Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pink Wigs and Mud Pits

When I signed up for the Warrior Dash back in August, I had no idea what life had in store for me. I guess it decided that if it were obstacles I wanted, it was obstacles I was going to get. So, by the time I joined the 499 other brave souls at the starting line that day, the 3.2 miles and 14 obstacles that lay ahead of me didn't seem like much.

I decided to tackle this event as a challenge. I haven't pushed myself physically since the days of college cheerleading, and I just wanted to see if I could do it. Throughout my two months of training, I had one goal: finish. I knew it wouldn't be pretty. I wasn't trying to beat anyone. I had nothing to prove to anyone other than myself. And I was ready.

I didn't really know what to expect as I rode to Warrior, Alabama, on October 6th. But, I knew that whatever it was wouldn't defeat me. And after 50 minutes of battling mud and freezing cold water and barbed wire and temperatures in the 40s, I saw what I needed to see. I'm tougher than I look. In fact, it was more fun than anything. I wasn't even out of breath as I crossed that finish line. I was, however, covered...I mean COVERED in mud. It's like someone replaced my clothes with mud. And my hair. And my skin. But, I'd finished. And I didn't beak anything but a sweat and a fingernail.
The second obstacle of the day was an alternating series of mud ponds and mud hills that we had to maneuver through. It was the hardest one to me. It was impossible to get a foothold and the water was super cold. A random guy stood at the top of one of the mounds, offering to help others up. I didn't accept his help. I was being a beast. Two mounds later, I wish he'd been there, but I finally got over the top. It was great to see someone so willing to sacrifice to help others who were struggling. His finish time will hardly reflect what he did that day. In a world where most people see someone struggle and sprint to the front of the line to be the first to throw stones at them, the kind, Super Mario-dressed stranger inspired me. Thanks, whoever you are. It was amazing to see how perfect strangers helped each other out and cheered each other on. It was a great experience. It renewed a little of my faith in people. And thank goodness. I've had to think about those mud-plastered strangers a time or two lately, as a reminder that there are some good people out there.

The Warrior Dash was awesome. So much fun. But, the obstacle courses in life aren't often as enjoyable. Still, the goal is the same. Finish. You'd like to do it with as much dignity and grace as possible. But sometimes, you've just got to put on a pink wig and army crawl through 12 inches of muddy water. And, you can't worry about what everyone, or anyone for that matter, thinks. In the end, it's your life. The people who want to see you fail, who delight in your trials, who kick you while you're down, they don't matter anyway. They're pathetic. But, there are a few people waiting for you at the finish line, encouraging you along the way. Those people matter.

Which one would you be? When someone is going through a hard time, are you secretly rejoicing in their failures, encouraging them and cheering them on from the finish line, or are you Super Mario offering them a helping hand? I don't know about you, but I'm going to invest in a pair of blue overalls and a red hat.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

First Meet Mishaps

I was so excited and nervous about Devin's first swim meet. He had 8 real practices prior to this first meet, so I wasn't expecting to see a Michael Phelps-like performance. I really just wanted him to enjoy it.

We arrived at Ft. McClellan at 7:45 am and waited for war ups to begin. Swim meets are unlike anything I've ever been a part of. Keeping track of event numbers and lane assignments is a little stressful. Fortunately, I had Coach there to help. He doesn't get rattled like I do. I paid the 5 bucks for the "heat sheet" and highlighted Devin's entries. Then I wrote them on his arm with a Sharpie, because that's apparently what you do. Each swimmer sports his event number, event, heat number, and lane assignment in a grid on his body somewhere. It helps the swimmer keep track of when they swim.

Devin seemed to be taking it all in stride. He admitted that he was nervous, though. Then, warmups began. I anxiously waited to see him dive off the block. He had about 4 previous attempts at practice ever. I couldn't help but smile when I saw him looking better and more confident than ever off the block.

The meet began, and we waited for Devin's first swim which wasn't until event 14. We waited a while. Then Coach took him to the bullpen, the area where they line up swimmers whose events are happening soon. Devin marches out to the pool with the others in his heat and sets up behind lane 5. The announcer calls for the swimmers to approach the blocks. He instructs them to take their marks. The buzzer sounds. Devin dives in - and it was the best dive I've ever seen him do. I see his tiny body gliding through the water. He surfaces, about to take his first strokes, when I realize...something's wrong. His goggles had slid down as he dove in. They were loosely draped around his neck. He finished the race last in his heat. The water in his eyes bothered him and slowed him considerably. But he'd finished.

My Devin is a perfectionist. And, as he made his way back to our seat in the stands, the disappointment on his face was obvious. Poor little guy. He sat down beside me and choked on some tears. Time to put on my momma hat.

I let him talk about what happened. He was upset. I knew he wanted to disappear, but he had three races left. It was time that he start learning some of the lessons that sports can teach us. I explained to him that, sometimes, things go wrong. It happens to EVERYONE. I wanted him to understand that it's not our mistakes that define us; it's our response to them. I asked him what he'd learned from the experience. He answered, "Not to let my goggles come off." He was being stubborn. :-) Eventually, he began to see that he did the right thing. I was super proud of him. Some kids would've stopped swimming. Not Devin. Did the race turn out as he'd hoped? No. But, did he do the best he could under the given circumstances? Absolutely. Who could ask for more than that?

He was still bothered, so we left the pool to get lunch. I thought some fresh air might help. Coach talked with him about not letting one 'loss' keep him from giving his all in the next event. Together, we got the message across. Crap happens. Learn from it and let it motivate you to make the most of your next opportunity. Don't let it defeat you.

He had an oppertunity to swim the same stroke and distance as part of the 200 free relay later in the day. This time, the goggles stayed on, and Devin was all smiles. Maybe he learned something about himself today. Perhaps we can all learn something from him.

Crap happens. And, life can be really tough. When you get knocked down in life, though, you're probably not going to find too many cheerleaders waiting to help you get back in the game. Instead, you'll find out that there are some really miserable people who get to feel better about themselves by rejoicing in your trials. People will gossip, lie, and bad-mouth you at every turn. But, it doesn't matter. You've got another race to swim.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Little Overwhelmed

As of this minute, the post about the Ranburne/Woodland game has been viewed 500 times. Wow.

That speaks volumes to me about the magnitude of that win. I am humbled by how many of you would take the time to listen to what I had to say. And, I feel like there are some things I need to address.

First, I hope I didn't give the impression that there has been a lot of people being ugly to Coach. Overwhelmingly, the support he has received has been incredible. But, how many people who you thought were friends and now refuse to answer your texts does it take to hurt your feelings? Clearly, not many. They are the minority, however.

I have been touched by the couple of WHS coaches who came out of their way to shake Coach's hand after the game. He did not come down from the press box in time to go through the regular line with the team. So that meant a lot. Others, the ones he talks to regularly, have continued to show their true friendship.

There have been some surprises, though. A couple of Coach's former players took the time to reach out and offer their support. And, people who are basically strangers to me have commented about my post. Some even offered some kind words of welcome and encouragement.

One former player wrote, "...I would like to hear your reason [for leaving] from you instead of someone who thinks he or she knows what he or she is talking about, if you would not mind. I understand that your decision was a career move. No one should get mad about that. Most people would never want to be in that position. I imagine it to have been incredibly tough to make that final decision. No doubt you guys are already back to work for next week...Congrats. Huge win and good luck the rest of the year. Hope all is well in your life. If there is anything I can do, don't hesitate."

This young man gets it.

Sadly, there have been those who would let bitterness over something as trivial as high school football harden their hearts. We've had to accept that some of our so-called friends are anything but. A small few have attacked me personally. By now they've realized, I hope, that no matter how hateful you are, you can't change the score. And, they might be proud of themselves, but I feel sorry for them.

I'm not a perfect person. I don't think I'm a great writer. I just write this blog because I've been blessed to get to be a part of something so special. Yes, high school sports. Not in the trivial way that makes winning and losing the Alpha and the Omega. I've been able to see up close how much being a part of it can mean to the young men and women involved. I say it often, but I adamantly believe that sports teach things people may not learn anywhere else. Not until it's too late.

