Growing up as the oldest of four boys, I played my share of sports. A little basketball and alot of baseball. I was always among the smallest of the boys in my age group. The discrepancy in size only seemed to grow as I headed toward my freshman year in high school.
September brought me to a new, much larger school than I was used to. My previous school had, maybe, a total of 400 students, now, I would have that many in the freshman class alone. Gym was my second class of the day. We were instructed to sit in lines on the floor and wait for our name to be called. Every student’s height and weight was being recorded.
Always being the smallest guy, I dreaded the possibilities. I didn’t know these teachers. Maybe when they took my height and weight they would announce me as the smallest to ever attend this school. The last thing I wanted was to be ridiculed in front of a group of kids I was gonna spend the bulk of my next four years with. My anxiety only grew when of all the scales I was called to was the one manned by the football coach.
The man, while not tall, was a massive individual. He looked like he could lift a house. I could see him eyeing me up as I made my way to the scale. Those first words he ever said to me have stuck with me my whole life. “If you don’t weigh at least 100, we’re sending you back to the eigth grade” Before I could actually come to my senses, I thought, can he really do that? He fiddled with the scale, and finally announced 88 pounds. Did he really just say 88 pounds? Even I was amazed, my heart sank and my scrawny legs began to shake even more.
My fears were quickly eased a bit with a simple wink and the statement “Don’t worry we’ll make a man of you”. This man would probably weigh and measure hundreds of kids that day. He also had a football team to coach. I was sure, unless I was assigned him as a gym teacher during one of my four years, it was probably the last time he would ever talk to me. Much to my surprise, as I left the gym, Coach Grace called me over.
He started to tell me, he saw alot of himself in me. The football coach saw alot of himself in me? All 88 pounds of me? He told me that he too was a scrawny small kid who through hard work in the gym turned himself into an offensive lineman on a major Division 1 college team. He made an open door offer to stay after school and work out in the weight room any time I felt comfortable.
I have to admit, it took me several weeks to take him up on his offer. After I did, though, you could hardly get me out of that weight room. Three or more days a week, I worked out along side the football players and wrestlers. I became a sort of little brother to them all. Needless to say I became an untouchable in the halls. Never once being stuffed into a locker like many of my fellow freshmen.
I never dreamed of being a football player, and I never grew too big, but Coach Grace was always there offering tips and support. By my senior year I was now 5’7″ and 125 pounds, but thanks to the coach, I had the confidence of a 200 pounder. I later took my strength and quickness on to a short career as a Nascar crewman. A dream I most certainly would never have accomplished if not for Coach Grace. Thanks, coach, for making a man out of me.