. The Waggies- Women
Aggies- were born.
For me a “Boys Only” institution was a necessity. Each of the two genders needs
a little something to call their own, making them feel special and full of pride. When you
take that away, both groups feel injured: one group believes something has been stripped
away, and the other has nothing else to rail against. I feel the same with football. I know
girls can physically do it, and some are more then a little aggressive, but because of the
way we men are built- mentally and physically-, we love to test our strength against
someone else‟s strength. We love to collide, hit, and smash one another to see who is
stronger, and worthy to be called the winner. Their have been some games we did not win
when I was growing up, but when that opposition left the field, they knew they had been
in a ball game: bloody and battered. I was proud of my part in this combative endeavor
,and I left the field feeling compensated for the loss we had suffered.
But Harry and Holes endeavor left them feeling dirty and sordid, or ,at the very
least, unclean. It seemed after a long day of listening and note taking at the A and M
coaching school, the two decided they needed to unwind and have a bite to eat at a local
restaurant before they returned home. The story continued, that while eating pizza at the
local restaurant, Holes and Harry started drinking pitchers of beer and swapping war
stories. Before they knew it, they both had to admit they were feeling pretty good, and
decided they had had enough, paid their bill and staggered out to the car.
Holes took an inordinate amount of time looking for the key hole in the door,
while Harry keep checking out his imagine in the passenger car window. By the time they
got in the car, and tried to put it in Drive, only to figure out they had not started it, they
knew they were in trouble. They decided they needed a game plan.
During the course of their planning on how to get home, Holes automatically and
unknowingly turned the key in the ignition, fired up the car, and began to back out of
the parking lot in what only could be called “slow motion” without looking backwards
and talking to Harry.
After finding the ditch near the road with ease, Holes made an attempt to get on
the road by crossing the ditch. This lead to some rough driving and slinging of mud and
gravel onto cars located in the parking lot. Harry noticed a lot of faces at the windows of
the restaurant, right before his head hit the dashboard and snapped back and hit the head
rest on their way down the road and out of town.
After a few miles of driving down these country roads at thirty-five miles per
hour, and the loss of sunlight, Holes could not remember if this was the right road or not.
He therefore pulled off the road and talked it over with Harry. They both decided they
needed a place to sleep this alcohol off and turned the car around and headed back the
way they came. As they tooled around enjoying the cool air that came in through the
car‟s windows and the sweet smell of the honeysuckle vines on the lonesome fence rows,
Harry had an idea: Why not pull over and let him pick some of the honeysuckle vines and
put them in the car to make it smell good?. This seemed like a good idea at the time, as
Harry had tried to make an oral deposit from his pizza and beer enriched stomach out the
window, only to be hindered by the half opening the window provided.
Since they were not in a hurry, and the car was only going about thirty, Holes
agreed and pulled over. By the light of the car‟s lights helped on by the summer sun„s
resent to go down , Harry grabbed handfuls of the vines and staggered back with his
bountiful treasures, which he threw onto the bench seat between the two of them. As the
car continued on its path back to town, Harry had another idea brilliant idea. This time he
wanted to make wreaths for all the coaches at the office, much like the Greeks would
have done with the laurel wreaths when winning the races at the Olympics. Holes liked
the idea, as he thought about the coming football season, and encouraged Harry,
promising to wear his as soon as it was made.
By the time they had made it to town, both of the men had a crown made of
twisted vines with pretty blossoms dispersed between them on top of their heads and
garlands around their necks. Each one was commenting on how good the other looked
when they came across a small motel on the outskirts of College Station, with more neon
in the architecture then boards, and turned in after reading the signs “Vacancy” and
“Hourly Rates Available”.
Holes and Harry made quite a sight as they entered the motel giggling like school
girls, helping each other stay upright by holding elbows and, at one point hands. One can
only guess what the night clerk was thinking, who could only stare in open mouth wonder
at the sight before him. Harry sat down a little ways away from the desk on a plastic
covered couch and stared happily at the picture of the nude women on the wall behind the
counter. Holes approached the desk clerk with forced equilibrium, and asked gently, but
with forced sobriety, for a room. The clerk, taking in the appearance of the two large men
with floral wreaths attached to their heads and necks in a rakish manner, and the affection
they seemed to have had for each other while entering the building, knowingly asked: “
One bed, or two?”
Holes was stunned. He blushed a dark red, and looked to Harry with indignation
at such a suggestion. Harry, in his happy trance, felt Holes look at him, and not hearing
the question, sheepishly smiled and gently shrugged his shoulders, and then, with great
gaiety, nodded his head, Yes. Holes turned a almost maroon shade in his embarrassment,
which was the appropriate color at Texas A & M, marched back to Harry, grabbed him
by his arm and propelled both of them stumbling through the door, and out to the car.
They spent the night, devoid of floral wreaths, in their car on the side of the road as close
to their own doors as possible, sleeping off the effects of the numerous pitchers of beer,
and the embarrassment of being suspected of being a couple.
Chapter Twenty Nine
The Second Season
****
The season started with a win against San Seba High School. San Seba had a good program
structured around the Power I, but more importantly, it had a set of twin running backs who liked to
run. Most modern day football offenses use a variation of the Wing T offense, with the quarterback
taking the ball from under center and all the running backs lined up in the back field. The Power I was
no exception. The reason it is called the Power I is because all four backs are lined up behind the
center, including the QB, with your most dominant back the last one. In football terms, he dots the “i “.
This was a good start, and a good omen- if one believed in them. Skipper had been worried about the
start of the football season against this school, as we had only seen them once before, and the film we
had received on them was not of very good quality.
We had lined up in wishbone and punished them, but had not really hurt them with our dive
option that is until we unleashed Aussie‟s arm. The Dive Option in the Wishbone offense is a multiply
option attack, lead by a QB who can read the defense. The QB , after opening up, attempts to hand off
to the dive back, but begins his reading of the defense at this time. If there is no opening, he pulls the
ball out of the dive back‟s stomach and proceeds down the offensive line preparing to read the
unblocked defensive player, usually located near the end of the defensive line. If the defensive player
takes him, he will pitch it to the other running back who is keeping a pitch alignment with the QB. As
the QB reads the numbers on the defender‟s jersey and prepares to get hit, he will pitch the ball. Should
the defender take the back on the pitch path, the QB will keep the ball and turn up field. Our offense
was providing loose change numbers, much as could be found in a bum‟ pants pockets after a Saturday
night. Two to three pennies every offensive play was not going to cut it against San Seba, that is until
Aussie, who could run well, but throw even better, aired us out with a couple of passes to our strong
side end, Dale “Clydesdale” Schrick.
With San Seba concentrating on the backfield action and assigning offensive positions to there
defenders, Dale became wide open any time he released down field. Once released, and with Aussie
throwing the perfect spiral, the Clydesdale became a lumbering tower of power. Out in the open field,
Dale looked like a lightening rod, he was so much taller then the San Seba defensive secondary.
Aussie‟s passes looked like the lightening, the rod was trying to capture, and once combined and
energized, the horse galloped along with frightening strength. When the defense turned it‟s eyes and
ability upon Schrick, our offense stretched our far side end, making him a wide receiver, and
completed the series with a sprint-out pass to our wide-receiver and our first touchdown. Aussie had
cleaved them open with those three passes and the score. He ended the game with three scores off his
good right arm. The team ended the game with four touch downs total. I was so proud of Aussie, I was
almost forgetting his formerly long hair, and who had made the passing adjustments and called those
well chosen plays. Skipper was not.
He sought me out on the last play, and enthusiastically hugged me. Looking back, this meant
more to me then the victory. His faith in me had been rewarded with this win. I felt a , not so humble,
sense of jubilation.

****

The victories did not stop. We went through the Confederate strong holds of Lee, Jackson,
and Hood highs schools without too much trouble. Lee High School was undersized that year.
According to Skipper, four years before that, they had dominated the offensive side of the football and
made a run at the state play-offs. They had been the district champions four out the last seven years.
This year, they would fight hard just to stay in every game. They did, but the score reflected our
dominating backs. Edward “Zippy” Zipalac, and Jay “Juking” Jones were a loaded pair of dice, who, in
this game, could roll no number lower then five whenever they received the ball.
The next week our opponent was Jackson High School, whose game strategy was to hold onto
the ball offensively as much as possible. They were a strong force to be reckoned with as they run the
ball well from the T offensive formation, using misdirection and counters. The counters hurt us the
most at the beginning of the game. The prettiest counter has the backs starting one way, selling the
direction of the play, while the play side of line moves in the opposite way preparing the new direction
the young Olympiad running the ball, as he cuts back to follow them. The hardest things were to keep
your linebackers from being over aggressive, and leaving their assigned areas too fast. Mincemeat
Menitz, in the first quarter was almost beside himself, and needed Ski to calm him down and redirect
his energy. This was done. We won by two touchdowns plus the two extra points, with off-tackle holes
being opened by the Dale and Hog Curtis on the right side of the football.
The forth week into the season, John B. Hood High School took center stage as our nemesis.
From the film, we had exchanged at five o‟clock on Saturday morning after the Jackson game, we
knew they were a throwing team, and a good one at that. Ski and Harry worked hard with our
defensive secondary that week, forcing them to learn how to properly cover a two receiver, or twin set,
and using our Monster position- free safety- as the question mark, we set-up stunting defensive sets.
Even our linebackers took a free-wheeling part in this train wreck. That is what made the difference.
Zippy Zipalac was not only one of the running backs, he also was our Monster, and fearless in the face
of adversary. On the last play of the game, Zippy, hit the offensive back field so quick from the
outside, he took the hand-off from the QB as he was sprinting out for a play action fake. We won by a
touch down earned by Zippy on that play. Things were going our way. We looked unbeatable.

****

Where there were a strong concentration of loyal Germans during the Civil War, their Union
named high schools of Sherman and Grant proved no much for our juggernaut. But Cleveland High
was next. That year Cleveland High School was riding a tidal wave, much like our own, of success off
of its two dominating backs in the back field, and one of the most dominating running QB‟s I had ever
seen in high school football. On the black and white grainy film we had secured of Cleveland, Otis
Jenkins, the QB, had plunged up the middle of the line, and taken on the strong side “Sam” linebacker
one on one. The linebacker himself was no ball room dancer, and the collision they made at the line of
scrimmage was intense. But the sheer power of Otis was incredible, with the linebacker crumbling at
Otis‟s feet. But, while he may have crumbled, he did not give up, and wrapped his arms around one of
those piston for legs of Jenkins. I watched Jenkins pummel the linebacker‟s head repeatedly with his
knees as he drove up field for ten more yards. I keep replaying his celluloid image over and over the
night before the game, wandering what we would do to stop this monster. The defensive side of the
ball was not my responsibility, and there was no actual thought of talking to Killer Bob, just the
pretend imagery of doing so in my head.
Cleveland had a dominating team with its Veer type offense , and the two splendid backs who
forked on either end- besides the awe inspiring Otis Jenkins. Cleveland‟s coach had prepared for
everything but Aussie‟s arm. He had heard about it, but only keep their team in a pass coverage with
two defensive backs, using his corners hard on the ends. It keep our front offensive line busy, and did
not allow us as many double teams, but we could put three receivers down field if we switched from
the bone to twin backs formation. The Wishbone offense gave us two quick backs in the backfield on
the left and right side, while in front of them and in the middle behind the quarterback we had a strong
blocking back, or dive back, who liked to run with the ball when we took it up the middle. This usually
worked well when we were successful on the option play. The option play itself was designed to
force the defensive end to make a decision on who to tackle when we ran to his side. If he took the
Quarterback, the QB was to pitch it too the running back. If the defensive end took the running back,
the QB was to keep it and turn it up field. This worked best with teams that were not ready for their
defensive ends to make decisions. After they shut down our run game, we opened up the passing game,
and they spent the rest of the game applying run game band-aids to passing punctures. There was no
tourniquet to shut us down. Once we let blood, Aussie acted as the butcher, cutting and slicing with a
professional swagger.
We beat Cleveland by one point, with Otis and Aussie battling each other on both sides of the
football. Otis played the quick-side linebacker when he was not on offense. Aussie played the Strong
Safety. Both came to play. The gun-slinging did not start until near the end of the half, as both QB‟s
tried to throw deep to gain a desperation touchdown to be in the momentum seat prior to the end of the
half. Otis drew first on a play action pass to the right, while his back side receivers drove down filed on
a direct route for the goal line. He threw the ball up, with strength, but not skill, with 38 seconds left on
the clock. Aussie, as the strong safety, was playing the secondary in quarters, and as the ball went up,
read the arch and strength of the ball, broke on it, then cradled it into side chest at the Cleveland ten
yard line. He hit the fifteenth yard line with 27 seconds left on the clock, and was stopped at the
seventeenth yard line by devastating blow from Otis Jenkins. Aussie, shook off the hit, set-up the
offensive huddle, called the play sent in, and set up the formation. We took our fullback out and put in
a wide receiver for him to the offensive right. Dale had also set at the offensive right, and on the snap
of the football, our two best receivers took off in a direct line towards the prize. They never made it,
Jenkins, on a blitz, hit a hole between the guard and tackle, and took his aggression out on Aussie with
a blind-sided, roll‟em up, lay‟em out tackle. I thought we had lost our Aussie. He had had two hard
tackles back to back, but he neither laid there, nor acted liked it hurt. He got up, shook it off, and
joined the Rocin Bulls headed to the field house for without a word or whimper. It was this quiet
leadership and example that made him well liked by all on the team.
After half time, Aussie showed the quiet determination and pugnacity he became known for
around Rocin. His first play from scrimmage was not the dive I had expected, but a return to the option
Cleveland had stopped so many times that game. It was a speed option with the fullback hitting the
defensive end and the QB taking the ball to daylight. Only Aussie did not run to daylight, he sought
Otis, who was coming down hill from the linebacker position trying to take a shot at Aussie. He never
made it. Aussie found him. There was an explosion near the line of scrimmage, one made manifest by
a formerly long haired individual making actions talk louder then words. Aussie lowered his shoulder
and rammed through with his head striking the upright Jenkins before he could get into a tackling
position. Jenkins flew through the air on contact only to find he had not broke contact with Aussie,
who was not seeking positive yardage but annihilation. Once Otis had landed in a spry of dust on that
hot Texas field, Aussie landed on top, driving his body into Jenkins in hopes to take his breathe away. I
could not see Knowles‟ face, but the linemen closest to him pronounced it as scary.
The tide had turned. Otis was helped off the field, and remained there for a couple of series,
only to return a more cautious human being. Aussie was pulled out of the bottom of the dog-piled by
Dale and Hog, a pile that had ensued after the tackle, with a purposeful smile on his face. The Aussie
air show began, and a parade of touchdowns ensued. The Royal Australian Air Force would have been
proud of this display of air power. Cleveland and Otis Jenkins lost their only game to us that season,
thirteen to twenty. We were one game away from winning the district undefeated, and making the first
game of the state playoffs. The dream catcher Skipper had created was working.