If you don't like what I have to say, don't read my blog. It's that simple. I didn't write it for you anyway. I want to thank those of you who have supported me and shared the links on your Facebook pages. Because of you, so many members of the Ranburne Family got introduced to my feeble attempt to honor what those kids did Friday night. Of course, that opened me up to some people reading it for other reasons. But it's worth it.

We make decisions in life. And sometimes we have to wait a while for confirmation of those decisions. I've felt like the move to Ranburne was the right thing for Coach to do before this weekend, but seeing people reveal their true colors validated it even further.

I just needed to get that off my chest. Thanks!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Biggest Game of Your Life

October 5th, 2012 is a date that has been circled on many calendars since Coach accepted a job at Ranburne in July. To say that Woodland and Ranburne are bitter rivals would be an understatement. And, while it's one of ten regular season games this year, it's also not fair to say it was just another game.

Woodland has beaten The Bulldogs the last 8 times the teams have met. And, in truth, the games haven't even been competitive. Coach went into the week knowing that just getting some dogs in the fight, so to speak, would be a victory for them. Ranburne football is headed in the right direction. The coaches are working harder than ever and so are the players. But, they are still a long way from matching up with the perennial playoff team from Woodland, which happens to have one of it's better teams in 4 or 5 years. So, to put it mildly, the Dogs were a longshot this Friday night.

But, there's a reason you play the game. Just because something is improbable, doesn't make it impossible. And, if anyone could find the chinks in the Bobcat armor, it's my Coach.

It was an incredibly difficult week for Coach Bailey, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, it was an emotional game for him. He's had his heart broken by people he used to call "friend". He's sent so many unanswered "good luck" and "congratulations" texts this season. He's heard kids who he's done everything for say hurtful things. But, he still loves all of them. While some people in orange were busy running their mouths this week, Coach was dealing with situations far more important that football.

During the week, the Dogs' head coach spoke with the players, and maybe the coaches too, about adversity, about learning how to get back up when life knocks you down. Those players knew they were headed into a battle. And they came out ready to fight.

Coach read me the script for the first two series on Thursday night before the game. And I knew then that he was ready. But, I didn't know if the young Bulldog team had enough in them to pull off the miracle. Then, driving to to field on Friday, I just KNEW. I tried to tell myself it was foolish to think we had a chance. I knew I'd be so disappointed. But, I just had that feeling. We were going to win.

Coach often speaks about how when you're trying to turn a program around, you need one defining moment. A moment where something incredible happens, something you can build on. A turning point. The job of a coach is to get the kids ready so that when their moment presents itself, they're ready for it. Friday night, the Bulldogs were ready. I don't know how they did it. It was incredible.

It was a great night. I hugged Coach on the field after the huge win and said, "You could coach for 50 years and never get a bigger win." He said, "I know."

But while everyone was celebrating the huge win, he and I were talking about other things. Because, you see, the biggest game of your life isn't just one game on one incredible Friday night. It's every game, every day, every minute. Life is precious. And you better celebrate those victories, because you never know what life has waiting for you around the next corner.

I'm so proud for those Bulldogs. They played their hearts out. They didn't lie down. They came out and hit those Cats in the mouth all night long. And, we know they bleed purple, because we saw it all over the field Friday night.

For me, it isn't about "beating Woodland". It's about those kids and that community earning back some respect. But, for the record, we know what your sign said. Notice, we didn't have to have one. For us, winning is enough. We don't have to insult our opponent just to feel good about a win. The only sign we need stood at the end of the field.

It said 14-6 Ranburne.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not-So-Pleasant Valley

Last night, the Bulldogs' youth and inexperience crashed the week 2 party. 

On the third play of the game, Coach put the ball in the hands of the Senior Fullback, Clayton Young. Young gashed the Raiders for nearly 80 yards and the Ranburne TD. But, the Center snapped the ball over the holder's head on the failed PAT attempt. And even though we were up 6, this was a sign of things to come.

The Raiders answered with a touchdown drive of their own. Their PAT attempt fell short, leaving the score knotted at 6 all. Then, PV took a 7 point lead in the second quarter. The Dogs matched their score, going in at the half tied at 13.

The second half was as equally hard-fought. Ranburne was able to find the end zone again to take the lead. Again, they failed to convert on the PAT. In the 4th, the Raiders score 7.

Ranburne has the ball on their 21 with exactly ten minutes remaining in the game. A penalty moved them back making it 1st and 15 from the 16. They marched down the field, eating up yards and clock, all the way down to the PV 19. A miscue on first down brought up 2nd and 10. We lost a yard on the next play. Another mistake on the third down play set up 4th and 11 from our 18. QB Edwards scrambled for seven yards, and that would be the last chance for the Bulldog Offense.

Our guys played hard, but fell 20-19 to the Raiders. Mistakes, penalties, dropped passes, alignment problems, etc. proved to be too much to overcome. That's how it goes for teams that are young and rebuilding. They have to be perfect. The execution has to be spot on. They can't afford mistakes.

Not to take anything away from PV. They were big and strong and played hard. They definitely weren't the same team that woodland used to beat a hundred and fifty million to six. But, we should have won.

It was hard to watch. I found myself remembering Coach's first few years at Woodland. Those days were even worse. After finishing 5-6 his first year, the Cats were an abismol 2-8 in 2003. And they didn't lose by a point or two. They were hammered weekly by scores of 55-6 and 48-8. We survived that. We'll survive this too.

Again. It was hard to watch, and I walked down to the fence after the game feeling as defeated as the guys in purple and white. But, as I stood there with Coach, someone walked up to offer some encouragement to him saying, "...hang in there. We are proud to have you and we love you."

That reminded me what were doing here, in Ranburne. Teams don't wake up one day and suddenly can't lose. It's a process. It takes time. And they'll get there if they're willing to put in the effort and the hours.

As bad as I hate losing, I walked out of that stadium feeling pretty good about things. It's such a blessing to get to see that not only can Coach make a difference, but some people actually appreciate what he's doing for those kids. There are things more important than winning. So...yeah. It's great to be a Ranburne Bulldog.
Coach and the Ranburne Quarterbacks

Begin with a Win

On Friday, August 31st, the 2012 high school football season in Alabama officially began. The Ranburne Bulldogs headed to Georgia to take on the Mt. Zion Eagles.

This would be Mt. Zion's first game in their brand new stadium. The Eagles and their new head coach had a statement to make in front of the huge crowd that had shown up. But, they weren't the only ones who had something to say.

Ranburne's new Offensive Coordinator had a message for his guys before kickoff. But, I'll leave that between him and the team. After winning the coin toss, the Dogs took the ball first, and his message was pretty clear. They picked up about 8 yards on the first play, and followed that with a 40+ yard gain. Within just a couple of minutes, we were in the red zone. That's when the officials decided to make themselves heard. I've never seen a team get an illegal motion penalty before the coach even signaled in the play. I'm not one who blames everything on bad officials, but that's pretty pathetic. Ranburne ended the night with 75+ penalty yards. And that doesn't reflect the five or so penalties that were declined.

The Dogs kept fighting. They'd take a step forward and two back. But they didn't give up. The Defense kept the Eagles off the board and gave Coach and his Offense the time they needed. It was 4th and 8 from the 20. Coach knew which play he wanted to run, only...the intended receiver that had looked good in practice was injured during the opening drive. The Eagles called timeout, giving him time to talk to his guys and settle them down. So, on 4th down, QB Jared Edwards finds the open man in the back of the end zone, giving Ranburne its first TD of the year.

Despite the penalties, the Dogs took a 7 point lead into halftime. They moved the ball well all night, but just weren't able to put points on the board. In the second half, the Eagles dug deep and put together a touchdown drive. Their only score game with 4:30 left in the game. As they lined up for the PAT, I started wondering if the offense was ready to mount a game-winning drive of their own. But, the kick missed its mark. All Ranburne had to do was pick up a couple of first downs and watch the clock expire, leaving them with the W.

