Taking a break from my usual Atlanta Falcons coverage I am reminded often that I have a platform to speak on other issues that are near and dear to me. Outside of being a producer and blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game, I am an educator and coach. As the school year for most areas will be coming to an end, I often reflect on students that I have taught and especially those students that I have coached in a sport. To see them walking across the stage both literally and figuratively to the next phase of their lives, I have a feeling like no other. The “Athletic Influence” is a relationship that is often delicate, hanging in the balance depending on the result. It can either put athletes or student/athletes in a path for greatness or deter them from ever thinking about playing a sport again, possibly crippling all other relationships of outside influence that a person will ever have. Of course this relationship is relative, depending upon the influence of a parent, guardian, or otherwise, but if done correctly this relationship can take a person to such greater heights.
I grew up in Bladen County, North Carolina, the area of Lisbon to be exact and the athletic influence started from relatives like my Uncle Cleo McKoy, who loved the game of baseball. It then went to my first “official coaches”, Marvin Burney in Football and later with his wife Marsha in baseball for the Clarkton Dixie Youth Baseball League. I learned the meaning of hustle, respect for history, and playing a sport for the love of the game. I then went on to play football, basketball, and baseball during my 7th and 8th Grade years for Clarkton Middle School, coming across a 2nd career, new teacher named Darrel Melvin, with whom I credit with going into education. He reinforced those attributes learned earlier but also taught me how to play with heart. Moving onto high school I learned more technical aspects of football and baseball, along with witnessing how the politics and “edge” of coaching can make or break a player. I got first hand experience from both East Bladen High School and Bladenboro High School, the two high schools’ in the county at the time, on how much athletics can influence an area, even one a small as Bladen. Culturally, the view of the athlete was changing during the late 1990s, as athletes were not looked upon as “dumb jocks” but individuals that were well-rounded. In fact a great friend of mine, Tyrell Godwin, was valedictorian at his high school, Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina, football player, and All-American Baseball Player, who went on to a brief career in professional baseball. But like him and so many others, we were influenced by so many great coaches that shaped our perception of what we could become. The influences are not just restricted to those that went on to higher education, but primarily to those individuals who have stayed in the community, continue to do positive things, and are productive citizens. We still occasionally get together, whether it be in-person or through social media, and talk about our teams and coaches.
When I became a coach, I took a great deal of those traits that I observed and used them to communicate with kids. I also learned on the fly because the only thing constant in coaching is change. I have been fortunate to come across some great teams, players, and coaches, most of which I learned a great deal from as well as taught some things to. In the wake of so many stories of “renegade coaches” only out for the win, degrading their athletes in the worst ways possible, and having the ability to alter lives negatively, I felt compelled to tell the story of coaches that have done it the right way. They may have not been perfect, but their hearts were always about the betterment of children and being leaders of men and women. My own children may want to play a sport and I can only hope that they are never mistreated by a coach. So whether or not you play for the Atlanta Falcons or the Elizabethtown Middle Cougars, if you play for the Atlanta Braves or the Crawley Swamp Gators, I only hope that your athletic influence was and is positive.
Jamie Walker is a Producer and Atlanta Falcons Blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game and can be followed on Twitter @coachjdub21 or reached through email at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com.