****

The offensive line had played outstanding football the whole season. Skipper and Holes‟
offensive line, now that Rico Vasquez was gone, was anchored by the Hog Curtis. He had developed
muscles on his large personage, and all those miles he had put in during the summer were paying off. I
do not think other coaches from around the district would have believed this once over weight lineman
was now dominating their athletes on the defensive line, but he was. Skipper, was so proud of him, he
spent hours it seemed in his office after the games just shaking his head in wonder. We all were in
shock, as our line gave Aussie the much needed time to throw the ball ,or read the defense. Skipper
gave much of the credit to Holes, and you could see it both embarrassed him, and flattered him at the
same time. He would blush, stammer and try to change the subject with a joke, but the rest of us could
see how it was with him. Therefore we kept it up, until he could stand no more and found an excuse to
leave. I took a rather perverse pleasure in this action because of all the practical jokes that Holes had
played on me the past year.
The town of Rocin took notice of this team, who could not seem to lose, as we marched
through the football schedule. They decided to have a pep-rally at the old metal and wood stadium the
game of the first play-offs, they were that confident. It sounded kind of strange when the principal told
us about this event. We were one game away from making the play-offs, and preparing for our game
against Marshall, not really expecting anything out of the ordinary. I was afraid it might break our
concentration, and perhaps, our streak of wins. I wanted to ask Skipper, but he seemed a little distanced
from events. I did not know why, because in the past Skipper heard all the noise and gossip before us,
now he appeared preoccupied and hardly interested in the town or school‟s daily events. It was quite
like an animal who is injured, and gives no attention to anything but the pain it feels. It was a bit
worrying.
Holes seemed the obvious choice to ask what was going on, but he was dealing with his own
problems. Our working hours were long, and his wife was tired. The boys were becoming hard to
handle. Holes‟ oldest was hanging out with a rough crowd, who were known to smoke and drink a
little when they could find it. His interest in football had waned, and Holes had been called to the
junior high to talk about his truancy. Holes was getting home as fast as he could to help out with his
wife, and I do not believe he was noticing as much as usual the things going on with Skipper. Ski was
not my favorite person to talk to about anything, much less talk about Skipper. He might have noticed
things , but he would not share them with others. It went against his outward show of loyalty.
There was always Harry, but due to our success, he had met a pretty divorced women from the
nearby town of Cloverville, who would waited after our games for him. He had seen her after a game
waiting on her son and had invited her to wait in the bus, as the wind had picked up outside and a
chill had added to its strength and determination. While she and Harry waited on the boys, they found
an instant affection for one another. She rode the bus home to Rocin, he drove her back that night, and
came in late for the Saturday morning meeting and film exchange that next morning. To ask Handsome
Harry a question while he was in love or lifting weights was like asking a pretty young women looking
in a mirror what time she had: it was down right stupid, she would not be able to tear her eyes away
from her own perfection. I would just have to keep my silence, or ask Skipper myself. I choose the
least path of resistance, and waited.
Chapter Thirty
The Decision
****
The game against Yancey was one sided - our side. They had had a hard year losing most of
their games in the first quarter, and trying desperately to keep the score down, not even considering the
chance of possibly winning. Their offensive coordinator was a young coach like myself at the time,
and would grow from this humbling experience to win two state championships. He was not a quitter,
but back then the thought of leaving would not leave his mind until his first winning season as the
offensive coordinator at Yancey; that is what he told me later. The pressure is always on for you to
succeed, both from your own Boys, and the fans in the stands. No finer coaches exist then the ones
behind you in the stands who do not have your stress nor their pride on the line. I knew that feeling
well. So did Skipper. He played his second teams as much as possible, and would not let Aussie air out
any passes. He would not embarrass the head coach or the offensive coordinator. I wanted to let Aussie
loose and work on some plays in a game time situation that we had only run in practice. I was
disappointed, but I made a mental note of the kindness that was Skipper.
Doug Wohl was one of our defensive lineman who had too much muscle and not enough
brains. At least we thought so at the time. Doug would later on prove us wrong with his investments in
Computers in the early eighty‟s. But at this time he was barely getting through with his core classes in
high school.
And, he was enjoying the attention of a sweet young thing named Miss. Gloria Nugent. Gloria
worked at the Dairy Queen down the road from the high school, and every day after practice Doug
made the stop there to get a cold drink or ice cream on his way home. She had quit school at the young
age of sixteen, and had a reputation for being easy. I don‟t think she was easy, just lonely, and in
search of a way out of this life, and perhaps, this town and the rumors that followed her around. Doug
on the other hand, wanted a pretty girl by his side, and felt the urge to defend and protect. All this
added up to keeping Doug from passing, and showing up for practice. I do not believe Doug thought he
was that good he could skip practice, but he was in love. The team knew Doug‟s problem was love,
and that time spent with her was magical and, made him lose his senses and track of time. Time spent
with the team was fun, but dirty, sweaty, and achingly, without Gloria. Skipper put him on probation.
According to Skipper‟s rules if a player was not at practice the day before the game, he did not
play. Well, to be honest, if he was not at practice and he did not have a good enough reason, such as
sickness, death in the family then he did not play. Wohl, did not have a good enough reason , and all
the boys knew it. Skipper had no choice. He benched Doug for the game against Toro. This was to be
the first game into the play-offs. The El Toro Bulls were a redundant team of our own, both in name
and talent. Having watched them on film that week, I knew they had more then their fair share of
athletes. Four backs, three possible quarterbacks, and a stable of linemen who knew how to get the
job done.

****
It is always surprising how people react to bad new in small towns. Word gets around so fast,
you can start a rumor on one end of town, and by the time you get to the other end, someone is calling
you over to let you in on it. People felt that Skipper was too hard on Doug- the Lover-boy, and that he
should be allowed to play. As usual, Skipper said little on the subject unless directly confronted, and
then he would smile, shake his head, and state Doug knew the rules, and knew what would happen if
he broke them. He let them know, it did not matter who the players were or where they played on the
field, they would all be held accountable. And, if that was not enough, he also sat Aussie out for failing
a math test. Aussie was a genius at math, but his last two test had been almost failing. Skipper had
warned him, as a courtesy to the math teacher, that if he failed another test, he would have to sit out a
game. When Aussie failed the next test, Skipper felt he had to keep his word; he did.
On the day of the suspension, Skipper called me into his office, and let me know what was
going on. He wanted me to know before it became public at the town pep-rally that evening. He would
handle the principal, and the parents, but I would have to handle preparing a new quarterback the day
before a major game. I did not think it was fair of Skipper, and my manner towards him gave me away.
Skipper looked at me for a long moment.
“ Muley , I do not have a choice. I told him what I would do, and he failed me, he let me down.
He let the team down. The whole team and the teachers were aware of our talk. He knew what needed
to be done. He is not a stupid child, he is our leader, the one all our boys look up too, and the younger
ones in the stands worship.
“ This I know“, he added, “every boy who walks through this door has to believe I will keep
my word. And, every boy who plays for me better keep his. Knowles did not. He has let us down, and
we will have to pay the price. “
I looked at him, and heard him talk ,but all I could think of was the certain fact we were going
to lose this game against Toro High tomorrow. Does he not understand we needed Aussie to win? Does
he think this is the moral high ground? Is his pride greater then the team‟s destiny? I could not find the
words that would help me make sense of this inside my head. But, Skipper was not through.
“ Coach, Aussie will not play tomorrow,” he intoned,” and all of our Boys: the
ones now, and the ones in the future, will understand that when you give your word, and your are told
to do something, you do it. Emile, “ he said solemnly, surprisingly pronouncing my first name
properly, “ I hope you can understand my decision. It was my decision to make, and I have made it. In
the long run, the only thing our Boys will have will not be their athletic ability, but their word and
their brains. If we can teach them to keep it and use it, we are doing the work that really matters, not
winning the most games. And, the team will know, if I will take this position with the greatest of them,
then I will take this position with the least of them also.”
I told Skipper, I would not make this same decision if I was the one in charge. I also told him
he was making a big mistake. He just nodded the way he normally did when he was listening. His
physical appearance had changed since I had first met him a year and a half ago. He was older looking;
more haggard with a grayness about his coloring I had not noticed before. His shoulders now sagged,
where they once had been squared and prideful.
He repeated himself again, never breaking eye contact with me to demonstrate his
determination to his position. I repeated myself again trying to make an argument about Aussie‟s
situation, but with no takers I left. I felt horrible. At that moment, more horrible for me and Aussie
then the decision Skipper had had to make. I went to find Aussie and give him the bad news.
By the time I reached Aussie he had already heard the news. I was angry, hurt and upset. I said
some things I might not have about the Coaches‟ decision otherwise. Aussie just looked at me and
gave one of his signature smiled.
“ He did the right thing you know.”
I was a little surprised at these words.
“What are you talking about?” I said in disbelief.
“ I left him no choice. “ Aussie responded. “If he did nothing the others would not have
believed him, or trusted him. Maybe I was testing him or something. But, after today, I will not test
him again and neither will Doug.”
When Aussie said he understood, the decision made sense. I guess Aussie‟s understanding of it
eased my own guilty feelings about having to tell him by following Skipper‟s directives.

