The whole situation seemed like a nightmare! At the age of 17, I found myself in my senior year of high school feeling lost and alone. I married during my senior year of high school just to get out of the house. Daddy signed for me, I think, because he knew the struggle that was occurring between me and my mom at that time. The fact that I was anorexic failed to help matters. Sure, I didn’t look anorexic because, by nature, I was a big girl. Still, I ate only one piece of charred bacon per day. That’s it. This would go on for months before I’d break down and eat anything more. Needless to say, my body suffered from a lack of nourishment and so did my brain.
It got worse, though. I quickly found myself on the wrong side of the law at the age of 17. I’d never had a run-in with the law, and I didn’t know my rights. I was in a bad situation. One morning, as I was sitting in Coach Connor’s class (name changed for privacy), the school principal walked down to our classroom with a police officer to get me. They took me to the office and talked with me, and my situation only got worse from there. Here I was, age 17, married to someone that I was ill suited for, drained from anorexia, emotionally exhausted, and accused of a crime. I had no hope of graduating. I couldn’t even function correctly. I would go to my class at 8 a.m. every morning, stare blankly at Coach Connors, and answer with a polite I don’t know if he called on me in class. Coach Connors always treated me well, even though I was a poor performer to say the least.
I was a zombie for several reasons. No dope, no booze, just all the other bad things in my life. Still, though, I got up and tried when I could. I would do my best to get to class, but did it really make a difference? I figured Coach Connors only taught classes because he had to in order to be a coach. He probably didn’t care since I wasn’t one of his football players. I doubted he ever even noticed me. So, I’d go to a few classes and then stay home for a class. Some days, I just thought if I could stay home and get one extra day’s worth of sleep that I would be better, but it never happened that way. I wasn’t thinking right enough to realize that my problems were deep. I was exhausted from the physical and emotional struggle that still occurred between me and my mom, even though I was married. I couldn’t think straight because I lacked nourishment. I was miserable with my new husband. I had nobody to talk to. They wouldn’t understand, I thought. As it turned out, though, somebody was paying attention. Coach Connors was watching me closely.
At one of my lowest mornings ever, Coach Connors asked me to stay after class. I was ready for it. I knew that he was about to tell me that I wouldn’t graduate due to my excessive absences and poor performance. I didn’t want to hear that, especially not from him. I liked Coach Connors; he was always so kind to all his students. After class, Coach Connors stood over me. “Sheila,” he said, “I see that you’re having a hard time, and I figure the police officer that showed up the other day made it worse.” I just nodded my head and never even looked up at him. My tears flooded the top of my desk. “I won’t ask you about that,” he said, “but we need to get you through this class so that you can graduate.” I became afraid after I heard him say that because I could barely get out of bed in the morning, so I knew that I couldn’t all of a sudden work really hard and get caught up. My heart sank.
“Here’s what I need you to do to earn a C in this class,” he told me. “I need you to get here every morning and bring something to eat, and I want you to eat it in class.” I looked up at him like he was crazy. “It doesn’t have to be solid food. It can be a carton of milk, but I do want you to eat something every class because I don’t think you’re eating, and you have to eat to function.” I put my head back down. I was puzzled. I couldn’t figure out how he knew that I wasn’t eating. “Now, I want you to try and do your homework when you can, but you must come to class, and you absolutely must eat something in class. Do you understand that I require these two things for you to earn a C in this class?” I again nodded my head. “Now, take care of your trouble with the law, come to class, eat, and try to be happy.”
I left the classroom that day and held to every promise I made to Coach Connors. I drank chocolate milk in his class every single day, and I sometimes even ate something to go with it. I went to class every single day after our conversation, but I didn’t always manage to do my homework. I did always attend and eat in class, so he never said a word. Coach Connors gave me the C that he promised me, and I graduated. By the time I graduated, I’d gained more than 20 pounds. The important thing was that my brain got enough nutrition to begin to realize that I needed to do something about my situation, so I struggled to get my life back in order. It took me at least two years to overcome my police officer problem. It took me about 5 years to finally get my life straight, and it took me from that point until now to become who I am today, but who is that?
Today, I am a happy, divorced mother of one child, an ethical person, a Christian, a college instructor, and a Ph.D. candidate, largely due to Coach Connors taking the time to care for one of his students. He showed me the face of concern, the face of mercy, and the face of grace. How does this all figure into coaching? I believe that an instructor is a coach. It’s not enough to just teach academics. An instructor must also teach life skills in the process, and Coach Connors did that for me. Every single day that I teach, I do my best to look carefully at my students. I spend time talking with them and listening to them between classes, and I try to live my life in such a way that they will respect me as I respect Coach Connors. Thank you, Coach Connors, for helping me get to where I am today.