Thursday, July 22, 2010


Randy Jackson. Coach.

At Robinson Junior High School, from 1979- 1981, I got to know 'Coach.' It was during this time that my siblings and I re-entered the world of public schooling~ and I became like the proverbial child in a candy store. Everything was new and exciting... and tempting. My internal compass had been skewed, albeit briefly, but I was lucky enough to find North again with the wisdom and words from an educator I had just met. Coach.

A requirement in our junior high schooling was that each student had to participate in a physical education class~ I believe. (Had it not been, there's no way I would've taken it!) The boys and girls had gender designated teachers- Mrs. Moberly for the girls and Coach Jackson for the boys. Since we shared a gym, the boys and girls inevitably interacted, (like moths to the flame) and that meant we girls, too, had access to Coach.

As I was reflecting in the early hours of this morning while composing this post in virtual head space, my husband asked me why I remembered Coach so well. Since that asking, I've been struggling to answer the question of 'Why?' Why did this man~ Coach Jackson~ who I knew for a brief two years in my youth, and saw for maybe an hour a day~ why did I remember him and why do I deeply feel his loss almost 30 years later?

As many, I've been really fortunate to have had a handful of wonderful teachers on this journey. I know the impact an educator can have, and I aspire to that in my interactions with my own students. Coach always stood out though. He transcended routine classroom lessons (and those gawd awful up/downs!) and saw the vulnerable kid standing there before him. And in our little world, this man, this local hero, this survivor, saw us. He was simply 'gold.'

Prepubescent teens are a challenging age to work with, and even more challenging to get 'through to' because they are not only sorting out their place in the world, but are doing so with a lethal combination of hormones~ randomly firing and misfiring with no regard for timing or situation.
Coach seemed undaunted by our insecurities and he knew when to listen and when to talk. He didn't mince words. He embraced tough love, as I imagine he did with his own daughters, and he told you the truth~ whether you asked to hear it or not.
I don't recall how I, along with many others, found time to just hang out with Coach during classes, but I did. I took a junior high 'boy' concern to him (this was not the readjusting my compass needed. Grin.) and he let me know essentially what author Greg Behrendt has made millions off of... He's Just Not That Into You. And when he was right~ which he was~he didn't take any pleasure in it, but just gave me a subtle nod of the head. Empathetic. I learned he was an adult I could trust.

Fast forward 15 years. My sister Nancy and I would take a trip down memory lane (or at least 3rd Street) when I'd find my way home to Wichita, and often times Coach's name would come up. Being spontaneous and never one to miss a chance to connect, Nan suggested we go by Robinson and see just who was still there. We drove around the back , parked (in the teachers' lot!) and instantly recognized Coach out on the field with a class. As we walked up, he had this huge smile on his face and said, 'It's the Klein sisters.' He still knew us! He still knew us.

Thinking about that impromptu visit, and subsequent others, (although now I know they were too few) it's easy to see why Coach is remembered. He, with all of his thousands of students over the years, still remembered two awkward girls who briefly alit in his world.

And we weren't alone. I had the privilege of my schedule to be able to spend some time with Coach last week up at Wesley. They should've just put a revolving door on his room. Truly. Students, players, teammates, colleagues, and of course family, were all just seeking one more memory with this man we mutually love. His gift not only entailed the brief two years I knew him 30 years ago, but also encompassed others who sought to tell their Coach stories, and briefly, transported us back to those days when concerns were juvenile and hearts were freely open.
As I held Coach's hand to tell him I had to go back to KC~ avoiding telling him 'goodbye,' he saw my fears, looked me in the eyes and instead just said. 'Be good.' I'm trying, Coach. I'm trying.

Last night, I decided (upon hearing of Coach physically exiting this world) to finally watch the documentary on the WSU football team airplane crash of 1970, Black and Gold, and to learn more about the life of this man I admire. Through the retelling of that devastating event, I was afforded the opportunity to see Coach- the man. It occured to me as I was watching him, along with other surviving players recalling that day, that his pain, his loss, was our gain. He was strong in our youthful eyes. We didn't understand mortality. But he did. And he decided to not just survive, but to live. We experienced his vitality, his passion.... his compassion. We were the benefactors.
The first string football players flew on the 'gold' Lockheed that day heading toward Utah. It comes as no suprise that Coach Jackson was on that plane. First, father, grandfather, teacher, teammate, friend, colleague...Coach.
'We still friends.' Always.