It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But it was fun to watch. The Eagles weren't going down without a fight. Neither were we.
2012 Ranburne Bulldogs

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The New Kid

Change is tough.

Coach and I had a lot, and I mean A LOT, of discussion before he decided to trade in the orange and blue for some purple. We knew there would be changes. And most of these are way more important than which color you wear on Friday nights. Yes...there are more important things. This would be a major transition for all of us, especially the boys.

Jaxon, our younger one, is pretty outgoing and adjusts to things relatively easily. Devin, however, is more reserved. I worried about how changing schools would effect him most. He was much more established at Woodland. His friends are there. But, I knew that kids change schools all the time, and they survive. I hoped Devin would too. He had been supportive of his dad's decision thoughout the process. So, I knew he had a good attitude about it. Or so I thought.

I picked him up after the first day, and he announced that he didn't think he was going to like Ranburne. Then he proceeded to tell me all the reasons why. He was mostly worried about being tardy to class. At Ranburne, the 5th grade in located in the high school building. Devin had heard talk about the tardy bells and was letting it make him nervous. I tried to explain to him that the teachers realized they were 5th graders and that everyone would help him know where to go. I encouraged him to give it some time. I acknowledged that I knew it was tough, but I urged him to try to be positive and make the most out of it.

I was feeling pretty good about my parenting skills when Coach made it in from practice. We began to discuss how our days had gone. Then he told me about seeing Devin during the day. His schedule has him going from the elementary school to the high school during the high school break time. He told me that while he was walking by, he saw Devin at break. He was standing all by himself. Completely alone.

My heart broke. First, because I could see my precious baby standing there alone, feeling out of place and uncertain. Like any parent, I hate to think about things being hard on my boys. And, I knew there was nothing in the world I could do about it. I can't drive to the school during break and stand with him. I can't make friends for him. I felt kinda useless. And, to make matters worse, I saw the hurt on Coach's face as he struggled with it. Seeing Devin that day made him question if he'd made a selfish decision. He wondered if he'd made things hard on the boys for no reason. So, heart-broken mom had to put on her good wife hat and reassure him that Devin would be fine.

And by Friday, I believed that I'd told him the truth. Devin got in the car, smiling and saying that everyone in his class finally knows who he is. Later that night, at our Jamboree game, one of the girls in his class came over to talk to us. She said she'd met Devin at school, but she wasn't surprised if he didn't remember her name since he'd been too busy "...running from all the girls who are chasing him. Literally. Chasing him."

Yep...I think he's going to be alright.

We all are. They say that different isn't always better, but better is always different. So, while we all have a little adjustment to make, we'll get there.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fish Out of Water

Having been a Coach's wife for almost 12 years, I have gained a wealth of knowledge about various sports. I thought I knew a lot when I got married. I remember my mother saying that you should learn the rules of the sports you watch. So I did. But, over the years, I've learned that there's so much more to it than I'd ever imagined. Even after so many years, I'm still learning about football, basketball, and baseball.

So you can imagine how I must be feeling now that my older son has decided to focus on a sport outside "the big 3". I have no idea what I'm doing, but we're about to dive head first into the world of competitive swimming.

A couple of years ago, I'd asked Devin if he would like to get involve in competitive swim. He's a natural in the water, and he's built just like a swimmer. But, at that time, the thought of racing didn't interest him. A few weeks ago, he came to me and asked if he could join a swim team. So, I looked for one nearby. (I use that term loosely, because we live in the geographic center of nowhere.) And I found a program within a reasonable distance. Tryouts will be the first week in September. I'm a little excited about it.

Coach and I agree it's a good opportunity for Devin to experience competition on this level and a great way for him to improve strength, endurance, and agility. He understands that it will be hard work and time-consuming. But he's excited. His response to my lecture about how he'd have to be committed and endure hard practices and how it wouldn't be just going to the pool for fun: "Well, even if I'm working hard, that would be kinda fun." That's exactly the attitude he should have about any sport.

Anyway, like I said, I know nothing about the world of competitive swimming. But I have enough sense not to show up at the tryout next month looking like I know nothing. I don't want to be unprepared and embarrass Devin. He's 11. If I embarrass him now, it'll be over. He still thinks his mom is cool enough. But if I make him go to practice in the wrong trucks or something, he will never forget it.

So, I do what I always do when I don't know what to do. I turned to the Internet. From my days as a cheerleader, I know a thing or two about tryouts. It's important to look the part, right? So I started looking for goggles, swim caps, and trunks, which aren't called trunks in competitive swim, they're called "jammers".

My son is a strapping young man. Standing at almost 4'7" and weighing in at a whopping 55 pounds, Devin has a 20 inch waist. His hip measurement, 23.5 inches. So, he's a little on the thin side. I was worried about finding jammers small enough for him. The smallest size I could find was a 22. According to the size charts, a 22 should fit a 22 waist measurement and a 28.5 hip measurement. Dev isn't quite there, but I thought this would work.

I should've done a little more research before ordering them. I was worried that they'd be huge and fall right off. I knew they needed to fit tightly. So, I was anxious for them to get here. When I took them out of the package, my mouth fell open. Tiny doesn't even begin to describe them. And when I asked Dev to try them on, he looked at me like I'd lost my mind! Jaxon pleaded with him not to even put them on saying that they looked like baby clothes. But, Devin is a good child who does what he's asked, and he squeezed himself into them. Bless his heart. He told me he didn't even know how he got them on. They are definitely going back. Good thing I got an early start.

I hope his tryout goes more smoothly than my preparations for it! But, hey....live and learn, right? I'm definitely in new territory for me, but I'll gladly wade through it for one of my children. I'll let you know how the tryouts go.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Training like a Warrior (or an idiot!)

Have you ever just decided to do something, and then, the minute it's too late to turn back, you had to ask yourself, "What am I thinking"?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me about the Warrior Dash. She was interested in participating and was looking for a few brave souls to join her. So, I Google it and read the following: The Warrior Dash...where 14 obstacles from hell await you along this 3.2 mile course... And for some reason, I kept reading. According to their Facebook page, Warrior Dash is a mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run. This fierce running series is held on the most challenging and rugged terrain across the globe. Warriors conquer extreme obstacles, push their limits, and celebrate with live music, beer, and Warrior helmets.

Now, I don't care for beer, but something about the rest of it sounded fun. The proceeds go to the St. Jude's Childrens Fund, making it for a great cause. I guess that's why I decided to even consider it. So, after mulling over it for a few days, I made an impulse decision and registered.

I exercise and run regularly, but by no means do I think I'm in good enough shape for this kind of challenge. But, it's a good excuse for me to step up my training. Running is more fun when it's for a purpose, and frankly, I'd gotten bored with it lately. So, the Warrior Dash is a good source of motivation. With that in mind, I began pushing myself a little harder this week. And let me just say...wow! How can I run 4 miles 4 times a week but I can't jump rope for 1 minute without wanting to die?! Obviously, I have a long way to go and only 2 months in which to get there. Wish me luck!

My goal: I want to finish! I just want to see if I can. The good news, and the bad news, is that there are a few other young ladies from Woodland running the Dash at the same time. It's bad news because they are much younger than I am and most haven't even had babies, which all of us moms know just isn't the same. This will be a piece of cake for them, while it'll take everything I've got. They're going to make me feel old! It's good news though,  because maybe they can drag my limp, lifeless, old, worn-out body across the finish line if I can just get close! Or at least dial 9-1-1. 
I know I'm crazy, but it might be fun. Come run it with me! www.warriordash.com

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So it Begins...

August 6th probably seemed like just another Monday to most people. But, at 11:30 that morning, I was reminded that there were "...six and a half more hours until Christmas Day!" I'm entering my 12th season as a coach's wife, which makes me something of a veteran. So, it makes sense that I didn't even have to ask. But, some of you may be wondering.

August 6th, 2012 was the first day of official football practice.

And so it begins, the four-month gauntlet that is a high school football season. After a summer of workouts, the team and their coaches are ready to really get started. The excitement level almost matches the temperatures. There's a lot to do. The season opens with a jamboree in a few short weeks.