****

I had had no time to go home and change, but I had worn my school clothes earlier that day,
and they were still at the field house waiting for me to get dressed for the town pep-rally. I walked
into the coaches‟ office, and saw Skipper looking pained and unwell in a chair nears Holes‟ desk. He
was holding his stomach, and looking down at a stain in his khaki trousers near his crotch. I waited a
moment before going in. I did not want to disturb him.
He looked a little surprised to see me. Perhaps, surprised and a little relieved.
“ Muley, I‟m hurting, and I„ve had an accident.”
“Alright Skipper, what can I do?” I asked.
“ Just help me up and into my car. I‟m going over to see Doc Woods at his office. I just spoke
with him on the phone and he‟s waiting for me there.”
“Skipper, I‟m going to take you.” I demanded. “And,”, I added, “we have plenty of time to get
back before the pep-rally.”
Skipper thought it over, and after a time agreed.
He did not moan, but breathed rather coarsely through his mouth. You could tell when he was
in a great deal of pain by the way he caught his breathe, and clenched his teeth when times seemed
rougher then others.
We only had a short distance to go to Doc Woods‟ office, and we made good time using my car
instead of Skipper„s truck. I helped Skipper move past the door and into the waiting room. Woods met
us and helped us get Skipper back to a back room. A few of the town‟s people were waiting their turn
to see Doc Woods, and were surprised to see Skipper and I move ahead of them in the waiting order.
Once they recognized Skipper, there was a gentle mummer of noise in the room, one of concern and
surprise.
Doc Woods himself, looked concerned and began to ask Skipper some questions about pain,
and then about the light discoloration on the front of his pants which I had noticed earlier. I was
leaving the room when I heard Skipper say it came from his need to go to the bathroom, the pain he
had been experiencing, and the trouble he had controlling it.
I waited for Skipper in the patients‟ waiting room, reading some month old hunting magazine
and wishing there was something I could do for him. Most of the people had left by then, and I was
alone with my thoughts. We had arrived at the doctor‟s office at 5:00 that afternoon, and it was 6:00 by
the time Skipper came out. He sat down, looking relieve and less pained. I later learned he had been
given a shot of morphine for the pain he was suffering.
I felt a sense of relief. Doc Woods came out and sat down by Skipper and me. He was not
looking very cheerful, but I figured it was the late hour we had spent in his office.
“ Coach Sanchez,” he started, “ Someone on Skipper„s staff needs to be aware of the problem
he is having. I realize “, he continued looking at Skipper in a concerned manner, “ that he wants no one
to know of his condition, but there is a time and place to bite the bullet, and this does not have to be
one of those.”
At this point, I was a little confused. What was clear was there was something more wrong then
a little stomach ache.
Doc continued, “ I have found a rather substantial growth on Skipper‟s prostate. I am not sure
whether this growth is malignant or not. He needs to go into the Houston Medical Center and have it
checked out. I am afraid this is very serious, and may require a surgery to remove the prostate and the
growth.”
I was not sure what he was talking about, as my degree was in history and social studies and
not health, as was the majority of coaches in this part of the world. I looked over at Skipper, and I saw
him nodding his head in affirmation of Doc‟s words. He seemed to have heard these words before.
I was scared for Skipper. I had not known Doc Woods too long, but had seen him at every
home game championing the cause for victory. He had always seemed a happy and cheerful sort, and
now I was seeing his serious side. Skipper was quiet, and pensive. I could not tell what was going
through his head, and I was afraid to ask.
The pep-rally was to be held in less then an hour. I was not sure what Skipper wanted to do. I
was not sure whether I was suppose to ask. I left that in his hands. Whatever he wanted to tell me was
enough.
Skipper thanked Doc Woods, and I walked with him to the car. I opened the door for him,
closed it and went over to my side trying to figure out what I should do. Should I take him home; to the
pep-rally; or just let him decide?
He made the decision for me. He asked me to take him home, and then he wanted me to go to
the pep-rally and represent him and the team, making apologies for his absence. I deferred, but he was
adamant.
I left him at the door waving goodbye to me, with his long arm gentle waving in a weak and
feeble state. I had never seen Skipper look so old and weak, and I felt terrible as I drove off down the
dusty road back to the stadium and the town‟s excitement over Skipper‟s dream catcher.
Chapter Thirty One
The Pep Rally
****
Even today as I sit in this new stadium here in Rocin, I feel the old pain and sorrow washing
over me. I did not know it then, but Skipper was dying.
I went to the pep-rally that night, and made the excuses for the Boss. I told them he could not
be here tonight because of sickness, but he wanted to thank them and let them know how much we, the
team, appreciated their pride, love and attention.
The other coaches just looked at me, especially Ski. We had not had time to talk prior to the
event starting. I had just had enough time to change into my school clothes, before walking out with
the last notes of the National Anthem being played by the Rocin band. The boys and the coaches were
lined up on a platform, facing the crowd, and the large “R” we had repainted this past summer. I joined
the other coaches on the wooden platform, taking the last seat to the right near the steps. There was one
other seat open, next to Mr. Smith, and I realized it had been left open for Skipper. I have never
enjoyed pep-rallies, but this one seemed to be what every pep-rally should be: loud, fun, and
community building. But thoughts of Skipper sick at home did not allow me to enjoy the moment as it
should have been enjoyed.
As I started back to the field house, trying to inform the other coaches what was going on,
Aussie‟s folks stopped me. The decision to suspend Aussie had not been my decision to make, and I
had not felt good about it anyways, but I would abide by Skipper decision of Aussie‟s suspension of
the game. Instead of yelling at me, they thanked me for setting Aussie straight. They were a handsome
couple, and dressed more like affluent people from Houston then the farmers and ranchers from Rocin.
They also wanted me to thank Skipper for coming over to their house this morning, and talking with
them about the situation. They told me it was good to know that Coach O‟Bryan was a man of
principles, and that he would follow them no matter the cost, even the play-offs. I was shocked at this
turn of events. Where I had expected anger, they gave understanding. This was new to me. But I could
tell Aussie‟s folks were special. They must have been, with this type of reception for the coaches who
had suspended their golden haired son. Skipper had made the right decision. We spoke a little longer, I
thanked them and left headed toward the field house.
Back at the field house the other coaches were waiting for me to explain Skipper‟s absence. I
told them what had happened , and what Doc Woods had said. All the coaches looked surprised at the
news of Skipper‟ sickness. I also told them I expected Skipper to go to Houston tomorrow morning.
Holes offered to take off from school and drive him, but Ski would not hear of it. It was his duty to
take care of Skipper, and , in the lights of the field house, and without those mirror glasses, his eyes
expressed his desperate need to take care of Skipper. For all of the coaches it had been a long day, and
we wore the effects of the day in the dirt, grime, and sweat that had accumulated on our clothes and
bodies. We sat around and spoke of little else but how tough Skipper was, and how nothing could keep
him down. Speaking as if, by our own words, we could wish Skipper well and cure him of what ailed
him.
I went home and shared what I knew with Anne. She was, as usual, genuinely sympathetic.
How lucky I was in finding her on the river that day of the race was made even more apparent by the
meal the beautiful woman had prepared for me this night. Perhaps it was not luck but Providence,
Divine Providence: the day at the river, Skipper‟ intervention, the wedding, even this meal. I do not
know if it was her nursing back ground or the way she had been brought up, but I always ate well
balanced and delicious meals. Her mother would have been proud. Tonight was no exception. I was
particularly pleased as we ate our ham, grits, and greens on the new-to us- kitchen table I had found at
a garage sale in Agua Dulce the past weekend after the game with Marshall. It was a bright red
farm-house Formica table top with chrome legs, and I felt like a prince in his castle when I was not
troubled by thoughts of Skipper.

****

I could not sleep at first, as I worried over this game with , the twin losses of Doug and Aussie,
and Skipper‟s sickness. Sleep must have found me, as the alarm yelled at me five- “get up“- o‟clock. I
felt as if I had just gone to sleep. I got up quickly, as is my habit, and went into the bathroom to shower
and shave. I had not quite finished shaving when the phone quickened my heart rate with a loud
obnoxious ring in the kitchen. I ran to get it so Anne would not waken, but she joined my in the
kitchen as I picked up the phone.
It was Skipper. He was feeling a little better, but was wondering if I wouldn‟t mind picking him
up on my way to school that morning. He did not want to talk about going to Houston this morning, or
about his problem. I picked him up at six am, noting his color and disposition. He looked a bit white,
but mentally ready to play.
We talked a little about the game today, and what adjustments we might need to make without
Aussie out there on the field. Little Sean Hennessey was Aussie‟s back-up. What he lacked in size he
made up in attitude. He was the John Paul Jones type of player that would never give up. His
leadership style was more vocal then Aussie‟s but he knew how to lead.
I asked Skipper how he was feeling and what I could do to help him. He smiled at me and
asked me to stop at the connivance store near the school so he could pick up his pouch of Red Man
chewing tobacco and his normal large cup of coffee. I nodded in agreement and we drove in silence the
rest of the way to the store.
The wind had picked up last night, and made for a cold morning. Skipper had on a military
parka, or field jacket, and sat hunched next to me in the passenger seat. The weather stripping around
the door of the car was partially gone, and the heater had to work extra hard to keep up with our frozen
fingers and toes.
After leaving the store, and reaching the high school, we meet that morning with all the coaches
and discussed our pre-game duties. The assignments were routine by now, but Skipper went over them
any ways. He sat in Holes‟ chair behind the desk as he gave us our marching orders. For the past two
seasons I had been put in charge of game jerseys: hand out, wash and pick up, and dreaded this duty. I
would rather of had Holes‟ duty of checking on the footballs and the kicking gear, but he was adamant
about not giving away a good thing without something in return- I had nothing to offer.
Skipper continued with our pre-game ritual by checking with each coach about the condition of
his players, personal, and the adjustments necessary when there was to be a change in personal. For
me, Aussie was this adjustment. Hennessy would get the job done, he could hand off, but his delivery
when throwing the ball from a discharging hand to receiving hands left the fans in suspense, holding
their collective breathe until a wobbly ball was cradled into the hands of the intended receiver; which
was fifty percent of the time, the other fifty percent of the time we hoped the unintended receiver
gained only five yards or less.
The rest of the day was a blur with the handling of classes, uniforms, and game preparations. I
had decided to give a test that Friday to keep myself from teaching distractions but it seemed that many
of the students had not studied enough, and a few of the girls began to cry as they realized how it
would effect their final grade. I tried hard to be a callous teaching professional and not care, but the
truth is, that it is just a myth, all teachers care and the degree in which they care can be seen in the
curve they give, or how they are willing to re-teach the material and then re-test. I cared enough to let
them retake it on Monday after they had had a chance to see it, and study for it over the weekend, but I
would not tell them that till the end of the school day and only to my last period class. They had a
wonderful ability of spreading the news and good cheer to all the students without any help from me.
Skipper stayed down at the field house, and though I checked on him twice, I saw very little of
him throughout the day. The day had worn long on me, as I waited for our chance to play against the El
Toro Bulls in the first game of the play-offs. What with the test taking, the crying, and worry about our
quarterbacking problems I did not know how to respond: Should I be up and happy about making the
play-offs, or worried and bitter about Skipper‟s decision that that could make us lose our first shot at
the play-offs? Skipper‟s health kept me ambiguous in this process. Since I could find any answer, I
would just keep shifting gears feeling both, and hoping the best response would win out. I could not
show any of this to the team, therefore I kept a happy, positive attitude around them. After all, good
leaders are suppose to be good actors, at least, that is what Gen. Patton said.

****

We lost the toss, but the game started off with an on-side kick by Ski‟s kick-off team, which we
recovered. Ski always played his hand close to his vest, and I was not sure what he had seen on film
that lead him to make this chose on the kick-off, but we recovered it and the offense took to the field
with a roar of approval from the side-lines. Skipper turned and smiled his thanks at Ski, which made
Ski‟s face beam as if a headlight had reached a dark corner of a country road. It was an amazing sight,
one I had not seen very often since I had come to Rocin High.
As usual, Skipper threw a wrench into the nerve racking few moments of the game, as I sent in
my first offensive play from scrimmage. He sent in Nacho Rios. Nacho Rios is a friend of Hale‟s and
when they run, it is at almost the same pace- with one difference: Nacho comes in last! Sure, I
realized his mom made tamales for the coaches and the team on game days, and sure I know she came
and talked with Skipper in his office last Tuesday, but why was he on the field? I could not for the life
of me understand this decision, to send in a back-up offensive guard in what would be a hotly
contested first game of the play-offs. I looked out in disbelief as Nacho took the field in his slow
lumbering way, with a rolling gait, much as a ship would use out on the ocean. I hurriedly walked
toward Skipper to confront him, and to prepare myself for the next offensive down call.
He saw me coming, turned towards me, and stoically awaited my arrival.
“Skipper,” I ranted, “what is going on here?”
“ Emile“, he pronounced looking old and gray in the stadium lights, “I just made a decision on
the starting offensive guard. I apologize for not telling you sooner, but, with all that has been going on,
I just remembered that the boy‟s grandparents are in the stands tonight, and I owe that kid. He comes to
every practice, he stays after to work-out, and he never asks for anything: no special favors, or
demands. And, by God, he will play today and get the job done, I have faith in him.
I looked at Skipper in disbelief, shaking my head back and forth- No.
“Coach Sanchez, “ he exploded, “he has to believe that all the work he has done the past four
years has been for something. I spoke with his mother this week…Coach, I will not let him, his
mother, or his grandparents down. He needs to know I trust him…. He‟s one of my Boys.” The last
two statements he roared with great strength.
The voice inside my head screamed, “ We‟ve lost Aussie, Doug, and now our starting offensive
guard, are we trying to lose?”
But, before I could speak I realized Skipper had not called me “ Coach Sanchez” but a handful
of times since I had come to the school last year. And, he had only used my true first name but once
before. His use of both of them now, got my attention, and my understanding as to who was in charge
and what had been decided. I had been brought up short in my surprise and anger.
I heard the crowd before I realized we had just run our first play from scrimmage. I had run a
lead play up the middle of the offensive line, right behind my new guard. And, I had played football
long enough to realize we had done something well for the crowd to cheer like that. I looked back over
at Skipper in his game clothes, with his Khaki dress pants, button up white shirt with tie, and his fedora
hat. His grin was poised, but prize winning as he noticed me looking at him.
“Muley, he exclaimed in jubilation, in a more humorous voice” we just gained six yards
running behind Nacho, lets try this next time to get at least four more for a first down- Call the next
play Coach, we can‟t win without you. Let„s get this done, Muley!”
Surprised as I was, I knew Skipper had made up his mind, and I had an offense to run.
Chapter Thirty Two
The Pain
****

