Teachers Don’t Punch Time Clocks

by Andy Wood on January 3, 2011

in Books and Music, Following Your Passion, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, LV Stories

(From the forthcoming book, Coach Lightning)

Mention Morris Brown’s name around Jones County, Mississippi to anybody who knew him, and they’ll probably reply, “Oh, you mean Coach?”  Not much chance of somebody piping up and saying, “He was my Social Studies teacher!”

But don’t let the labels fool you.  Coach was always a teacher at heart.  And while a football field or basketball court may have been his favorite classrooms, they certainly weren’t his only ones.  There were precious few, if any, specialists in rural education in the 1950s.  But that was fine with Coach Brown.  He willingly embraced teachable moments wherever the situation called for it.

Just ask Dale Holifield, who grew up on a small farm in Jones County.  At age 11, Dale was so shy he could have been considered antisocial.  Outside of farming, he participated in very few activities.  Even when he went hunting and fishing, he usually did it alone.  All of that changed one summer day at the W. C. Houston grocery store, across from Shady Grove School.  Dale was getting a cold RC cola to drink and chatting with Bubba Houston, the store owner’s son.  The time came for Bubba to go to baseball practice, and he invited Dale to come along.  Dale reluctantly accepted, and joined Bubba at the small practice field behind Bubba’s house.  Hoping not to be noticed, Dale took a seat on the ground under a shade tree to watch the practice.

He didn’t sit very long.

Coach Brown meandered over and began asking the painfully shy boy some questions, the most important of which was, “Do you want to play ball?”

It wasn’t but a few minutes until Dale was holding a bat in his hands for the first time in his life.  Hitting something, however, was a different story.  As usual, Coach was nothing but encouraging.  “You’ve got a good cut,” he said to Dale, “just keep your eye on the ball.”

Here’s how Dale describes the impact of his teacher and coach:

“I did make the team and I did get to where I could hit the ball every now and then. I think what I just described would be very small and insignificant to most people, but I know it changed me for the rest of my life. I know Coach had that kind of impact on everyone that came in contact with him. “

The best teachers genuinely care for their students; Coach Brown was no exception.  Martha McLemore was a majorette with Coach Brown’s daughter Pam, and would often spend the night at the Brown home.  At home, at school, and on band trips together, Martha says that Coach had a way of picking at students that made them feel completely at home.  She adds, “He was so loved around school, he was just everybody’s friend.”

“Because of his coaching I learned to understand the games of football, basketball, and baseball and I still enjoy watching each today,” says Hilder Grace Houston.  “Not only was he my teacher, coach, school bus driver, County Beat 1 Supervisor, he was a friend as well.”

Aubrey and Sue Carol Green are also among the many who testify to this day of the way Morris loved his students and players.  Aubrey, who has been on both sides of the teacher-student relationship, once said, “If you can get a child to like you, that child will give you his best.”  Commenting on this, Sue Carol adds:

“That was the gift Coach Brown had, and my guess is, he never knew it.  He genuinely loved me and I knew it.  There is probably not a kid he coached that didn’t feel the same way.  Now that is a real legacy.”

However loved he was, however, Coach didn’t sacrifice discipline and excellence on the altar of popularity.   There was a proper way to go about things (particularly in the 1950s), and Morris understood and taught that.  Linda Shoemaker Tally was a Shady Grove cheerleader for one of Coach Brown’s championship Shady Grove teams.  She recalls the privilege it was to ride the football bus to games.

“Coach would always make us sit at the front of the bus away from the players as those players had to keep their minds strictly on the task at hand… winning the game!  On a few occasions after a BIG win, he would allow us to sit with the players.  We were always good because we knew that Coach would be checking frequently in the mirror as he drove the bus most of the time.  Any mess up and we would lose the privilege of riding the bus.  Coach felt responsible and did not want anything to happen to us under his supervision.”

After the Jones County schools consolidated, Morris was named Athletic Director and head football coach at West Jones.  A long way from that first season at Shady Grove, when he suited up 13 players, he had 120 to choose from in 1965.  From that, he had to whittle the roster down to 65 players, and do so in a fair and equitable way.  Finding the balance, the results speak for themselves.  In the first two football seasons ever at West Jones, Coach Brown led them to two conference titles, two county titles, and two bowl game victories.  Bill Glenn, who was on those teams, says:

“Coach Brown was without a doubt the best person as well as the best coach I ever played for….  He was a great leader and a great coach.  Coach Brown was very competitive and loved to win, but never at the expense of trying to hurt a player of the opposing team.  He taught us the real meaning of sportsmanship whether we won or lost.  I will never forget the things he did for me and I will never forget him.”

One of the most remarkable qualities of the best teachers is the way they mentor other aspiring teachers to excellence of their own.  In that sense, Aubrey Green’s experience is second to none.   A student at Shady Grove during his junior and senior years, Morris was his basketball coach.  After graduating, Aubrey went to Mississippi State University, where he majored in secondary education.  He returned to Shady Grove for his student teaching, where none other than Coach Lightning was his supervisor.

“I remember the first day and first class which was a social studies class.  Coach Brown called the roll, introduced me to the class, handed me the textbook and class roll book and then said, ‘I have something to do in the gym.’  He never came back to the class.  He started me off right, as I was on my own!  Everything went well for me and Coach made the experience a pleasure.

After completing his student teaching requirement, Aubrey was offered a teaching position at Shady Grove beginning the next school year, which happened to be the high school’s last.  But when the schools consolidated, Morris hired Aubrey as an assistant football coach, track and junior high basketball coach.

Eight years later Aubrey Green was transferred back to Shady Grove Elementary School.  He and his brother James coached the football team.  The next year, who should return to Shady Grove but Aubrey’s mentor?  He helped the Green brothers coach football that year.  Aubrey says, “He was a great help to us because of his many years of high school coaching experience.”

Teachers don’t punch time clocks.  As such, they often influence students without realizing it.  It is remarkable to me that many of the stories that are retold again and again come, not from the boys on Coach’s teams, but from the girls.  Like this one from Jill Glenn:

Coach was very competitive and would always find a way to win those games. My senior year after the spring game… we asked the coaches if we could have a Powder Puff football game.  The coaches agreed and they were our referees.  On the last play of regulation time, I picked up a fumble and raced 98 yards for the winning score.  Two of the coaches raced beside me and as we crossed goal line, they raised both arms to signal a touchdown!  I don’t think any of the opposing team even gave chase.  Even though I was on the sideline and just a cheerleader, I learned by watching Coach Brown’s championship coaching that a fumble was a live ball and could not end the game!  After all, I had been around Coach Brown’s winning teams since his early years at Shady Grove.

One more thought.  Teaching is an exercise (and often a test) in patience.  And in the crucible of athletic events, the pressure can get to the best of coaches.  But not Coach Brown.  Repeatedly his players have testified that they never heard him use foul language or mistreat a student or player.  Hilder Grace Houston adds, “He was always kind, never showing he was upset when you goofed up.  He would just turn red in the face, scratch his head and smile.”

I’m picturing that… and smiling, too.

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