There's added excitement in Ranburne this year, the kind that comes with change. We all need to do something different sometimes to reenergize ourselves. Shaking things up is good for football teams too. The toughest opponent a team can face is complacency, in winning or losing. The Bulldogs have not been as successful as they would have liked the past few years, and while Coach isn't a miracle worker, maybe he can be a spark that ignites a fire. Maybe that will make a difference. Whatever effect he can have, it won't happen overnight. But, it will be interesting to watch.

It has made a difference in him. I've enjoyed watching his enthusiasm the past few weeks. He thrives under pressure and enjoys a challenge. In Ranburne, he's found both. Not only is he getting to teach, which he loves, but he's getting to learn about who he is as a coach, without the safety net he was used to. 

The start of the season is the end of summer for me. Coach helps so much when he's home in the summer that it feels like the weight of the world falls on me when I lose him to football. The first day of practice is not Christmas Day for me, but it may be Christmas before I see Coach again from any distance closer than the bleachers. I'm not a bad sport though. If all I can do is watch him from the stands, then I'll be there with bells on. 

I can't wait for the season to officially begin. There's nothing like high school Friday night football. No matter what color you're wearing. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Going for Gold

Okay. I'll admit it. I'm one of those people who are mildly obsessed with the Olympics. I love them. Can't watch too much. My television stays tuned to the coverage constantly. I mean, what's not to love?

I love the whole premise behind the Games. The whole country is united in their support of these incredible athletes. It serves as a reminder of all that's great about the United States of America. And I don't think I'm overstating things. It's amazing what sports can do.

Collectively, Team USA is a source of pride for all of us watching back home. They represent us well. Individually, I must say, they are true inspirations. It's amazing to watch people who have dedicated so much of themselves to a goal. The amount of sacrifice, dedication, and motivation these athletes have is unreal. I think this is the source of my fascination with every minute of Olympic coverage.

As a child, I watched the games, rooting hard for our home team and hoping for bad luck for competitors from the other countries. Now, I realize that they've all worked equally as hard. Naturally, I held my breath as I anxiously watched the US women's gymnastics team win gold last night. But, my heart broke for Anastasia Grishina from Russia when she came off the floor exercise in tears after a disappointing performance. I wanted us to win, but I know then Russian women had worked hard too.

I think one reason that so many of us are drawn to the Olympics is that, on some level, we can all relate to these athletes. We don't have to be the most decorated athlete ever like Phelps to understand what it's like to work hard for something. We take those Olympic qualities of hard work, challenging oneself, competitive spirit, refusing to give up, and so many more into our everyday, regular lives. So, yes, we can relate. To the gold medal moments and Anastasia Grishina moments as well.

We have all devoted time and dedication to the pursuit of some success. Now, I'm not saying that something like my tackling trying to teach two different advanced placement courses this upcoming school year is the same as Missy Franklin swimming a semifinal and a final 20 minutes apart. Nor am I saying that Coach's move to Ranburne is just like Ryan Lochte relentlessly working over the past 4 years to find a way out of Phelps's shadow. But, there's a little Olympian in anyone who sets goals, challenges themselves, and refuses to be defeated.

I really do believe that... I think I'll go get ready for my Wheaties Box photo shoot now. You should probably do the same.
Fab Five wins Gold
Michael Phelps wins 19th medal

Anastasia Grishina

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inside the Quarterbacks Meeting

At our house, football season begins in July. Long before the first game or the first day of practice, Coach goes to work. And so do his QBs. Only, this work doesn't happen on the field. It's in the classroom.

Each year that Coach has worked with the quarterbacks, he's had them come in an hour before everyone else reports for summer workouts in July. It is in these meetings that the QBs build their play books. They literally draw out each play, making note of things like read progressions, drops, etc. This year, these QB meetings have been especially rigorous due to the time constraints. Coach has to teach a brand new offense to his new QBs. And he has four meeting dates before they go to passing camp. And game 1 is only seven weeks away.

I had the privilege of sitting in on one of these meetings last Thursday. That day, there would be no workouts. The team had the day off for the 4th of July. Not the quarterbacks. All three of them were there, right on time, and ready to get the rest of the plays in their books. They know how much they have to learn. They know how important it is. They know on whose shoulders the responsibility rests. You've got to admire high school quarterbacks.

It looks like Coach has a good group of young men to work with. I watched them as they worked during the meeting. I could tell that they are eager to learn and excited about the upcoming season. It doesn't matter to them that Coach came from Woodland or that they barely know him at all. They didn't care that they were in the fieldhouse while their friends were off doing whatever they wanted. They want to win ball games.

I watched Coach teaching those guys. And I know that a few lazy people have given coaches a bad reputation. But, in truth, good coaches are exceptional teachers. They teach all the time. In their classrooms and on the practice field. I enjoyed seeing him show the guys not only what to do but why they do it. I hope they could sense his enthusiasm. I hope they understand that they aren't just Ranburne's quarterbacks; they're his. And he will do everything possible to prepare them and help them be successful, from this point on. If they don't know that yet, they will.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Goes Without Saying...

Saying "goodbye" is hard to do. It's difficult to find a way to say everything you need to say. I've never actually liked the word very much. It hardly does the task that it's appointed to do. But, it's better than saying nothing.

Since word of Coach's move started getting around, people have been saying their goodbyes. It means so much. I know that it's difficult for Bobcat fans to see him go to work for one of their most bitter rivals. I know most of them will never be able to pull for him there. That makes it all the more meaningful when someone takes the time to say "good bye" or "good luck" or "we will miss you".

Coach went to tell the team he was leaving. He had dreaded that moment for days. He waited to confirm any rumors about the move until he could tell the guys face-to-face. He wanted them to hear it from him. He wanted to try and explain this tough decision to them. He wanted to say goodbye. It was a difficult thing for him to do.

It got me thinking about how often we leave things unsaid. One of the first messages I got regarding the new job said, "...it goes without saying that we will really miss him at Woodland" and it might very well go without saying. But it shouldn't. I appreciated that message. Its hard to make a decision that you know many people won't like. She didn't have to send that message, but she did. You should never pass up an opportunity to let someone know what they mean to you, that you appreciate them. Even when you aren't quiet sure how to say it.

Speaking of how to say it, we've already had some good ones. Here are just a few:

"I'm happy if you're happy. I hate it for the kids. You are a coach that cares for the kids."

"Praying all goes well for him...and you."

"Our loss is their gain..."

"Coach will surely be missed by many but I wish you all God's blessing, much support and love during this new chapter! Congrats!"

"It's a time to motivate new players and students. They will no doubt be proud to have you! GO BULLDOGS!"

"Even if the world is burning, I'm still a Coach Bailey fan."

"At least get a black shirt so I don't have to look at you in that dang purple!"

"Best of luck with the change. You will do an awesome job in your new Purple and Gold! I would wear Crimson to support you!"

"You helped make (my son)the man he is today and I mean that. Go to Ranburne and make more (like my son) because it will make this world a better place."

I've said it many times already. Leaving is hard. Saying goodbye is impossible. This community, these people, those kids...they have meant the world to us. And only those of us who have been blessed enough to have been a part of it can truly understand what an amazing community it is. The way everyone rallies around and supports the students, coaches, and the school is unrivaled.

But, as Bella Swan pointed out, "When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end." Or, if you prefer, Dr. Suess's "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened." So, I'll try not to be sad. But, I cannot go without saying...

Thank you to those of you who have offered your congratulations, love, and support in this new phase of our lives. It says a lot about you as a person and means so much to us. Thank you, Woodland. For the memories, the lessons learned, the love, the support, the commitment to the kids, for letting us be part of your kids' lives.... Thanks for allowing us to be a part of it all.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Next Step

In the Spring of 2001, Coach walked into the Woodland field house to talk to the Bobcat's head coach about volunteering with the team. It was the first step in what has been an eleven-year journey so far. In that time, he learned first how to lose (the Cats went 2-8 in Coach's first year on staff). He learned how to push a team, in the weight room, practice field, classroom, and on game night. He learned how to build a program by working under one of the best in the business. He learned how to prepare. How to deal with difficult situations and disappointments. And he learned how to win.