Behind Hennessy‟s hand-offs and Nacho‟s blocking, we played El Toro to a draw until the
forth quarter. With the remaining four minutes left to play in the forth quarter Toro went ahead by
three points with a field goal at our twenty-five yard line. I found myself looking for excuses for the
loss of this game even before it was over. I was upset with Skipper‟s decisions. At the time I wanted to
blame him, but I still had a game to call, and I needed to believe we could win. In practice, I had
watched Mike “The Vise” Vacek, the other line backer besides Meintz, playing around in practice
throwing the football, and doing it well. We had been running the dive and option all night, and I knew
the defense would come hard at either side of the line if we went at it strong with what would look like
a sweep or pitch. I decided to risk it. After we recovered the ball on about our twenty-seventh yard
line, I called for our last timeout with Ski looking at me apprehensively. The line took a knee on the
field, while the backs ran over to us to discuss the next three plays. Skipper walked over along with the
rest of the coaches to hear my offensive plan. I knew he could over ride me if he felt it was necessary,
but he never had. I told them to ran the pitch to the left side on the first play, and then I wanted to run
the pitch to the right side, but I wanted Vacek, in as the runing back, to run a little deeper, and chunk
that ball as far as he could to our right side wide receiver and tight end headed down field on a T.D.
route.
“ Does everyone understand? “ I enquired hastily.
All the sweaty and dirty heads nodded their understanding, and looking back into their trusting
eyes, I knew we could do it. Hennessy, with a face full of dirt, and a no-quit attitude was shaking his
head purposefully. Their faith had energized me. As they prepared to run out onto the field, Skipper
spoke: “ Tell Nacho to pull and seal the end around the tackle. Tell him, he has any wrong colored
jersey, and Hennessy,” Skipper added, “ tell him Skipper knows he can do it.”
Hennessy looked at Skipper, smiled and said: “ Aye, Aye Skipper!” around his rubber mouth
piece. Then, he turned around and headed back to the battle field with his bruised lieutenants, the
running backs, following in his wake
It felt right. I knew we could do it. The first pitch from scrimmage took us out to the left hash
with a gain of four yards. Not enough to stop the clock for a first down, but good enough to worry the
opposition. We lined up for our second play on the left hash. I found myself holding my breathe, and
looking around me, I was not alone. I breathed out slowly, took a deep breathe, and, with the snap of
the ball, we were off.
Sean took the snap, stepped back, pivoted, and opened up for the pitch. Vacek was already
running deep to the right, while Mientz, in the fullback position, sealed the defensive end with a type
of sting block. By the time the ball was pitched, and caught by Vacek, he looked like a crumb being
invaded by ants at a picnic, with the corner and linebacker on the way. Within my head, time slowed
down and I had the ability to watch the play develop. I watched in disbelief as the defensive corner
froze for a moment, and then came like a bolt of lightening at Vacek. The feeling that all would be
alright ended right there with my stomach in knots.
I felt my feet turn towards the defender, and my body become ridged as if I, myself, could take
the field and block him. It was at about this point that I saw the our Nacho. I do not know where he
came from, I do not know where he was the second before, all I know was he was there and he was the
only thing between Vacek and the corner.
If Vacek had not stepped up and behind Nacho, I do not believe Nacho would have made
contact, but contact he did. It was as if the corner had hit a slow moving freight train, one that was
heavily loaded yet built for power. Upon contact, the only thing that corner hit was the ground. When
my eyes left the scene of the derailed defender, Vacek had already launched his pass. It was a thing of
beauty in my slow motion world. We had two receivers down field to the play side, and only one
defender, who was just fast enough to catch the Clydesdale at tight end, but not our wide receiver.
“Juking “ Jones had step out of position from the backfield, and taken the wide receiver spot, with his
sure-fired hands. The bomb of a pass was caught, on their eight yard line and delivered to the touch
line along with six points. My slow motion vision ended on the reception of the pass, and my hearing
returned along with pats on the back from Holes and Harry. By the time we had lined up and kicked
the extra point, we had fourteen seconds left to play. I looked over at Skipper, expecting to see his
smiling face beaming at me. This expectation was short lived. When I looked for him, I found him
sitting on the bench, scrunched over, holding his side. I left the game in Ski‟s defensive hands and
went over to Skipper. When he saw me, he motioned me over and asked me to help him to the field
house. As we walked off the sidelines toward the field house, people began calling out to Skipper and
congratulating him. He continued to hold onto me, but held himself a little straighter, forced himself to
smile and wave through the pain.
By the time we got to the office, the game was over and the boys were filing into the locker
room with joyous enthusiasm. I was at once so proud of them, and yet worried about Skipper: rather a
bitter-sweet moment.
Even though all the boys were excited, there was one face that radiated more then any of the
others. Nacho Rios walked by the other boys receiving pats and good natured punches, and made his
way to Skipper‟s office. Skipper had gone in there to rest up.
Nacho stopped and knocked on the door. Skipper gingerly opened the door, looked at Nacho,
smiled and opened his arms. They hugged as only men can hug, with strength and brotherly emotion.
Both of them had tears in there eyes, and I can still hear Skipper say, “ I am so Proud of You, I knew
You could do it!”
In that moment I knew why Skipper had done it. I would not forget this lesson. I now knew
why all these Boys - no, Men- reached out to him; they sought his affirmation that they were good
men, and that he was still proud of them. Each time he greeted them, with a smile, a wave and a kind
word they felt vindicated; he had not forgotten them, and still loved them. I knew how they felt, I felt
the same way.

****

Skipper‟s pain had increased after all the boys had gone. He was not getting any relief, and
needed to the urinate, but could not. Luckily Doc. Watson had been at the game, and had stayed to help
Skipper gain some relief and medical help for the pain. Doc also informed him he needed to get to
Houston as soon as possible: tonight would not be soon enough. Skipper sent the other coaches home.
He told Ski, he needed to talk with me, and therefore he wanted me to drive him to Houston. Ski took
this news sullenly like a small spoiled child who had been told no, but Skipper took pains to let him
know how proud he was of the defense and the on-sides kick we had recovered to start the game. With
a hand on Ski‟s shoulder and another shaking his hand, the eye contact and touch was enough to help
Ski through this disappointing moment. Killer Bob was also given the task of running the Saturday
morning film and stretches here at the field house. Skipper left Holes in charge of cleaning up and
picking up after the game while Harry was to work on the film exchange with whoever won the game
between out next play-off opponent.
I was both surprised and pleased to be given the assignment of driving Skipper to Houston. Doc
Woods had recommended Houston over San Antonio, what with the emerging medical center,
therefore we decided to go there. I decided to take my car so that Skipper did not need to step up into
his truck and increase his pain. I left Doc Woods with Skipper as I ran off to gas up, and I let Anne
know where I was going, I did not want her to worry.
Chapter Thirty Three
Good Man Down
****

The pain which had taken hold of Skipper‟s back, thighs and abdomen was, at first, keeping
him from getting comfortable on the way to Houston. The hour was late, and I knew we were headed
for the emergency room, but the distance between feelings-the satisfying win, and Skipper‟s
pains-were driving me a little crazy. I could not feel happy, but I could not feel depressed either. I just
sat and drove in a floating neutral state.
Before we left, Doc Woods had given Skipper some pills for pain. After taking them, Skipper,
rode in a semi-conscious state. He moved to get comfortable, but he did not seem to be in as much
pain. This made the driving bearable, without him feeling the pain, the urgency seemed less pressing.
My mind wondered, back through the first meeting with Skipper and the coaches. I was so proud of
what we had done; tonight and every Friday night. I could not wait to have my own team, and be the
head coach. I felt I had proven myself on the football field, but now I needed to prove myself molding
my own team. I had had the luxury of the team already existing with a leader intact who knew them
and loved them. I wanted my turn.
Because it was dark I could not enjoy the scenery on the way to Houston, therefore, I had to roll
down the window and keep the cool air on my face to stay awake. I was reliving the game in my mind
when I was startled to hear a voice addressing me.
“Muley”, He said, “ Could you roll up the darn window a bit, I‟m cold!”
I agreed quickly. He was in no mood to discuss my sleepiness.
After a bit, he stated, “ I was with the First Marine Division in Korea. Now, that was cold.”
I just sat there and listened, he was in a mood to talk.
“ I was at the Chosin Reservoir- one of the “Frozen Chosin”- I did not think then, I would make
it home alive. I did not think any of us would make it home. It was damn cold!”
“All gave some, some gave all.”….that was one of those saying from Korea, you know?”
“ I gave some……”
After a moment he continued.
“The dead bodies were loaded like cord wood onto trucks, and there were a lot of bodies- a lot
of men I knew. When we weren‟t fighting we were pushing trucks and jeeps up hills and valleys.” He
paused.
“ I looked up from pushing one of those trucks, and my eyes met the eyes of the man next too
me. It took me a minute, but I realized it was General Puller- he was a colonel then. I could not believe
it, General “Chesty” Puller was right beside me doing the grunt work with me. In the semi-darkness, I
could just make out his eyes as he moved beside me, not scared, but pensive as if the scene around him
might change at any time. He had to be ready to take care of us, at any time. He wasn‟t worried about
his own health- if that was the case, he could have stayed in his own jeep and out of the snow- no, his
worry was for all of his boys he had brought to the Chosin Reservoir.
Skipper looked like a tired old man as he talked. The pills made him relax and let his mind
unwind from the coiled up pain that had been hissing for some time in his abdomen.
A light from a store near the highway flashed by as Skipper continued.
“ I believed that man loved us, and he would suffer the same fate as us. He was honest and
brave and I would follow him anywhere.” There was another short pause as if Skipper was thinking.
I felt the hypnotic power of the dark freeway, as my eyes watched the white lines pass by,
blurring into one continuous white ribbon, even with the Coach‟s voice providing breaks from this
numbing trance. I pulled my tired mind back to Skipper‟s words when he broke the quiet again.
“That‟s the type of man I wanted to be. I wanted to lead bravely, and honorable sharing
whatever fate my men would have. I believe the General loved us.”
Skipper‟s voice had begin to crack, and emotion choked his words.
“Muley, I love those boys…my Boys. I am worried I may not be there for them when they need
me. You got to love them for me , Muley. You may be young, but you have that leadership quality that
inspires, all you need to know is… they don‟t care how many games you win, just how much you love
them and care for them. When all is said and done, the only thing that matters in the hearts of those
boys is knowing that we loved them, we respected them, and we were honest with them.”
“But“, we have a chance to go all the way in the state playoffs this year. We have the chance to
give them the best of both worlds: our love and a state victory. I owe them this chance. I owe the whole
town this chance. They have waited patiently on me the past twenty years.”
“And Muley“, he rasped through emotion, “Muley, you are going to help me bring this title
home to Rocin whether I am on that sideline or not!”
I was wide awake now. I wanted to say to him,” Skipper, you will be fine!”, but I knew from
his statement, he must have known more then I did about the state of his health.
There was a stillness within the car, that was not from the late night or the quality of the ride.
Skipper, looking towards my face, reached out his left hand and placed it on my shoulder.
He spoke these last words with watery blue eyes.
“I need you Muley...the Boys need you. I know you can do it.”
A confession of trust had just been handed to me, as it had been handed down to each of his
players whenever the going got tough; as it had been handed down to him in the Chosen Reservoir. He
believed in me; he trusted me.
I was silent. I just nodded my head. There was nothing to say. Skipper had summed up what he
needed, and I understood. He did not need any false utterances of “things will be alright”, and such. I
was numb from the game, Skipper‟s problem, the late night and the drive, but I felt the emotion start to
take hold of me, and so must have Skipper.
“Muley“, he muttered, “if I don‟t stop blabbering now, I will probable start crying.”
And with that he turned over, covered himself with a blanket we had kept at the field house for
emergencies, or Henry‟s naps, and seemed to go to sleep.

