Most of us have memories of teachers or coaches that bring us pleasure as the years go by. The one I remember most fondly was Coach Quintus Hamilton, with whom I was associated during my senior year in high school.
To look at me now, one would never guess I was ever an athlete. But I was. From my first introduction to basketball in the seventh grade, I was in love with the sport. I always dreamed of being a forward and experiencing the high of scoring for the team and helping win the game. But it was not to be.
Back in my day, girls played 3-on-3 basketball, and my coach chose to use me as a guard from the first day. That meant I would be responsible for guarding the opposing forwards on my end of the court, trying my utmost to stop them from scoring, and going after the ball every chance I got, in order to dribble it down the court within passing distance and throw it into the hands of our forwards on the other side of the center line. The very epitome of “all guts, no glory.”
In five years of basketball in junior high and high school, I made a grand total of two points– in the only game in which I was ever allowed to play forward-for about 2 minutes, in the seventh grade.
While I loved everything about the game, from the actual playing, to the squeak of sneakers on the polished hardwood floor, to the loud blast of the buzzer starting or ending a period of play, I did not like the sound of my coach’s voice as he chided me for some blunder I had made. As often as not he blamed me for something beyond my control. I suppose he criticized all of us, but I always felt he was especially hard on me. Maybe I just tried too hard.
But I doggedly hung on, hoping for better days. In my junior year, I had to forego basketball because of a scheduling conflict. How I missed it!
My senior year brought a wonderful surprise-a new coach, in the person of Quintus Hamilton. He was a few years older than our former coach, very kind and soft-spoken. In one of our first practices while we were shooting baskets, he called me over and asked what position I had been playing. When I told him I had always played guard, he shook his head and said, “I think you could have been a good forward. But I suppose it’s too late for you to start all over now.”
So I continued to play guard for a few games. It seemed to help just knowing that my new coach believed I could have played forward. Then one night I was running down the court and turned to catch a pass from one of the other guards. My foot didn’t turn, though, and I wound up with torn cartilage in my knee.
Coach Hamilton showed a lot of sympathy for my plight, rather than chiding me for carelessness or clumsiness as might have happened with the former coach. After the game, he drove me home and asked two of my team members to help me to the door. I’m sure he realized it might not look good for him to be seen helping me to the door in the middle of the night– unlike our former coach who had been known to put his hands on girls.
The next day I went to the doctor and was told, “No school for the rest of the week and no more basketball ever!” Needless to say, my heart was broken.
Coach Hamilton even came to my house to see about me and visit a few minutes during the next week. And when I went back to school, rather than sending me to study hall, he made a job for me. On forms he had drawn up and printed out, I kept records of scores, rebounds, and almost every move made by our players in every game. I was still allowed to travel with the team and made to feel that I still belonged.
Of course at the end of that year I was gone from the school, and don’t remember if I ever saw Coach Hamilton again, but I never forgot him. He retired not long afterwards and continued to live in his long-time home just over the state line.
While what he did for me may sound like a small thing, to a teenager who had felt misused and unappreciated for 5 years, his kindness was like a breath of fresh air. I’m sure he passed on long ago, but he lives on in my grateful memories of him.