That same field house became his second home. The coaching staff, his brothers. It's impossible to count the hours he has spent preparing, planning, practicing, and working alongside those guys. The coaches and the athletes were family to him.

But, as in any family, it's time for one of them to move on and see if he can stand on his own. That was always the plan. We didn't move here with the intention of staying forever. He came to Woodland to learn how to be a coach. He came to start a career. And he has stayed much longer than he intended to. He did that, in part, for me. I went back to grad school, and we needed to stay close to the family we relied so heavily upon to make that happen. But, all along, he's kept his goals in mind. Every year, he has interviewed for positions in other places. This past year, he finished second for one head coaching job and missed out on another because they needed a health teacher. He was offered a coordinator position at a 4A school in the spring. After carefully considering that job, he turned it down. It would have been a great opportunity, but it didn't feel right. I think part of him just didn't want to leave.

Two weeks ago, he got another offer. And, I have never seen him struggle with a decision like he did this one. For a week, we discussed and debated and prayed about this opportunity. He talked with numerous coaching friends and weighed his options. We talked with our children. He went back and forth and back again. Finally, Coach called the principal and turned down the job. As soon as he hung up the phone, he felt that he'd made the wrong choice. So he called back.

Tonight, he walked into that same field house to say goodbye to the kids he's watched grow up in front of him. Kids who mean the world to him. The athletes here, they were the biggest part of why he chose to stay so long. You don't find kids like these everywhere. I wonder if they can even comprehend how hard that was for him to make this decision. I hope they can offer him the same love and support he's shown them all these years. And I hope they understand that he is and always will be a Bobcat.

It's time to move on, no matter how hard it is. It's time to take on a new challenge. Its time for him to be able to take steps toward his eventual goals. So, for those reasons, along with many others, when he takes the field this fall, it will be as the offensive coordinator for the Ranburne Bulldogs.

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye, but we are excited to see what this new season of life has in store for us.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Saving Sarasota

There is one thing I look forward to more then anything else all year. It's the thing that gets me out of bed at 4:30 am on a freezing cold Tuesday in February. It's better even than Christmas, which I love.

It's my summer beach trip.

Growing up, my family took a two-week long vacation to Daytona. So, in my mind, no summer is complete without a substantial amount of time spent in the sand and surf. I am and always will be a Daytona Beach girl, but any beach will do. Just give me the sun, an umbrella, a decent book, and a bottled water and leave me in the sand until the sun goes down.

This year, we weren't going to the beach. Even with our teachers' salaries and massive coaching supplements (ha), money is tight. So we'd decided to put vacation money to other uses this year. A plan that lasted about two months before Coach decided to take his beach bum wife to the water. We discussed a weekend trip to Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast. Then we talked about going to Daytona for a few days. Then, one of Coach's friends offered him his week at a time share in Sarasota. It was a great offer, but it was the week of biology workshop for me. So instead, we rented the next week at the same time share.

We were excited about going somewhere new and looking forward to a full week at the beach. We packed up and rolled out of Woodland at midnight on Friday night, planning to arrive in Sarasota by early afternoon. Coach's friend has two weeks there, so we could change in his room and start enjoying the beach long before check-in time. It was a great game plan. However, Debby had a different plan for us.

Little did we know that while we'd been busy packing and driving, a little tropical storm named Debby had decided to make the Gulf of Mexico her home. And, apparently she really liked it there. Moving at a top speed of 3 miles per hour, she was in no hurry to leave. As we arrived in Sarasota, so did the rain and winds.

Now, everyone anticipates a little rain at the beach, but the forecast was calling for a complete washout for the week. It rained and rained, Saturday and all day Sunday. I went from beach bum to just bummed. Despite the torrential rains and forty mph winds, Debby didn't really do much. So as the parking lot filled with water, the people at Suntide Beach Club got tired of being stuck in their rooms. They did what any one who refused to give up their week at the beach would do. They swam in the rain. Even me. By Tuesday, the sun peaked thought the clouds for an hour or so. And when the rains came back, we sought refuge, not inside but in the hot tub.

The it's-going-to-rain-all-stinking-week forecast turned out to be a worst-case scenario. The rest of the week was beautiful. The beach had been completely washed away, but we weren't too upset to spend time at the pool. And, while the sun has been fabulous, the highlight of the trip may have been the tropical storm hot tub party. You know what they say, when life gives you lemons... In Sarasota, you put them in a big jar and pass it around. And when life give you tropical storm Debby, you swim anyway!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The English Teacher"

What a week! What an exhausting, challenging, long week! What was I thinking?!

This story needs some explaining. As a freshman in junior college, I found my first love. My first teaching love, that is. Biology. I had a great instructor who facilitated my interest in the subject. I'd always been fascinated by one particular area of biology dealing with genetics and the passing on of recessive and dominant traits. I guess that comes from being the fraternal one in a set of triplets. Anyway, Mr. Howell often encouraged me to become a biology teacher.

Two years later, I went to Auburn with that goal in mind. But, to become a biology teacher meant taking classes in chemistry. Epic fail. So...I changed majors and dug myself out of a GPA hole and proudly graduated magna cum laude in Human Development and Family Studies.

Fast forward a few years. I decided to pursue a career in education. I enjoy many subjects so I had to chose a discipline. I'd been out of math classes for six years. No math. Every science class has a lab to go with it. No science. I've always loved literature and grammar. English wins.

I've been teaching English at my current school for two years. I am fortunate to be able to teach Advanced Placement language and composition there. Teaching AP is challenging. I felt like I knew a lot about my content area before I began teaching AP. I learned quickly that there was much to learn. But I love it.

Last November, I found out that the AP Biology teacher was not planning to continue teaching the course. There wasn't exactly a line forming to take it over. It is tons of extra work. So, I researched a little. In our state, once you've taught two years at a particular level, you can take the Praxis test. If you pass, you become certified in that teaching area. I found this out on November 1st. I had to pass the test by January 1st in order to be certified for the next school year. There was one more being given before the end of the year, on November 12.

I paid the late fee, studied my tail off, felt like an idiot when I walked out of the testing room, and knew I'd wasted my money. Six weeks later I got the results. Somehow I'd passed.

Fast forward to last week. I'd been given the AP bio class in addition to my AP Lang classes for next year and it was time to attend the annual summer week-long training. I knew I'd be the dumbest kid in the room. I knew how intense the training are from attending the AP Lang institute each year. So, I was apprehensive. But, here's why I love AP. Not only do you get top of the line students, but the teachers are the best of the best. Those AP bio teachers at the workshop went out of their way to help and encourage me all week. They shared tips and information. They offered support. It was great. I left the institute excited about the challenge and knowing that the rest of my summer will be spent preparing for my biology class. Maybe next year, they'll stop calling me "the English teacher" and recognize me as one of them. One of the all stars, who go beyond what they have to do to help prepare their students for their futures.

I made it through the week. I survived. Too bad I can't say the same for one of the crickets from my lab. I learned tons, but I know I've got a lot to learn. This should be fun.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lake's Legacy

In just over a week, the post I wrote about Coach Billy Lake has received 720 views. This is more than 12 times the views I usually have for postings. That number is a testament to the kind of person Lake was and the lives he touched. It speaks volumes about him.

You really never know the impact you can have on others. Lake devoted his life to working with young men, sharing his love for football among other things. I wonder if he ever thought about the influence he had on their lives. I'm sure he knew that what he did was meaningful, but like so many of us, I don't know if he truly understood the magnitude of it.

We all come into contact with people on a daily basis. Whether we know it or not, whether it's intentional or coincidence, we all impact the lives of those around us. Some more than others, but none are exempt. And it's worth thinking about: what kind of influence are you? It's easy to get caught up and bogged down with life. If you're like me, there aren't enough hours in the day for the things you need to do, and people seem to line up to ask more of you. When you're stretched to your limit, it's easy to overlook the opportunities around you. The chances to lighten someone's load or brighten their day. The chance to be a friend or to make one. The chance to make someone feel appreciated or loved or worthwhile.