The rest of the ride I drove in silence with me thoughts. The numbness was gone, and I rode
with fears and thoughts of the future: the boys, the town, and Skipper‟s.
We made it to Houston by 1:00am, and into the emergency room at Methodist Hospital.
Skipper was starting to feel some pain as the pills he had taken were wearing off, so they gave him
some new pain medication, and off he went to sleep again. But, before he went into a deep sleep, he
told me to go home, and if I was too tired, to sleep in that chair in the corner, and go home in the
morning.
I choose to go home. I made sure Skipper was alright, and knowing that we had films in the
morning and Ski would need my help to lead it, I wanted to be there early enough to help. I drove
home with the window rolled down all the way, and the cold air giving me an ear ache which helped
irritate me into wakefulness. The AM radio keep me up with static country music which I sang with
when I knew the song. I followed all the road directions, but once again I was not sure how I made it
home. The car made the turns and the stops without pauses or comments.
****
My house was down the street from the high school and stadium, and as I drove down the street
I noticed the lights on at the stadium and some movement in the bleachers. I just wanted to go home,
but I could not, my duty was not through yet. I turned around, and cursing the other coaches for
neglecting their duties, drove back toward the stadium and parked.
After unlocking the outside entrance into the stadium, I entered and made my way up the stands
to the scouting booth where the lights were located. I had not gone very far when I noticed a figure up
high in the stands. The figure in question was a man, surrounded by little brown bottles placed neatly
on the bench in front of him. I was not sure, but the mirror glasses were a clue to the man‟s identity.
I walked towards him slowly, I do not know what I anticipated, but I was unsure of my
welcome since I was inheriting the leadership position from Skipper. When he looked towards me, I
did not think of his name as Ski, but as Killer Bob. He stared at me pug-ugly. I was glad I could not see
his eyes, as I am sure my death was being appraised in them. I sat down, staring at him, and waited.
The numbness was partially gone, replaced by a caution.
“Why the hell are you here,” he started, “ and what is going on with Skipper?” I answered his
question about Skipper first: what little I had to tell.
Killer Bob kept staring at me through those mirror glasses. I just left him in silence, waiting for
his response. I was too tired to try anyways.
He took another swig from a bottle that had been by his feet in the bleachers.
“ I hate you Muley, you are a son-of-a-bitch. You come in here pretty as you please, and took
over my job. I am sick to death of your offensive genius, and boy-scout attitude.”
“Before you came“, he ranted, “when Skipper retired I was next in line to take over the team.
But, you come in here and took over as if you‟ve earned it. I hate you.”
The heat from Killer Bob was building as I sat there, isolated from those I loved in an empty
stadium. But Ski was not through.
“ You came here, made friends, got married, and have even taken Skipper away from me.” He
spouted off at me.
And, with that he threw the bottle at me. It was an off balance throw, and more of a gesture
then a pitch, but I was feeling like it was time to go. I started to get up, but Ski stopped me with his
words.
“I am sorry, Muley”, he took off his glasses and continued, “I am so gawd-damned sorry!” And
he began to cry. I was uncomfortable with his drunken tears, but made no effort to leave.
“ Muley, did you know Skipper was my high school coach?”, he asked,” I joined the Army
after high school and went to Vietnam. I thought it was going to be an adventure, we would win every
battle and no one would get hurt. I saw people: men, women, and even children killed, maimed, and
burned. I was a medic, and I couldn‟t handle it. I began to drink myself to sleep, and even then the
night mares followed me into my sleep. Faces of friends mixed with villagers burned, and killed called
to me to for help.”
Ski was finally human- the sunglasses were off-a scared little boy, who was running from his
dreams.
“ I could not help them,” he acknowledged with tears streaming down, “ I couldn‟t even help
myself. I drank and smoked whatever I could to help me forget.
Ski calmed down, and so did his words as he continued.
“When I got my discharge, I did not know what to do, where to go. I was lost in my mind and
soul. There was a blister there that hurt whenever I tried to move one way or another. Too much effort
made the blister open and blinded me with pain. The only way to find peace was through dope.”
I could not believe this was Killer Bob. Killer Bob, who I had only see drink orange juice, and
milk. I was more then a little surprised.
“Yeah, I was a doper,” he declared, “ and I was sinking fast. That is until this man came back
into my life, put me up in his house, watched over me through withdrawals, and helped pay for the rest
of my college. That man was Skipper, and I have a debt I can never repay. I love him.
With that Ski quickly stood up, and almost fell. He caught his balance just as quickly, and
looked at me.
“ I am sorry Muley, you‟re the Boss now, …that is until Skipper gets back. I will work for you
because of Skipper; I don‟t agree with all his decision, but I owe him and I will do whatever he needs
me to do.”
I nodded my head in agreement. Fair enough, I thought.
“Now“, he announced, “ let‟s get some sleep, we have some game to win.”
At that crack of time, Killer Bob looked almost human, and my fear of him started to abate. He
was just another human being who had needed someone to care enough to believe in him. Skipper did,
and I did too.
“I don‟t hate you Muley,” he started seriously, “ so…if you would be kind enough to help me
down from the bleachers, and into the coaches‟ office so I could sleep some of this off , and be ready
for our meeting tomorrow, I would appreciate it.”
We both smiled. Ski had made a stab at healing our relationship. Whether it was only because
of Skipper or not, we now shared common ground, and that is enough to start a friendship. I helped
him down and into the coaches office. I turned the lights off and I headed home to my soft warm bed
and Anne. Two hours or more of sleep would be a welcome reprieve from this long and emotion filled
night I had just had.

****

I gave the boys off on Thursday, and we just practiced during the athletic period, before the
playoff game with Carter High. They were a strong team with a great passing game for that period of
high school football. The four of us coaches got into Holes station wagon, and rode into Houston to
check on Skipper.
He was in a double room divided by a curtain, but so far, he had not had to share the room with
anyone. When we got there he was sitting up in bed reading the daily sporting news. His face was
newly clean shaven, and his granny glasses rode precariously on the tip of his nose. Though he had
taken the time to groom, his color was almost a gray-white, and he looked a little shrunken. I was not
sure what test had been done on him since his arrival last Saturday morning. Doc Woods stopped by on
Monday afternoon to talk with all of us coaches after practice. He had been in touch with Skipper‟s
doctors in Houston, and they had confirmed his belief that it was cancer. Skipper was in trouble.
Skipper smiled when he saw us, and teased us about slacking off when we had to play Carter
tomorrow. Holes joined in the teasing, and blasted Skipper for staying in a immaculately clean hotel
with room service when we were all out there working outdoors in the cool weather. It was nice to see
everyone laughing. Holes and Harry went out to get some more reading materials for Skipper, and Ski
and I stayed.
The Boss was giving us some pointers about the game and his offensive line, when a doctor
came in. We all could see Skipper was getting tired, and losing interest in the conversation a little
before that, and the doctor suggested we let him rest. Skipper did not put up much of a fight, so we
went outside with the doctor.
He was a young man, a bit older then Harry, and we started talking football. He was Skipper‟s
doctor. He and Skipper must have spent some time talking because he was aware that Rocin was in the
playoffs and how much it meant to the town of Rocin.
After the small talk about football, he turned serious. He asked if any of us were family. I
looked at Ski, and he at me. Finally, Ski shook his head yes, and his family waited expectantly.
This doctor did not question us again about our genealogy. He nodded. He must have had some
experience at this sort of thing, because he did not flinch as he proceeded to give us the news on
Skipper„s health. He looked right at us and made this statement:
“ Coach O‟Bryan has an advanced state of prostate cancer. I do not know how long he has to
live. He is aware of this, and is making plans accordingly. You two as family members may want to
help him. I am sorry for your family.”
He left us, and we just stood together alone in our own thoughts. I wanted to cry.
After all these years, when his hopes for victory would come true he was going to die. I felt as
if a fist had hit me square in the chest. But, I know I was not alone, tears had come to Ski‟s eyes as he
tried to erase them existence by forcible wiping them away.
Harry and Holes joined us, and saw right away there was a problem. We told them what we had
heard. Harry just looked down and away, Holes reached over and smacked the wall. I knew how they
both felt.

Before we left the hospital, that afternoon, I went back into the room to say goodbye to
Skipper. He was awake, and just lying there in the semi-darkness.
“Well Muley, I guess you heard?”
I just nodded. Words would not come.
“ I am making all the arrangements , so you folks do not need to worry about that.”
Again I nodded, and looked at him through blurry eyes.
There was a silence between us for some time as we both contemplated life and death. I am
sure we were thinking much the same thoughts as Skipper finally turned his face towards me, and
fixing me with a penetrating stare asked: “ Do you believe there is a God?”
It was a funny type of question coming from a man who I knew to be a man of God, but I knew
the correct answer. He was looking for reassurance, and if that was all he needed, I could darn well
give it too him.
But, before I could speak, he spoke again:” Do you think He really cares whether I am a
Catholic or a Protestant?”
I spoke softly fearing my voice would give away my emotions, “ Skipper, I said, I truly believe
there is a God and a heaven, and based on the way you have loved and nurtured His creations here on
earth, I am of the belief you will have made the “A” team when you finally get up there.”
He smiled at me, and gave a soft, throaty kind of chuckle.
“Skipper”, I started, “ is there anyone I can send over to see you?”
I was really asking about ministers or last rites, and Skipper knew it.
A generous smile broke across his face. “You know Muley, I use to be Catholic, I won‟t be
Baptist, therefore I may be Lutheran by default.” There was a pause while I figured out this was a joke.
Skipper started again. “ Ask them all to come, this way I have covered all my bases. One of
them has to have a good word to put in about me.”
Again silence took over.
“You know, if I lean forward enough, I can look out the window and see that blue sky. Because
of that, I know there is a God and He is good. I lived through Korea, when others didn‟t. I found a job
and came to understand my mission in a town that I proudly call home.
“That mission wasn‟t winning the state play-offs,” he informed me, “ it was watching my Boys
grow up to be good men. And, they are, you are.”
Skipper leaned back in his hospitable bed to make himself more comfortable, after having sat
up painfully to look at the sky out the window.
“I have spent some time reading a good book here in Houston, and it may sound sorta funny,
but, I guess, it is my time to decrease, and your time increase. That‟s part of our job Muley. We have to
teach the next generation what it is to be men, and then, they must grow older and wiser and teach the
next. You knew what I mean?”
I did. I also seemed to recall that the semi-quote on increasing was from the words of John the
Baptist words about Jesus- but I also knew I was no Jesus.
We were out of time, and I knew all of us coaches had to leave soon, the others were waiting. I
did not know how to end this intimate meeting between us. Skipper did.
“Muley, his voice becoming emotionally hoarse,” Get the team there. Take my Boys all the
way.”
With a pain in my throat the size of Harry‟s bicep, I responded,” Aye, Aye, Skipper.”
Skipper‟s eyes brimmed with tears, and a smile spread across his face as we both remembered
our first meeting and my words about this type of affirmation.
There was nothing more to be said. We just nodded at each other. I wanted to hug him, tell him
how much I had learned from him, and come to love him, but I was frozen with a deep uncertain
feeling. Would he reject me?
I started to leave, almost made it through the door, and made a decision. I turned back, walked
over too the bed and took his hand.
I whispered, “ I love you Skipper.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me into an embrace, “ I love you too, Muley”, he choked
through a hoarse whisper. As he released me, he reassured me he was still in charge by the bravado
power in his voice.
“ Now, get the hell out of here, you have a game to prepare for tomorrow.”
That was the last time I saw Skipper. I could barely make myself look into the coffin and see
him laying there in his gray suit and red bow tie, with the sun-faded Notre Dame cap resting by his
head at the funeral home. There is something final about using the word “dead”. He has “passed”,
“departed“, “left us”, these word seem to suggest a temporary separation; his death did not feel real, or
final. Something of us lives on in others once we have pasted through this life. If we are lucky, the
death of those we respect and love places a higher burden on those of us who remain; the burden is
light, yet severe in its requirements: “I have come to serve, not to be served.” It was now my turn.
Chapter Thirty Four
Faith
****

The coaches had returned form the hospital late on Thursday night. We had talked openly of
our sorrow when we first left the hospital, but had journeyed west in selfish anguish on that way back
from Houston. We all left Holes‟ station wagon at the field house and dispersed to find our own
waiting vehicles in the crushed parking lot. The light from the field house, surrounded by the
encroaching darkness, was a sad reminder of how we all felt; empty and hollow, with just enough
energy left to get home.
As I made my way to my car, Holes drove up on his way out of the parking lot, and made a
tentative suggestion.
“Muley, how about we meet early in the morning, about 6:30, here at the field house, to say a
decaed of the rosary for Skipper?”
I liked the idea, both for Skipper‟s soul, and for any action, on my part, I thought could help
Skipper.
“That‟s a great idea, Holes.” I looked at him and smiled. “ You‟re not so bad when you put
your mind to it.” I was in the process of beginning a laugh, when he said.
“ I love him too, Muley.” That stopped my laughter before it had left my mouth. And, he drove
off in a gentle, slow acceleration of a man in deep mourning.
When I got home, Anne told me that Ma Koreneke had called and I was to call her no matter
what time I got home. I called.
I told her the news and how Skipper had looked when we saw him that night. She sounded
sorrowful for Skipper, but not willing to give up yet.
I told her of my meeting with Holes at the field house to say the rosary. She told me she would
try and make it.
I made the six thirty meeting with Holes, surprised to find Ski there also. He nodded at me as I
came in and sat down opposite him. Holes had been using the bathroom, and came out shaking his
hands to throw off the water that had beaded up from his hand washing.
I saw Ski take out his rosary, and followed suit, taking mine out, which was contained in a
small leather bag. The rosary was the only thing of my father‟s that I owned. It had been in our family
a long time, my Abuela had told me, and I looked upon it with a sense of family pride.
Holes lead us in the prayers, while Ski lead us to our knees.
As my fingers traversed the worn brown beads, I perceived a sense of tranquility and comfort,
both for Skipper and, selfishly, for myself. I was doing something for him.
Harry appeared early that morning in the coaches„ office, but since he was not Catholic, no one
had thought to invite him to our prayer session. He saw us praying, and without interrupting us, went
back out the door shutting it quietly while we continued our Hail, Mary„s.
He reappeared a couple of minutes later with four towels, folding each one in half, and half
again. Then he put one towel in front of each of us praying on our knees. He also putt one on the floor
between Ski and Holes, and joined us on our knees. It was then that I realized the towels were for all of
us to kneel on to keep our knees from aching.
Harry did not try to say or mumble the prayers, he kneeled there quietly, with his eyes closed
praying with us in spirit. This man was made up of more then just show; there was more to Harry then
met the eye.
I had closed my eyes at one point to devout myself to God‟s will for Skipper, and not my own,
when I heard the door open. I was not too surprised to see Ma Koreneke come in, I was surprised to see
the office fill up our Boys: Hennessy, Nacho, Vacek, Aussie, Whale and Clydesdale. The thing that got
to me the most were the non-Catholics who joined us such as: Johnny Steptoe, Mentz, Hog Curtis,
and even Doug Wohl who had been suspended for two games earlier in the season. Ma had told them
about it this morning, and they had come to join us on their knees to pray.
I am glad Holes was leading prayers because by this time, I was too moved to speak.
Who would have ever thought, the country would remove teachers and players from praying
together, and for each other.

