Seventh and eighth grade is a very impressionable period in a young man’s life. The people that surround them during this time often have a lasting effect on them, and this extends beyond the family unit. Teachers, classmates and friends all help to mold who we are, and the truly special ones actually help to make us better than we otherwise would have been. Coach Gary Meredith was one such person for me, and to this day he is one of the most important people of my lifetime.
When I first crossed paths with this man, I did not really know what to think. I was a rising seventh grader that was more bone than muscle, but I had visions of playing every sport in the book. Up until then, I had lived a fairly typical family life. That summer I moved to Allen Jay Middle School and my life was anything but typical. My parents had just divorced, and I was attending a new school for the first time in my life. Everything was new both at school and at home, and I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. My mother had remarried and I now lived with her and her new husband, as well as my new stepbrother. My stepbrother was the same age as I, so at least I had that to help things along.
Still, I was scared and uncertain of what was to come.
The summer before we began school, I was going to the old rock gym at Allen Jay during the day to play basketball and goof off. I met several friends that summer and that made things easier knowing I would be starting a new school. I knew I wanted to play sports, and I was practicing like a maniac at every opportunity to hone my skills. I was a pretty good athlete, though I was not built like one yet.
Coach Meredith was one of the people that helped out at the rock gym, and he also happened to be the football and basketball coach at the school. Needless to say, he would keep an eye out for new talent at the gym, as many rising seventh graders would come there during the summer.
One day, I finally got up the nerve to go up to Coach Meredith and introduce myself. I told him that I was going to play football and basketball, as well as baseball for Allen Jay. He welcomed me with open arms and even worked me out there at the gym a few times that summer.
Coach Gary Meredith was a very intense guy. He was not very tall, but he was thick with muscle and power. You could see that in the way that he carried himself. He himself was a former football player and the best softball player I have ever seen. His intensity was intimidating to a skinny seventh grader, and I knew I did not want to make him angry. That fear made him larger than life to me, and I went into summer football practice with plenty of concern for my well-being. Still, I was ready and determined to make my mark.
That summer he worked us to the bone. I managed to secure a starting position on the defense, and eventually played quarterback as well. The fact that I excelled in sports was not the real effect that Coach had on me, though that certainly was something he played a huge part in. The real measure of his impact on my life was in my growth as a human being.
Coach Meredith demanded the absolute best of his athletes. He put just as much emphasis on the classroom and the way we treated others as he did on the game. That made a major impression on me and drove me to excellence in more ways than one. Coach Meredith also went the extra mile for us. He was always there to correct, but he always treated us with respect.
What really amazed me about Coach Meredith was the way he treated me after I was gone from the school. I came back to see him over the years, and was blessed enough to watch his children grow up. Every year, Coach Meredith would show up at my home on Halloween and sometimes Christmas to say hello and catch up. He always cared and asked that we stay in touch, and up until several years ago I did.
We have lost touch over the years, but I will never forget the lessons that Coach Meredith taught me. When I do see him now it is as though we saw each other just yesterday. He still has a memory or ten to share, and always looks at me with a fondness that lets me know he truly cares. No better gift could have been given to us players, and I treasure it to this day.
Coach Meredith is the template that I try to use when I coach youngsters today. A bigger compliment could not be paid to the man that gave me the confidence to step out on the field against larger men, and into life with the same confidence.
Thanks Coach Meredith. You are loved and remembered on this Thanksgiving holiday, and all the year round.