Several years ago, something happened in my life taught me the value of offering encouragement. Of being a friend. Of saying what's on your heart. Sometimes we dont do or say those things because we don't want to upset someone or be perceived as nosey or bother anyone. But, if you feel like offering help or a kind word, do it. You have no idea how badly that person might need to hear it.

Likewise, don't be a negative influence. There was a time when I struggled with anger and resentment and worse towards another person. I knew I shouldn't feel that way, so I tried not to let it consume me. One day, a well-meaning coworker sat down with me and began commenting on how much she would hate that person if it were her and what she would want to say to them. She thought she was being helpful. She was actually making it harder for me to handle the situation properly.

My point? We effect each other. In good ways and in bad ways. I want my influence to be a positive one. Lake's death is a tragedy. It's still hard to accept. But no matter how sad and hurt we are by something, we can learn from it. Lake taught so many young men in his life, and he's taught me some important things in his death. Life holds many lessons for us all. Honor Coach Lake by being a positive influence on those around you. Use each day as an opportunity to change someone's life for the better.

Once a Bobcat...

Spring usually represents renewal. Everything that has lain dormant during the winter returns with new vigor. Flowers bloom. The sky is brighter. Temperatures warm. But for high school athletes, spring is not the beginning;it is a close.

The last seasons of the year end as the baseball and softball players hang up their cleats. Spring football training makes its brief appearance to whet our appetites for the upcoming fall. And then, there is a time for reflection and saying goodbye.

At Woodland, the Athletic Banquet is a big deal. Here, the coaches recognize the accomplishments and celebrate the seasons for every varsity athlete in every varsity sport in one event. It's lengthy, but it's so appropriate. I love how they do it here. These young men and women have devoted so much of their time to their respective sports. It's fitting that the community should honor them with this night. It's bittersweet, though. Because with it comes the end. The end of the year, and for some, the end of sports for good.

Coaches get these athletes when they are young. Because ours is a small school, most of the coaches begin working with these athletes as 7th graders. They get to watch them grow as athletes and as people. They devote their time and effort and so much of their lives to teach and prepare these kids for success on the field and in life. It's hard to see them go, no matter how proud you are of them and for them.

The attachments, bonds, and connections they form are meaningful. And even though they won't work together week in and week out, the players here know that these coaches will always be there for them. They are a family. This will always be home.

There's a saying around here, "Bobcat Pride never dies." Ive seen that those are more than words to the people around here. Once you've been a part of this program, you will always be a Bobcat. Congratulations to the Class of 2012. It's been a joy watching you compete and grow up right in front of us. Always be proud of where you came from. And next year, I know you'll miss it. We'll save you a seat in the bleachers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Losing Lake

We all know that none of us is promised a tomorrow. But sometimes we get so caught up in living life that we fail to appreciate what a gift it really is. We take our days for granted until something calls our attention to it. The Bobcat family got one of those wake-up calls on Monday.

The news reached me in a text message. Coach Lake had been in a motorcycle accident early that morning, and he had died. Just like that. One minute everything was fine, and the next, I'm feeling tears burning my eyes as I stare at the words. It's hard to know what to think much less find words for such a tragic loss.

Billy Lake has been a volunteer assistant coach at Woodland for three years. Anyone associated with small schools knows how vital volunteers are to their athletic programs. Lake was no exception. Woodland's coaches work long hours on and off the field. They sacrifice much of their time to preparation, practice, field maintainence. Few truly understand how much they do. Not one of them is compensated adequately for his work, but some, like Lake, give their time and talents asking nothing in return.

Coach Bailey spoke of Coach Lake saying that he was an integral part of "what we do". Lake wasn't always the most vocal of the staff during film or planning, but when he did contribute, he was always right on. The position players he coached got to know him well and respected him greatly. He loved the team and the game. And we was happy to be a part of it.

The thing that stands out in my mind is his presence on the sideline during games. The atmosphere is tense. And the coaches are working. There's so much to do, so much at stake. And you can see it on the coaches' faces. Not that Lake was any less intense, but one thing made him stand apart from the others. It was the smile he wore, stretching from ear to ear. Because no matter what was on the line or how outmatched we were, Coach Lake never lost sight of what a blessing it was to be there. He enjoyed those Friday nights. That staff and those players, they were like family to him. Not like family...they were family. And that family is left grieving the loss of one of their own.

All baseball season, Coach Bailey talked with the guys about making the most of life's opportunities, of enjoying every minute on that field. Because you just never know which time will be your last time out there. Losing Lake reminds us of just how true that is.

Time waits for no man and the Bobcats will move forward. Summer workouts will start soon and the 2012 season will be here before we know it. It will be tough for the players and coaches. They will lean on each other. They will do what families do and help each other through this difficult time. Coach Lake will be greatly missed. No doubt his absence will be felt by everyone as the team takes the field this fall. And with heavy hearts, those guys will play their hearts out, because that's what they do.

Honor Coach Billy Lake by spending your time doing what you love with the people you love. Live every day like it's your last. Never take tomorrow for granted. And smile.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bigger Man


That's how many times  Devin was hit by a pitch during the 2010 baseball season. That's right. Seventeen. It was enough to make him forego the 2011 season, waiting for the pitchers to get one year older and hopefully gain some control of their pitches. Not a bad idea.

Devin has been working extremely hard this year and has really been enjoying baseball. He's learning so much about the game and about himself. Saturday, he learned a  valuable lesson. And, I learned something about him. 

We were about halfway through a tough game with a pretty good team. Down 3-2, the tying run crosses the plate on a close play. The umpire calls "Safe!". Immediately, the fans (or a fan) from the opposing team start insisting that the runner never touched home plate. In response, the umpire places his foot firmly in the center of the plate, as the runner had done, to show that he had, in fact, touched the plate. This wasn't the first complaint from the visitors' side. Far from it. Despite the challenges and arguments, the runner was called safe. And, number 22 was up to bat. 

Devin steps into the batter's box, taps the bat on the plate like he does every time, and gets ready for the pitch. Only, it's not really a pitch. The kid on the mound rares back, lets the ball go, and throws it right at the batter. Devin tried to move, but he could not get out of the way fast enough. Number eighteen caught him right on the wrist, hard. He's shaken up, but he takes his base. The next thing we know, two men from the visiting side are going at it. After exchanging words, one of the men and his wife move to Woodland's side to watch the rest of the game. 

I was worried how being hit by the pitch would effect Devin. He'd fought through his fear of being hit all season. He's handled it well, not running out of the box every time a pitch comes inside. I was afraid that this would bring back those memories of the 17 other times he's been hit. I wouldn't have to wait long to find out, though. In the 5th inning, Devin is up again. He stepped right up to that plate and hit the first pitch right back at the pitcher. The pitcher couldn't get to it fast enough, and by the time the shortstop fielded the ball, Devin was standing on first. He could have been scared. He could have been nervous. But, he stepped up to the plate like a man. Good for you, Devin.

After the game, a woman from the other team caught Devin as he was heading out with his team to hear what the coach had to say. She wanted to apologize. Choking back tears, she struggled to get these words out, "I'm sorry you got hit, and I'm proud of you for staying in there. And, I want you to know that we're not all like that. Most of us would never want to see a player get hit on purpose like that. I'm so sorry."

On purpose? What? I talked with the couple and found out that the reason they had moved to our side, the reason the two dads were arguing, was because the pitcher's dad told him to hit the next batter in retaliation for the bad call at home plate. These parents were very frustrated and upset. They hoped baseball would help teach character. What that pitcher did, what his father wanted...that isn't what 11/12 baseball is about. You don't purposely hit a batter for no reason in any league. I can't even wrap my mind around what would make someone think that was okay.