****
Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, located west of San Antonio, had a lot in common with its
name sake: they were well coached and their coach was called the General. They were next on our
radar screen after the victory over Carter High School.
We had won the play-off game against Carter that past Friday, and we were now officially in
the run for the state title. Carter High had lost a player two weeks before we played in a traffic accident
that had killed him and his girlfriend in a head on collision. The surviving players had thoughts of
winning the state play-offs for the two students from their school. We were playing for Skipper; both
worthy causes but someone had to lose.
Their team tried too hard, and we took advantage of their mistakes: fumbles, bobbles, and
miss-ques. The game was a lopsided victory fro us with tears on both sides being openly shed by fans
and players alike.
After our win against Carter, I ran errands that Saturday morning after the team meeting and
films. Everywhere I went people were asking about Skipper. I had never heard so many nice things
said about a person. Karl Schmidt, the butcher, told me how Skipper had helped his son through a
tough time. Joey Jones, one of the mail room clerks, spoke about the loss of his father and what
Skipper meant to him. This was just the beginning of the amount praise we received on Skipper„s
behalf. I just smiled, nodded, and listened. I began to wonder what people would think of me later in
life; how would I be remembered?

News of Skipper‟s death reached the town of Rocin after our victory against “the General“
and Ike High School. The whole town went into mourning that Monday afternoon. Men and women
took to wearing black arm bands as they carried on with their daily lives. Even the team had a black
arm band sewn onto their jerseys to show other teams their deep feeling of loss for their beloved coach.
Holes and Harry clinched and cried when they heard the news from Doc Woods prior to the
town‟s own informant. I watched Ski, knowing how deep his feelings were for Skipper, but his tears
were not for public consumption. He would drown his tears in his own good time.
The coaches gathered the team together to let then know of Coach O‟Bryan‟s death. With
youthful enthusiasm, and a lack of many of the Boys to have experienced the intimacy of close grief,
their sorrow was much more animated then I would have expected. Many sought out others to show
them how to react, others, with the reactionary and violent minds of youthful football players, had a
tendency for the need of a physical relief.
Holes stepped up to the center of the team, after the initial hurt had broken upon them. He had
in his hand a piece of well-worn typing paper, that seemed to draw his attention. Much of the noise
seemed to abate as he cleared his throat, and waited for the rest of the grieving commotion to cease.
“ I found this on Skipper‟s desk the other day as I was looking for a scouting report on the
defensive line for the Longhorns. I found this piece of paper laying on top of the report, as if it was part
of the report he had wanted to share with you if we got this far in the play-offs. I would like to read it.
It is from a poem or saying written by General Douglas MacAurther, who was in charge of the Pacific
Theater during World War II. It is called, „Build Me A Son„- I think…..?”

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave
enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and
humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee-and
that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of
difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion
for those who are in jail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will, master
himself before he seeks to master other men, one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the
past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may
always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always
remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom and the meekness of true
strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, „I have not lived in vain„.”

How Holes read this without breaking down, I do not know? His acting abilities came in handy
that day, as he paused and enunciated each word with the proper amount of delicacy. Holes had just
summed up our job in that MacArthur‟s prayer. He had just summed up what Skipper had tried to do.
Each one of those Boys was our son, to be molded and shaped by us, until they could go off on their
own, and, one day, take our place as the molder and shaper of others.

****

Skipper and his coffin were placed onto a platform at the Rocin High School football field the
day before his burial. The ceremonies, for that is what they were, began with the Irish Society of
Rocin‟s lone piper taking the field in a placid silence. I have heard Highland bagpipers before, but on
this occasion it reached an emotional depth I have never encountered. The sound of “ Amazing Grace”
held the stadium as if everyone there was hypnotized awaiting a sound to make them wake up . No
sound interrupted the harsh , yet haunting melodies of the lone piper. The hair on my neck stood up,
and I felt a tingle run up my spine and flood my head with emotion. Anne‟s presence and her hand
helped me hold onto my composure. She was my rock, and I was lucky- no blessed- to have her,
especially at this moment in time.
It seemed at the time like each Christian denomination‟s leader had an opportunity to speak at
Skipper funeral. Most of the speakers were seated on the raised wooden platform that held up
Skipper‟s magnificent walnut casket. Each one spoke on the substance of life after death, and how
Skipper was in Heaven or Purgatory, shining like the sun, and feeling no earthly pain. I , still selfishly,
felt earthly pain at my loss of Skipper. I was not alone.
The one speaker who reached out and struck me with his words in my reprieve, was Reverend
Hope of the First Baptist Church of Rocin. He may have lost the river race, but he was out distancing
the other speakers as my mind begin to register his words.
“You young men”, speaking to the players, and perhaps others “ do not go forth from this
funeral of your beloved and treasured coach, with the pain so intense in your heart that you fell the
need to make it emanate into something more tangible. Do not harm or mark yourself to show your
grievous pain, but let Your Life be a testament for what he has done for You. “
That struck home with me. As I stood to sing the ending song, I kept repeating those words of
Rev. Hope over and over in my head...‟Your Life be a testament for what he has done for You!‟, as I
watched the dormant casket with expectant eyes.
No matter where I am, or what I am doing, the song, Taps, is a reminder of those who have
gone before us. I took Anne‟s hand after the sad song, and watched Holes approach Skipper‟s casket
and place an American flag over it on the now emptied platform. It was if they were all alone.
This was not the first chance each of the coaches got to spend a few moments alone with
Skipper after his death. There was a tradition of sitting up with the dead in this country many years
ago.
The day Skipper‟s body had returned to Rocin in the ambulance, all four of us coaches got together and
bought his casket at the Hennessy Funeral Home. We had not looked into how much money Skipper
had in his back account, this casket was a parting gift from all of us in tribute to him and what he had
done for us. We also agreed to take turns keeping Skipper company through the night. Ski volunteered
for the first shift starting at four o„clock pm, then Harry, Holes and myself took our turn every fourth
hour. I prayed throughout my time on duty for Skipper„s soul, and got to see the sunrise with Skipper
one more time.
The night of the stadium funeral as I was entering, I had seen Mrs. Koreneke, with tears in her
eyes and the ever present cigarette in her hand, headed towards her seat. She saw me watching her, and
waved a soft slow motion hand towards me in recognition. Later, as I was leaving she came over and
gave me a big hug, and a brushed kiss me on my face. She held onto my shoulders, looked me right in
my teary eyes and stated:
“Muley, Skipper loved you so much. He told Lester , my husband, how proud he was of you.
How much you had grown, and how happy he was for you and Anne. “
“And Muley”, she intoned, “ he knows you can win that game against Marshall, and so do I.”
With a quick second hug she and Lester were gone. I was left with the husky smell of
cigarettes, her rich perfume, and an order to beat Marshall High School from the grave.
I have attended other funerals, I have heard many speeches shared, but that moment with the
bagpiper has stayed with me all these years: watching the casket, hoping for change, yet not expecting
one. I cannot forget, and nor do I wish too.
Chapter Thirty Five
The Play-Offs
****

Marshall High School was located in Roughstock, Texas. A town associated with horses, cows,
and oil. The only true difference between the two schools in the state‟s football playoffs, was Skipper‟s
spirit. A black stripe had been painted around the middle of all the school buses which took part on
our journey north to play in Austin.
Even the supporters‟ cars had black ribbons, or black electrical tape affixed to their antennas.
It was a somber , serious spirit that drove north with us. Watching the cars and trucks in my rearview
mirror tucked in behind the buses in a long line, curving and moving to adjust to the road, made me
feel superior as I drove the lead bus pointing the way. Each coach drove a bus, and there was no time
to share emotions or game strategy as we drove- no cell phones. Ski and I drove the football team
while Holes drove the band. As usual, Handsome Harry took the drill team and cheerleaders, but not so
much to look at the young women, but to enjoy the companionship of the mothers chaperoning their
daughters on the way to the game and back. Things were slowly returning to normal. Harry‟s passion
for the opposite sex had not been abated, or satiated with Skipper‟s death, or even the single mother
from Cloverville. It was good to know some things had not changed.
I was nervous about Marshall. They were a worthy opponent, with a grisly, tough talking
World War II Army veteran called “Hap” Horseman in charge. Their offense line was a breed apart
that thrived on contact- punishing physical contact. The only contact their quarterback had had all
season with their opponents, was when he tripped in a hole on a cow pasture of a football field that
they were playing on and landed on top of the other team‟s mascot. At least, that‟s what I had been
told.
We had not been able to get much film on Marshall from the other schools around the state, but
I had talked with enough coaches who lead me to understand how tough they really were. Based on my
information, the two defenses would be evenly matched, the difference would be in our offense verses
theirs. We seemed healthy enough with Zippy Zipalac, and Juking Jones at the running back
positions, Godzilla Godfrey at fullback, and Aussie quarterbacking the game.
Lupe Lopez was snapping at center, and the left side tackle, Krietz, was his only replacement.
Hale had injured his knee in practice, and Nacho Rios was the new body taking his place at the left side
guard. The left side end was our signal provider, and we rotated between two brothers known as Hurt
and Injured.
The right side was our true “run-to side”, anchored by Hog Curtis at guard, and James “and the
giant peach” Jarvis at tackle. Jarvis was an easy-going guy, that was until he got mad. He had been one
of Holes projects, one of the few that had really worked out well. Clydesdale was the tight end, and
with all three working together, there were not many teams we could not move.
If a problem existed for our team, it was offensive personal. The loss of any one of these
players would be a key one for us that night.
As these thoughts went through my mind, I realized I was entering the City of Austin. Grabbing
the map and the directions I had written down, I began to look for the streets and exits I would need to
get to the stadium. I found the stadium with only one wrong turn.
What a sight it was to see this parade of buses, cars, and trucks turning into a parking lot,
making a U turn and heading out the same exit in the opposite direction. A police officer saw the
problem as it developed, and jumped out of his car and into traffic to keep us all moving together. As
we entered into traffic he waved, and I thought I heard him say, “ Go gett‟em Rocin!”. It was good to
know others from around the state were for us.
The stadium was large by seventies standards holding about 35,000 people. Driving up to the
stadium out of the daily rush of big city traffic was much like entering into a church from the busy
sidewalk, to the hushed, and silent tombs of a city church. Even the sacred feeling one could get in a
church was felt that day as we realized we were finally here for the big game- and Skipper.
All the buses piled in one behind the other to let the team, and the other support groups off.
After giving the Boys on my bus their marching orders, I exited the bus about the same time as Holes
and Ski. Holes pantomimed as if asking me for some directions, then he started shrugging his
shoulders while opening up his hands in a questioning manner, as if asking, what was I thinking? I just
shrugged my shoulders back at him.
I had expected a sarcastic comment from Ski, but he just looked at me and gave me a small
smile while his eyes remained hidden by those mirrored glasses ensconced on his face. Since the night
I had found him in the stands, till the death of Skipper, our relationship had been declared neutral;
neither hot nor cold. He asked me questions when necessary, but made no other comment either
positive or negative. He let me do my thing, and I appreciated that.
Harry on the other hand was standing outside his bus with his chaperoning groupies. Like a
Samson of sorts, but unlike Samson, it was not Handsome Harry‟s his long hair, but his body. I just
could not ever see Harry fat, or lonely.

****
We trailed the Boys into the spacious dressing room at the large stadium in Austin. Inside the
dressing rooms we found immaculate and spacious individual lockers, toilets, and even showers. There
was even an area located a ways from the lockers so that a person could sit and think by himself-
definitely something the Boys would not find at home in Rocin. Each wall surrounding the locker
room itself, had a large chalk board centered into the wall, and plenty of chalk so that before the
game, and during half-time, individual coaches could go through and work with his group of players.
But, this was not all, around the room were four ice cold water fountains. With these types of
connivances, I knew I could get use to this type of coaching accommodations. The players had had
lunch on the road, hand made by the mothers and sisters of the town of Rocin. Tamales were being
traded for sandwiches. chips for popcorn, but no one traded their brownies. Now the players were
cleaning up, and preparing for the pre-game warm up.
The pre-game warm up followed the same procedures as usual. The Boys went out without
their shoulder pads and helmets, only their jerseys, and did same slow individual or group stretches.
Each group went out together and followed the warm up of their offensive position coach. Holes took
the line men with the help of a student teacher who had kindly offered his help after Skipper‟s death. I
am sure he hoped to get a job in Rocin after his graduation, but being related to Vice-Principal Smith
was bound to help him obtain a position anyways. No matter, his help was greatly appreciated.
This type of warm up was a relaxing way to get the players use to the stadium and get their
pre-game jitters out and into a physical realm. The early fans from Rocin who had followed the bus up
to Austin, sat in their seats watching the work out and their favorite players. Linemen were busy
staying locked in their combative embrace and dance within the five yard line. The quarterbacks and
receivers with most of the backs, were working their magic ten or more yards downfield going in the
opposite direction of the linemen. A cadence, a snap, a roll out, a sprint, and the dramatic dash and
grasp that constitutes a reception that enthralls fans and announcers alike. It was during this time of
throwing and receiving, that Ski and I came into contact, he with his receivers and me with the backs.
We were watching the Boys go through their rounds at this time of warm up, when Ski cleared his
throat and made his announcement.
“ Muley, the defense is mine.”
I felt like we had had this conversation many times before in the past eleven days since
Skipper‟s burial. Perhaps, I had been so worried about this moment in time, I had dreamed the other
times, or fantasized about them in my head. Either way, it was a reality now. I knew what Killer Bob
wanted, and I was glad to give it to him. It was one less responsibility I needed today. Before I
answered, I looked into the stands, as the wind blew through my mesh baseball cap. In the stands, and
near the sidelines I saw Anne. She was dolled up for this game with the bee-hive hairdo and the new
dress. I enjoyed this vision a few more moments before I spoke.
“Ski”, I answered, “ the defense is yours. I will not challenge you or override you on any
defense decision you make. Even defensive penalties calls well be yours to make.”
I paused a moment and gathered strength looking at Anne in the bleachers.
“ All I ask, is that you give me the same courtesy on the offensive side of the football.”
I waited for Ski‟s response. I did not have to wait long.
“Fair enough”, he replied, “but we have to win this game for Skipper.”
I nodded my agreement, even as I continued thinking on his statement.
I thought about questioning him whether he meant Skipper or the town of Rocin. But to Killer
Bob, they were one and the same. I just nodded my head and watched Aussie, and the Clydesdale, our
tight end, connect on a pass across the middle. Dale the Clydesdale was a large- quick on movement,
but slow on speed individual- who seemed to catch colds more then he could the ball. Today I watched
him and hoped we could use him as a weapon against Roughstock. Any load he could take off our ball
carriers would be greatly appreciated.
By this time, Holes had brought the centers down to the quarterbacks and receivers for some
ball exchanges from scrimmage. After about ten crisp snaps, we were done. Our time was up on the
field, and we had the Boys jog back to our dressing room. Holes and I jogged back together. He
brought out his Red Man chewing tobacco, and offered me a chew. This seemed to be a habit between
Holes and I. Him offering me the communal pouch before the game, and me accepting. He never asked
me to return the favor, or teased me about it. It was just a fact. An act of kindness, or community, that I
have always appreciated.
He had been less humorous and more serious as of late. He had more responsibility now that
Skipper was gone. But, every now and then a fleck of humor
It was also a time when nobody seemed to mind men chewing and spitting on the sidelines. I
took a pinch between my fingers and thumb, placed it in my back cheek, and let that tingle roll out my
throat and down my neck. I rolled the foil pouch down, and handed it back to him with the same
solemnity as it had been handed to me. Ours eyes met as he took the pouch.
“For Skipper and our Boys, right Muley?”
“Right “, I stated.
At least with Holes‟ attitude you got Skipper and the Boys. Ski‟s love of Skipper seemed to
have colored his vision. The Boys did not seem to fit Ski„s alliances; Ski only owed Skipper and he
would pay him back by victory against Marshall. Looking back I think it was me whose vision was
colored by my resentment of Killer Bob. He was a good coach, and the way he treated his Boys, I
knew he had studied Skipper well.

****

By the time the coaches got into the dressing room, the backs and receivers were putting on
their gear while the linemen, who were dressed out already, waited on the benches for the coaches to
speak before going out and competing in the state play-offs against Roughstock. I knew I should be the
last to talk; I felt my stomach give a nervous heave.
I had just put in that large wad of chewing tobacco with Holes outside, and now I needed to
spit. I could not just leave while Ski talked with the Boys to unload this mouth full of brown spittle,
and nor could I leave to find a ready spittoon. The players were watching, and I did not want them to
think I did not appreciate what Ski was saying. There were enough problems going into the game. I
would not drive another wedge between myself and Ski, by leaving during his speech. I began to
swallow, a little at a time. Just enough to stop the panic from setting in and drowning in my own
juices.
I am not sure what Holes and Ski had said to the Boys as I sat there drowning, all I knew was, I
had to get this spittle up and out. It took me a moment to realize Harry‟s turn had come and gone, with
him saying as little as possible. All eyes were focused on me. It was at that moment I knew what I
was going to do.
I had seen as I jogged in, our trainers had mistakenly taken one of Marshall‟s towels with their
Longhorn logo. Someone had put it one the ground near the lockers so the players could tread on it
before going out and playing. I turned towards that towel, and let out the harriest, nastiest, most
variegated sting of tobacco juice anyone had ever seen before. The cord of tobacco juice surged
forward with all the players and coaches eyes fixed upon its arching course, and with better luck then
aim, landed smack in the middle of the Longhorn logo on the towel. Everyone‟s eyes were affixed to
the towel and the brown stain that was spreading to cover all parts of the Longhorn.
Now that my drowning worries were over, I opened my mouth not only to talk but breathe, and
let the words take their own journey out of my mouth.
“ We are here today,” I thundered moistly, “ because of the vision of the man we all knew
affectionately as Skipper. We are here today because he set this course for you and the town of Rocin.
We are almost at the end of this journey. Tonight we are stepping out to play in the state playoffs
against a school that has been here many times before. “
I paused. I was going to have to spit again, but I needed to wait fro the right moment. I hoped it
would not sound like a drowning man as I spoke again.
“ This is our first trip here, and I hope not our last. But, Skipper would not care if we lost today.
All he would have asked is that we participate in this old world, and do our best- „to be proud and
unbending in defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.‟
I had starting walking towards the now brown Longhorn towel on the floor. Most eyes were
either on me or that towel.
“But doing your best”, I continued, “ we will beat “, I spat directly on top of the Longhorn this
time,” Marshall, and any other team that dares gets in our way!”
I was now starting to feel the adrenaline flow through me. All eyes were focused on me. I now
commanded the floor.
“I want to win this game for Skipper”, eyes began to water, including my own “ I want his
game for Rocin, but most of all, I want it for you and all the players who ever played for Skipper. And
if we do not win this game, let us leave our blood, sweat, and tears on that field, knowing we gave our
best, and leaving with our heads held high, ready to do battle with any and all comers who should
challenge us no matter where we go from here.”
The energy rushed through me, and with it was flecks of spittle. I was on fire. If I had been a
minister that day, I would have converted thousands. Instead I had thirty-five hard charging teenage
football players standing up and spitting on the Roughstock Longhorn towel as I shouted, “ Now, let‟s
go beat Marshall!”
I was ready to take the field myself, except as I turned around I saw David Sheppard entering
the room in his military uniform. He entered tall and proud. I was so surprised, I said nothing until he
asked me if he could say a few words and lead the team in prayer. I looked around at Holes and then
Ski, each one shaking their head yes in turn. I also nodded, and David nodded back in a way of saying
thanks.
“ I was not able to make it back to Rocin to say goodbye to Skipper.”
He began this statement while looking at all the players, but ended looking down. With his next
statement his eyes were back up again.
“Today you take out on that field all that Skipper ever taught us.. his Boys. You represent all of
us. The folks at the city café, the garage, the nursing home, and the stores. The people at the churches,
the schools and even those of us in the army.”
His next statement came with glistening eyes and clinched jaws. “ Now, let us go out and win
this one for Skipper!”
Again, the team was ready! All of us, even the coached, primed and ready to go, but we were
stopped short by David‟s words.
“Let us bow our head and pray.”
I had just bowed my head when I realized Pastor Chuck was suppose to give the pre-game
prayer for the team. We had tossed a coin between Father Tom, Pastor Chuck and Brother Hope,
before we left Rocin. The Lutheran‟s had won, and Pastor Chuck had been with us since we had
unloaded the bus. From the bowed head position, I opened one eye and looked in his direction. He was
watching me, and he smiled and gently nodded his acceptance of David‟s usurping of his role as prayer
leader that night.
After the prayer, I felt we had done all we could to get this team here and ready to play football,
now it was in God‟s hands.
When I say Gods‟ hands, I do not believe God favors one team over another. I do not believe
you ask God to grant you victory over an opponent in a athletic endeavor between too teams. No, you
need only to ask God to watch over the two teams and keep them from injury. Let the rest of the
mattered be settled on the field of strength and strategy. God has enough on his plate without deciding
a football game in Texas. Even Holes quote of Captain Jack Hayes at the wedding reception made note
of that.
Chapter Thirty Six
The Game
****

We entered the football field like Roman Gladiators preparing for the slaughter. People, stood
as we took the field, and cheer as we ran through some group warm-ups in full pads. By the end of the
stretches, the coin had already been tossed, and we had won. We had chosen to receive. And receive
we did, and the game was on.
Both teams battled up and down the green grid, using up three downs and kicking on the forth.
Each teams‟ special teams was getting a work out. Harry was in charge of special teams, and took this
part of his job very serious. There was no time for Harry to look up in the stands to check out the pretty
ladies, nor did we expect him too.
His not on-the-field special teams personnel stood by him throughout the game waiting to be
sent in, therefore he did not need to yell each time for a head count of who was missing. Holes was up
in the press box watching for defensive opportunities and offensive tendencies. So far that night,
Marshall had played heads up football.
This scoreless battle was waged until the end of the third quarter, when Marshall‟s little scat
back took the pitch from the right, and juked and jived his way thirty plus yards into the end zone. I
would have enjoyed the run, if I had been in the stands, but coaching against this candy legged back
did not make one happy coach. Killer Bob throw his clip board at the bench in disgust and turned the
afternoon blue with many choice words intending to motivate players and gain their attention. It did
gain their attention and many others in the stands.
After they had scored the touch down, and kicked the extra point, Harry tried to motivate the
kick-off return team, and remind them of their duties. He finished by pointing at the black ribbon
sewed on their right jersey sleeve, and the black tape that laid across their helmets that represented
Skipper. They got the message as they tore off to take the field.
What we had not prepared for was the on-sides kick they booted to us. They used a signal man
up front by the kicker, who stood by the ball and would drop his hands as a signal that the kick-off
team should take off now, just prior to the contact between kicker and teed up football. Guadalupe
“Lupe” Lopez was on the front line next to the Clydesdale when the ball hammered the ground
between them and bounced into the waiting arms of the third slowest person on the team-Lupe. The
first person to hit Lupe bounced off, the second was blocked by the Clydesdale and driven into the
ground, but the third hit the ball, which sprang free and into the arms of the forth man downfield for
Marshall. Mincemeat took him down, no they had enviable field position for their first possession. The
Marshall fans went wild, and so did their fake Longhorn mascot with puffs of smoke shooting out of
his nostrils.
Harry almost lost his polished veneer, as a vein throbbed to life on his forehead, but he made it.
The veneer was already back in place when he realized he had not prepared them for this possibility
during practice the week before. He spoke to them calmly, almost gently, accepting of the blame and
telling them how to handle it the next time they were on the field. He too had learned a lot from
Skipper.
The Longhorns were not able score but brought themselves into field goal range, and made the
goal from thirty yards out. This ended the third quarter. Killer Bob had calmed down somewhat, and
during the quarter change tried to correct the problems on defense where the Longhorns had hurt us the
most.
There was no on-sides kick this time, probable because Harry had taken care of the problem,
and put a few hands people, like Hennessy and Mentz, up front in case we needed to handle the ball.
Hen Hennessey was placed into the second tier of the kick-off return team, to help recover any short
kicks and strengthen the front line for on-sides kicks. He was there because he was as near fearless as
anyone I had ever met. If on that night, during that play, he had a short-man‟s complex, than I wish we
could have bottled it and given a cupful to each player.
The ball was kicked off by the Longhorn kicker, who had pouched it higher then normal, as to
get more players downfield and onto the kick returner then would normally be there for a regular
kickoff. His ball traveled high, and upon landing bounced backwards back towards the second tier of
the return team and into Hennessey‟s area.
A middle wedege had been called by Harry, but on the take off of the ball, and the position it
had assumed, the middle wedge became a line, or really two lines. The good thing about these two
layered lines were, all the Rocin players picked up the onslaught the Longhorn herd as they stampeded
down field. Second and third tier picked up the head hunters, the front tier picked off the slower,
beefier heads. Hen took one look at that ball, and knew it was his. His grab the ball and ran, ran right in
there amongst the stampeding storm. We, on the sidelines, thought he was a goner. I was already
pulling Injury over towards me to call the first offensive play, when out of the scuffle shot a familiar
bantam figure- Hen! He broke free of the front line hordes, and dashed towards the goal line, with
almost a swagger in his fearless abandon.
If there was anyone going to stop him, it was Marshall‟s kicker, who was the kick-off team‟s
safety; the last line of defense. I found myself moving with the team in the direction of our goal line, as
if we could join in the game from our sidelines and block the safety. Hens nick name changed that day,
as he never once tried to fake this player out with amazing grace and balance. He went at him.
I look back and think, perhaps, the Rooster, knew what he was doing, because the safety never
had time to break down and get a good aim at him. Rooster, formerly Hen, lowered his upper torso at
the waist, and, using his neck and helmet as a whip, stuck the safety right in the face, knocking him
backwards and onto his kester, rolling head over heels.
The kicker was not without a competitive streak himself, and therefore stretched out a hand,
while on the ground and caught Hennessey around the ankle. The hold did not last long , but slowed
him down long enough to allow other members of the Longhorn team to gain ground in their own
territory. He was nineteen yards to the Marshall‟s touch line, with the objective will in mind, when the
kicker‟s grab made him stagger and over compensate turning his body around, but still allowing him to
move backwards in the direction of the goal.
Hennessy‟s swagger was gone, replaced by a firm desperation, as he watched the oncoming
defenders and his own team mates gain ground on him as he continued to move backwards towards the
goal line. The All-State linebacker from Marshall hit him a thunderous blow at the four yard line, that
was, thankfully dampened by a hard breathing Doug Wohl, who had run stride for stride with
Marshall‟s best giving him a shoulder block at almost the same instance. With Doug‟s block, I
personally would have married Gloria to Doug, that very minute, as the Rooster flew into the end zone,
landing one yard over the goal line in an unceremonious heap. The Rooster had landed, and the
situation was well in hand.
There was some helmet and back slapping between the players, and a standing ovation for the
Rooster when he coolly jogged off the field. The score now read: ten to six, Marshall‟s favor. We now
had an opportunity to score again on the point after attempt. I decided to go for two. We should have
stayed with one. Marshall plugged up the middle, as we thought they would, but then they threw in a
scissor type stunt on the front line between tackle and defensive end, which blew the blocking
assignments off an off-tackle play. The linebacker joined in and made a meal out of Zippy who never
crossed the line of scrimmage. The score remained the same.