Devin asked his dad why the pitcher would do that. And Coach explained that he never should have, that it was wrong. And he told him that what that pitcher did didn't mean anything compared to what Devin did when he got back in that box on his next at bat. Even if he'd struck out swinging, he would have been proud. But, Coach told him, the fact that he went to that plate and swung that bat without fear or hesitation showed what he was made of. He's going to be alright. And so is the kid whose parents stood up for what's right. Sadly, I can't say that about the pitcher. 

Again, I've been reminded how important sports can be for teaching our children things like integrity and how to deal with adversity and so many other things. They learn what to do and, sometimes, what not to do. They learn what they're made of. And we see it too. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Backs Against the Wall

After two area games were in the books, the Bobcats found themselves with an 0-2 record and in serious jeopardy of ending their string of recent playoff appearances. They fell by scores of 3-2 in both games. Things did not look good. Despite the Senior leadership, the team just wasn't playing well. They were leaving runners in scoring position every inning and having at least one "fall apart" inning in the field during every game.

April arrived and brought with it an opportunity. It was time to see what they Bobcats were made of. At the beginning of the season, they'd named a playoff berth among their goals. With double-headers against all 3 area opponents ahead of them, they'd soon find out if they would achieve their goal or see their season cut short. They could talk about wanting to win, but could they do what it took to put Ws in the book?

With my fingers crossed and my heart bursting out of my chest, I watched the Cats come from behind and take game one of a double-header from both Lineville and arch enemy Ranburne. With the pressure on, our guys came through and plled out these huge wins. All that remained between Woodland and a 4th straight trip to the AHSAA baseball postseason was the Randolph County Tigers. A loss would mean a possible four-way tie in the area and a complete mess. A win would put us in. All we had to do was take care of business. And we did in a 7-4 redemption of the earlier loss.

There were times during the season that I really worried about whether or not the guys would find a way to get the job done. I knew how disappointed coach would be. This group of seniors has been a huge part of the baseball program since he took it over. Missing out on the playoffs their senior year would feel like failure. But, I don't know how I could have been a Bobcat fan for all these years and doubt the size of the hearts in these kids. I know better. Time and again, I have seen those guys in the orange and blue with their backs against the wall. Each time they impress me. They don't always come out on top, but they never go down without a fight. And I'm proud both of those young men and for them.

The Bobcats traveled to Vincent in the opening round and won both games solidly. It was the best,the cleanest, I've seen them play all season in all facets of the game. I hope they will take those wins and the momentum from them into round 2, where they will face a familiar foe in the Ranburne Bulldogs. The Cats and Dogs face off in a best of three series beginning Friday at 4:00.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

And the Winner is...

It's 2012. It's the 12th year of the Bailey Bracket Challenge. Coach wore #12 in high school. I'd never been beaten... The odds weren't in my favor this year.

I had a bad feeling about my bracket from the start. The only thing I felt sure of was writing Kentucky in that last empty space. I'd seen them play enough to feel good about their chances. The thing that impressed me the most was how strong they finished, how they never gave up. I've seen team after team show up ready to play against UK. Many times this season, the Wildcats would be down at halftime, but it didn't matter. They'd take charge of the 4th quarter and show you once again why there was a little number 1 by their name. I saw them play in person at Auburn early in the year. Impressive, even in a hard-fought game against a not-so-great AU squad. They were my pick to win all the way.

I took a rather commanding lead in the first round. Being up something like 7 games along with Coach losing 2 of his sweet sixteen's, I felt like it was in the bag. Ol' number 12. But, as the tournament progressed and the field shrank, Coach had more teams remaining than I did. He had over half of the elite eight still on his bracket. I hadn't seen his bracket or even looked at mine since turning it in. I started to get nervous...

As the final four squared off, Coach still had both of his championship teams alive. And they won out, Kentucky and Kansas. He'd picked Kansas to go on and defeat my Kentucky pick. It looked like it might come down to a championship game head-to-head to name a winner. But after running the numbers, there was already a 4 game lead for the winner.

Like Kentucky, who came out of the locker room shooting lights out and playing inspired basketball in the final game and then had to hold Kansas off in the last few minutes, I claimed my 12th championship. I'd like to congratulate Coach on another good effort. Losing by 5 games is respectable, even if it is to your wife ;-). No hard feelings about to pulling against my teams! I'm looking forward to the next 3 months of Sunday meals with you.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Field Looks Good, Coach.

I love this time of year. It's warming up and Spring is definitely here. After being cooped up for the winter, I really enjoy getting to take the boys out to the ballpark to watch some baseball.

When Coach took over the baseball program six years ago, well, let's just say that it needed some attention. Our kids weren't too excited about baseball it seemed, as evidenced by a string of losing seasons. The community didn't support the spring sports with the same enthusiasm seen in the fall. And, the facilities were, well, embarrassing.

The high school team plays on a city field. The city and the school work together to maintain it. Coach worked to change the attitude towards baseball around here. He started by raising expectations for his athletes and demanding them to take pride in the program. He also began a series of improvements to the facilities as part of his plan. The city has been gracious to support his ideas for improvements. They have helped provide materials and Coach has supplied the labor. Along with painting the dugouts, new bleachers, and a new pressbox, the most significant change has been converting the infield to grass. You cannot imagine the hours that have gone in to this project.

Some complain that spending money on a park is pointless. Others, who know so little, complain that you shouldn't take money from the school to athletic facilities. It's a city field, remember. The school doesn't really pay for it. But it's the same problem with all facilities. Athletics raises its own money. They also pay for themselves too. Money spent on sports doesn't come from the school. Ever. Besides, shouldn't we as a community be proud to have a nice baseball park for our kids to play in? Does it matter what condition the field is in? I think it does. Under Coach Bailey, the Bobcats have made 3 straight post-season appearances, so something is working. And, our park is as nice as any we play in.

Woodland hosted a baseball game on Tuesday. The field looked great, the best I've ever seen it. I know he's my husband, but if no one else will say it, I will. I appreciate the work and effort he has given to the team and the facilities. I understand how giving these kids a home field they can be proud of contributes to pride in the program as a whole.

Most people have no idea what goes in to the upkeep of football and baseball fields or even gym floors. If you've never had to be responsible for taking care of something like that, you can hardly comment on how it's done. For those of you worried about the school, make a donation. They'll gladly accept it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Oh the Irony. Saints, Be Ashamed

When I heard the news about the bounty pool conducted by the New Orleans Saints organization, I was completely speechless. Disgusted, shocked, disappointed. I could not believe that a professional athlete could ever intentionally try to inflict serious injury on another player, much less be rewarded for it. What could be worse?

As I processed my thoughts on the matter, I had a really hard time getting a grasp on what I was hearing, this coming one day after I witness a collision at centerfield that sent one high school baseball player to the hospital. That young man was in surgery to repair a seriously injured shoulder as news of "Bounty Gate" broke. Unbelievable, horrible, awful.

We all know that injuries can result from participating in sports. It seems that in recent years many organizations have developed rules that go too far trying to take some of the physicality out of sports. I've voiced my opinion before about how they may as well give quarterbacks poms and skirts these days. We love the brutality on sports, the kind that occurs as a result of playing hard and aggressively. What the Saints were doing is a different kind of brutality. These guys were trying to end other players' game, season, careers. These guys have families. This is their livelihood. I'm still shaking my head.

There is good and bad in everything. The great things about sports are innumerable. But, there are bad people in sports too. We've heard of players betting against their teams, point shaving, illegally using performance-enhancing drugs, spying on opponents' practices, etc. Bounty Gate is truly sports at its worst.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Madness

Eleven years ago, Coach had a brilliant idea. In order to keep his new wife from complaining about the ridiculous amount of basketball dominating the television in the month of March, he handed her a copy of the NCAA tournament bracket. And so it began.

I had never followed the tournament, and the whole bracket thing was completely new to me. He explained that the object was to try to pick as many game winners as possible. We would have our on little contest. We'd each wager something, and the one with the most wins at the end of the tournament would get the thing she had asked for in the beginning. I think I asked for a dinner date or something like that.