****

With Rooster‟s score, we were then four points behind Marshall, and the forth quarter was upon
us. We kicked off to Marshall, who then went three downs and out , punting the ball deep into our
territory. We returned the favor on the next series giving them the ball on about their twenty-forth yard
line. Their next push, brought them to about our thirty yard line, and with help from Aussie, we
intercepted a pass, and took it to about mid-field.
Holes had left the press box and had joined us on the sidelines after the interception. He made
an effort to let me know the two point try was a good decision. The problem was: we could not win or
tie with just a field goal, we had to score a touch down -again. Even as he talked with me, he was
roaring encouragement and correcting the problems of his linemen as they were snapping on their
helmets, headed out for our next offensive series. That man knew how to encourage his players- and
other coaches.
Throughout the season, Aussie and I had used a simple method of moving plays in and out. We
exchanged our left ends every play. Aussie had settled down and started to read the defense a little
more. He seemed to take charge, and from my observations, had given needed encouragement to others
on the field. We hit Clydesdale on second down, across the middle for about ten yards, and he dragged
about four of them with him for five more yards, giving us a rarity that night- a first down. With a fake
dive from the bone, and a little miss-direction in the back field, we took off on our second first down of
this series. I was overjoyed. We were moving the ball.
The next two downs were a fizzle, and a punt was considered by Ski and I, but I decide to go
for it instead. We play action-ed in the back field, sending our fullback, Godzilla, up the middle for the
fake dive, then out into an empty man coverage, and a well-thrown pass by Aussie. Aussie and
Godzilla had become so good at the fake hand-off, that I was not always sure who had the ball, and I
had been the one who had called the play. They were that good together. This series was our best so
far, and with another first down, we were gaining ground fast.
There is nothing comparable to a momentum changer, and the sweeping enthusiasm that comes
with success. We were experiencing success and I was being carried by the feeling of joy both from the
crowd‟s energy and that energy which was gathering like a storm on the field. I could feel the emotion,
and it felt powerfully rich.
I felt that way even as the new offensive play headed out to the field in the hands of Hurt and
into the hands of our Aussie football captain. This play called for a double team between the tackle and
guard with a kick out block by our fullback in order to take advantage of their secondary which had
back off to prepare for Aussie‟s pass.
I watched the snap with the sure acceptance we would push on and persevere.
The snap exploded from the center hips and hit Aussie on target but that was the last exchange
that would be on target. Aussie took the snap reserved out to freeze the backside backer, spun around
and headed to his right. The full back, Godzilla, headed directly towards the defensive end, while
Jonesy counter stepped and headed right himself. The double team between Dale and The Peach caved
down the defensive tackle, and gave Godzilla an open sight on the defensive end. He sent the end
flying, while Jonsey and Aussie made the lamented exchange. Jonsey‟s hands where in the wrong
position as he focused his attention on his up-field vision. The ball made contact and then slipped
through his fingers before he even reached the scrimmage line. While a moment ago I had felt
invincible, I now felt desperate and unbelieving. Ski‟s defense would have to finish the job we had
started.
Killer Bob would not make eye contact with me as he passed me on the sidelines talking to the
defensive captain, and I felt his blame swirling around me in unspoken waves. We had to get that ball
back, again the feeling of desperation was overwhelming as I struggled mentally for the magic formula
that could help us win. As any good coach knows there is no magic formula for winning, unless you
call good players, good coaches, sound strategy, and a willingness to give of your time, sweat, and
family moments a magic formula. I do not. It is hard and, at times, thankless work that is the formula. I
learned it again that night.
The stalwart defense limited Marshall‟s offense to a total of six yards after making two first
downs during that series. Ski was turning red and shouting changes in the defense right up until the
snap of the football.
We took over the ball on our own sixteen yard line with 36 seconds left in the forth quarter,
after their punt. Time was running out on us. I used our last time out to jog down to Ski and asked a
question.
“ Coach, if I get us down to their ten yard line, can you hold them down there for me?
He looked at me, as if I had two heads.
“What the hell are you talking about Muley? “He blurted.
“Ski, I do not have enough time to score, I need the defense‟s help. Can you do it?”
I waited for Ski‟s response. He took his time, and slowly, nodding his head said:
“What do you need me to do, and for how long?”
Holes had joined us and listened intently as I told them what I was planning. The look on
Holes‟ face was one of incredibility.
“No way Muley, we can‟t just punt the ball on first down! The refs will turn the ball over.”
“Right, I said, “ we punt it, allow them to pick it up and plow them into the turf, striping the
ball and scoring. If we do not get it back, Ski has got to stop them deep in their own territory and get it
back for us.”
“You are crazy Muley….a damn ..stupid ..quick kick!.” Holes responded in disbelief, and
turned away in disgust.
Ski thought it over and agreed with Muley.
“ Lets do it, but Muley, I am gonna hold you responsible either way.”
The decision was all mine, and I was scared, yet determined.
The fact was, I was a new coach then, and could afford to take chances, that later in life, I
would not make. Youth has it adventures.

****

I called over the team and told them of our plan. We would line up in a tight formation with our
backs and defensive specialist in the line-up instead of our big boys to protect Aussie from Marshall‟s
defense, and also to provide us with the speed to get us down the field and, hopefully, into their end
zone. The idea was to let them touch the ball, and then strip them of it. The element of surprise was on
our side. The team looked energized again, and ready to go. Holes just stood there staring at me while
shaking his head. I knew this had better work or I was going to lose my friend.
Rocin took the field, and huddled up, and then fall out to line up in the tight formation. Aussie
never made it under center, he just flicked his hands like a punter, and punted the ball to about the
sixteenth yard line and then it bounced forward, and then began a backwards roll towards their goal
line.
Marshall‟s defense, looked shocked as it tried to figure out where the ball was. Everyone except
the two secondary member who had a chance to watch the ball take off and land behind their position
on the field. The closest defender took off towards the ball as Godzilla, Vacek, and even Aussie along
with Jonesy headed down field making a beeline towards the ball. The Vise was the first one to the
ball, and paused just long enough to let the defender place a hand on the ball, and then clobbered him.
The ball sprung loose, and was laying about so that anyone with gumption could pick it up. That was
Aussie.
Aussie picked the ball up and started to run, only to find his path blocked by a Marshall
defender who had finally made it down field. Instead of juking him, Aussie ran straight at him and
just before they made contact, he rugby tossed it to Godzilla following like a wingback to his outside.
Godzilla, caught it, but was caught from behind by Marshall‟s All-State Linebacker who had made it
back down field to help out his team. Godzilla had the presence of mind to toss it behind him to the
Clydesdale who had finally appeared on the scene, and was slightly taken aback by that grid iron
bounty that landed in his hands. With a host of the Longhorn‟s screaming defenders placed upon his
person, Dale rumbled seven yards across the goal line. This was not what I had expected. I turned to
look at Holes who was caught up in the moment, yelling and screaming with the best of them. Ski was
looking perplexed at the official, and, I realized with trepidation, it was because there was a yellow
flag on the field.
The little boy in me wanted to reach out and hide the flag before anyone saw it, but the man in
me wanted this win fair and square, and I stood still and awaited my sentence like the condemned man
I felt. We all waited for the umpire‟s call. The official called the coaches to the middle of the field,
while the fans waited to hear the results. Ski and I both went out and met with the umpire and Marshall
head coach. He looked disgusted at both of us, but waited for the explanation of the call. Since this had
not happened before, or not in a long time, there was some confusion as to the call. The decision had
been made to call the ball dead at the ten yard line with Marshall High School in procession and adding
fifteen seconds to the official clock. There was still a chance! All we needed was to strip them of the
ball and score.
I had not given up, I was not going to give up, I was going to win this for Skipper. Before we
left the center of the field the Hap looked hard at us, without any humor.
“ That was a stupid trick you two pulled, but I knew Skipper, and I know you want to win it for
him. But, the tomfoolery stops now. If you want to win this game, you had better do it right- the way
Skipper would have done it!”
With that he turned around and stormed off to his sidelines. Ski walked back in silence, and just
as we got to our sidelines, he turned to me, and said:
“Skipper would have done the same thing if he thought he could get away with it. You did
alright Muley.”
Kind words at a rough time, but I appreciated them more then he could have known.
Killer Bob, yelled out, “Defense”, and his Boys came a running.
The Hap had decided to put some distance between himself and his teams goal line, and ran a lead
right up the middle. It was a good , safe call, but Ski had put the Whale at Nose, and when the center
and guard could not move him, Vacek and Mentz liberated the ball with a couple of cheap jabs to the
carry arm of the running back as they stood him up at the line of scrimmage, and we took position at
the nine yard line.
Ski‟s defense, with Whale‟s help, had brought us back to the edge of victory. It was now my
turn. We loaded up and powered into the best defense we had come across all year. We gained zero
yards, and time was running out. On third down and less then four seconds to the gun, I decided to go
off tackle and let Dale, Jarvis the tackle and Godzilla do their damage in hopes we could push it in.
The play was run in by a receiver nicked named Injury as his twin brother Hurt came off the field.
As he approached the huddle he began pointing to the black tape which Holes and all the
coaches had taped down the middle of all the helmets. When he ran out pointing to his helmet, the rest
of the players on the sidelines began pointing at theirs. The Boys on the field finally understood, and
they too began pointing at the tape on their helmets. Our fans in the stands recognized the action as a
way to motivate the Boys on the field, and the reason they wanted this win so badly- for Skipper.
With the play announced in the huddle by Aussie, and the renewed energy of the Boys, the play
took off from the line of scrimmage with the grunting, heaving, pushing, pulling tug-a-war called
football. The play developed off-tackle just as I had seen it in my mind‟s eye, and was executed nearly
to perfection. I did not realize I was holding my breathe, with a small voice in my head speaking the
word “Skipper” over and over, until Jonesy broke through the line of scrimmage and dashed the
remaining yards for our second touchdown of the game.
When Jonesy reach the touch line, the voice in me finally yelled “breathe!” and I did followed
by a huge yell of victory and elation, not only for the Boys but also for Skipper. The score now read:
Marshall 10- Rocin 12, as we made the point after attempt with Aussie kicking off a cup full of sand.
We had forgotten the point after tee, and Hap was not of a mind to lend one to us.
We had won! Skipper had won! The town of Rocin had finally won! He had given his Boys and
the town of Rocin the victory he felt they so richly deserved. We had won for all of them, all the Boys
that had ever played for the Coach, that was what he had wanted. For me, I was happy for our Boys,
but I had wanted it for Skipper.

****
I felt the wind stir my slight hair again, and my thoughts turned again Harry and the large
canister of hair spray he had used in the field house. We had changed over the years.
Handsome Harry, left teaching all together, and married a wealthy widow, who set him up as a
salesman for a sports drink out in Florida. He is now living in Lake Tahoe off his good fortune. He was
not able to make Ski‟s funeral due to a death in his own family.
Holes followed me after leaving Rocin, and retired a few years before I did. I have not lost
track of him though, as his sons grew up, cleaned up , they too coached for me, keeping me informed
of how he was driving their mother mad at home with his humor and practical jokes. His last coaching
assignment had been coaching his granddaughter‟s softball team, until some mother complained of him
chewing tobacco all the time around the girls. After a meeting with the parents, they gave him an
ultimatum; he countered with one of his own: if he can‟t chew tobacco, then he would not coach.
Funny thing is no matter where I go in this town of Rocin, all I hear are the praises of Coach
Ski, and what a wonderful guy he was and how much he did for their Boys- his Boys… just like
Skipper. I guess the Boys are not the only sort of heroes out there on Friday nights. You can see them
every Friday or Saturday night in their game shirts, cap and slacks, grabbing their Boys, correcting
them, encouraging them, and even hugging them. You can go to any high school and watch them in
their hallways or classes, teaching, counseling, and even helping their Boys. I have coached against
many of them, and watched them grow old and gray. But the good ones are never forgotten by those
who played for them; their legacy lives on in their player or students.
We must lead our lives as a testament for what others have done for us. No, Skipper is never far
away from my mind, none of those men are.

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