Unlike Coach, I had no clue what I was doing. It was a 2/15 match-up at  best. I was clearly out of my league. He studied match-ups and seeding and countless other factors to make his selections. I flipped a coin. Despite very different methodologies, we both got our brackets filled out.

It was a genius move on his part to get me involved.Not only did I not complain about the constant onslaught of basketball, but I watched every minute with him. There was, however, one little variable that he hadn't counted on. You see...just like the tournament, there could only be one winner, and that year, it was me. That's right. Duke's players weren't the only ones celebrating a win that night! Cinderella had not only made it to the ball, she'd done the impossible! The buzzer-beating go-ahead half-court shot by the biggest underdog in bracket history! Shocked, but a man of his word, I got my dinner. He let me enjoy that one. After all, it was beginner's luck.

Throughout the 11 years of our marriage, I have used a variety of methods to fill out my bracket. The trusty coin, mascot match-ups, uniform preferences, gut feelings, blatant guesses, etc. I've tried everything except applying my extensive basketball knowledge, of which I have none. But, no matter what criteria I decide on, the result has remained the same. That's right...read it again...let it sink in. I have never lost. In the Bailey Battle of the Brackets, I am a perfect 11-0. Undefeated. Somewhere in the background "We are the Champions" is playing in honor of me.

And, if you think Coach graciously accepts his yearly defeat, think again! I call it "March Madness" for a completely different reason. Ha ha. Actually, each year, he pays up and vows to never fill out another bracket. But, I know he doesn't mean it. He won't stop, not until he's evened the score. That could take a while.

Speaking of score, in case you're wondering. After the first two games, I'm up 2-1. After my choice, the WKU Hill toppers, overcame a 16 point deficit with under 5 minutes remaining to put me up one game, I'm feeling pretty good about number 12.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One Proud Momma

This was Jaxon's first year to play basketball, and it has been a great season. Jax has really learned a lot. I've watched him become more aggressive and improve his shooting ability. He listened to his coaches well all season. He knows the names of his teammates and has made new friends. He has really had fun, too.

Jaxon's team was 3 points away from an undefeated season. After losing to Wedowee in the first game of the season by a score of 12-10, The Woodland team went on to win every game. They closed the season with a win over that same Wedowee team to claim the Randolph County 5/6 Championship. Way to go little Bobcats! I have thoroughly enjoyed watching these young girls and boys learn about basketball.

Randolph County 5/6 Champs
I've been proud of little number 6 all season, from his hard work to making mean faces at his opponents. After his first ever shot was on the opponent's goal, Jaxon has turned in to a pretty good basketball player. He was almost always in the right spot on the floor. He had several rebounds in each game. He wasn't a selfish teammate. And he was always paying attention. I've had many reasons to be proud of him, but tonight, I had my proudest moment yet. And it had nothing to do with basketball.

After winning the championship, the team celebrated the season at Pizza Hut. The whole team was seated at the same table, wearing Woodland jerseys and big smiles. When the pizza arrived, one of the little guys asked if they were going to ask the blessing . So, the coach's wife started looking for volunteers. Heads were shaking "no" all around. Then, one little hand raised hesitantly in the air. It belonged to a little boy who has never asked a blessing in front of anyone. A little boy who decided to stand up in front of his peers and give it a try. A little boy wearing number 6.

And his mother had tears in her eyes.

Jaxon wasn't the team's leading scorer or rebounder. While he was as good as any of them, no one would say he was 'the best'. He wasn't the tallest or fastest either. But tonight, he lead his team in a much more important way. And I could not have been prouder. The most important thing a young athlete can learn is how to glorify God in everything he does, on the court or on the field or in life. See, it isn't just about winning.

No, playing sports not about pushing kids to win. It's about giving them an opportunity to learn things about themselves, about who they are. How will I respond in the face of a challenge? Can I find strength when I've played my heart out already but there's still time on the clock? How do I handle the wins and the losses? Can I work as part of a team? Can I earn the respect of others? Can I do what a coach tells me even when I don't understand? Am I willing to work for the successes I desire? Can I be a leader when called upon? And so much more... That's why I encourage mine to play. And, they are learning.

At the close of every practice and game with his 9/10 year-old team, Coach circles his players up for prayer. He always asks if any of them would like to pray. Sometimes they do. Wonder where Jaxon got the courage to raise that little hand? I don't. Next time I say a prayer, I won't forget to thank God for good coaches (and daddies, too). I hope you will do the same.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Hey Coach...!!!"

Imagine if you went to work tomorrow and there was a room full of people waiting to see how you do. They all think they have some stake in the outcome, and they all think they know just as much about how to do your job as you do (even though, most of them haven't had the first bit of training in your field of expertise). You find yourself having to make split-second decisions while the crowd of people yell and scream, sometimes for you but mostly just at you. If that's not enough, your success or failure at the end of the day depends upon teenagers.

Get the picture?

Because we get to see some of what they do, a lot of us think we know what coaching is like. I used to think I knew a fair amount about sports until I married a coach. There's so much more to it than people really understand. For this reason, I've decided to write a multi-part series taking a behind-the-scenes look at what all Coach does as part of his job. Hopefully, I'll be able to dispel some myths and clear up some misconceptions as well. Maybe you can even let me know what you might be interested in finding out.

By no means do I consider myself an expert. But, I can tell you what I've learned from my own experiences. It's a very tough job. It's physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally draining. And, it never ends. There's a reason why there are more people in the stands than on the sidelines.

You may wonder: do people really yell ugly things at the coaches? Um...yeah. They do. All the time. People call them names and criticize every decision they make. Not all people, of course. But it happens with a frequency that might surprise you. Some of them get down-right nasty. It's almost like they think that chain-link fence can protect them from retaliation, so they take can take whatever shots they won't. It's not the fence keeping the coaches off of them, though.

As a young coach's wife, I had to learn to deal with the things I heard from my seat in the stands. It was hard at first. But, it didn't take long to realize that the people who say nasty things about the coaches know so little about the sport or sportsmanship that they aren't even worth getting angry over. And, the coaches really don't hear most of it. It's much tougher on us wives. That's how I deal with most of it. Still, there have been a couple of instances where someone takes it too far, and I can't take it any more. They forgot that I was on the same side of the fence as they were.

It's great to support your team. It's fun to yell and cheer and be a part of it all. But, when cheers become criticisms of players or coaches, you have to ask yourself what you're really doing. No matter what you think, those men out there want to win more than you do. They are doing and have done far more than you can imagine to try to make that happen. Your yelling at them isn't helping.

If you need help knowing how to support your team appropriately, just look for the cheerleaders. They are trying to help! They even have signs. Remember what we learned from the idiot in the stands...and just yell "Go Team". And, it wouldn't hurt to throw in a word or two of appreciation to the players and their coaches. Just sayin'.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Basketball Before Birthdays

I want my birthday to be a BIG deal. Perhaps this stems from growing up as a triplet, where Februray 16th was three times the birthday in our house. For whatever reason, I like for birthdays to be special. Mine kicks of the Birthday Gauntlet, a 7 week span in which we celebrate a birthday for each of the four Baileys (plus my Dad's and my triplet sisters - making that 7 in all).

Since my special day, apply dubbed "Amanda Day", is so close to Valentine's Day, I like to start the celebration early. Every year, the birthday festivities include special dinner plans. This year, the plan was to do the usual birthday dinner this weekend,due to basketball games next weekend. Coach always takes me to dinner at the place of my choosing, usually far out of town. We'd planned to leave right after lunch. But, things have not gone as planned.

The original plan was to cancel the regularly scheduled Friday night practice for Coach's little guys. But, the Woodland 9/10 Blue team played Tuesday night, and let's just say that they looked like they could really use that practice. After a short discussion, we decided that the birthday dinner was definitely second in the priority list behind ball tonight.

Don't feel bad. It was my idea. They do need the practice. They have three games next week and a tournament. Plus, we're still going. Just later. There may be some wives who would be upset at having to rearrange plans for basketball. But, not this one.

On a side note, Devin played his best game in the losing effort on Tuesday night. It makes me proud to see how hard he's working.