Football is NOT Life: Reprise 2014

I  wrote the blog post, Football is NOT Life, in 2010. I was two years out of my bad breakup with football coaching. The obsession with coaching the sport was waning and life, my real, actual life was beginning to seep back into its position of dominance in my psyche. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it. Football coaching, coaching in general, has a tendency to take over the way one thinks.

How would I block this play against this front? If they shift into this formation, how will our defense adjust?

Everything football all the time. Every day, all year long, probably 50% on average of all my thought processes circled back to football. That percentage probably jumped to 80% during the season. Analysis of every, single detail to find a way to be better. Every day.

Devising not only a Plan A and a Plan B, but a Plan C through Z also, just in case.

I wrote this mostly for me. I was the guilty party. I needed to put this on paper and post it to always remind me, Football is not life, life is life.

I am also re-posting the original blog piece for you.  You know, you folks out there who have let things slip out of focus. The ones who are half crazed with the emotion and the frustration and the disappointment associated with sports, especially when things are heading south in a hurry.

Everybody wants to win, it is written in the marrow of our bones. However, not everybody can win and we need to remind ourselves there are worse things in life than losing a game of football, no matter how much it hurts.

Respect the kids and respect the coaches. Respect the work and effort everyone invests, no matter how disappointing the outcome is. Use games and sports to build character in our young people, not to expose poor character.

Please read this post and think about it.  If it helps, then pass it on to the next person before we adults take all the fun out of this great game.

 

(originally posted on September 21, 2010)

FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE 

I know this may sound highly irrational and maybe even a bit hypocritical coming from me, but contrary to what the t-shirts say, FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE!.

Football is the greatest damn game ever invented, but it is not life.  Football is intensity, competitiveness, sportsmanship and violence, but it is not life.  Football requires immense strategy and teamwork, but it is not life.  Football provides education, drama, entertainment, and a solidarity which binds communities, campuses and fan bases throughout the nation, but it is not life.  Football is universal, it is played by presidents and paupers, genius and idiot, big and small, aggressive and passive, rich and poor, but it is not life.  Football should not be all consuming.  Football should not be the top priority.  I know this for a fact, I have tripped and fallen down this hole before (see my story).

Football can be like a package of Oreos, both need to be consumed in moderation.  You’ve been there, you opened the package of Oreos and left it out on the counter.  Sooner, rather than later, the whole package is gone and you don’t feel so good.  But if you open that package and only take a couple of Oreos and place the package in the cupboard for a later date, they not only taste spectacular, but last and satisfy for days upon days.  Football is not life.  It should be taken in moderation and/or with a tall glass of milk, (1% or skim preferably).

Football has it’s proper place, it has it’s proper perspective. Football is not the primary reason for the existence of high schools, colleges and universities.

Yes, football is important.  It is important to compete.  It is important to work hard to be the best coach or player you can be.  It is important to compete with purpose, pride and passion.  But I think Coach Paul Lane said it best with his prioritization of the sport, “Faith, Family, Football, in that order”.

Football is important to me.  But football is not life.  Let’s work to keep football in it’s proper perspective and place. I would hate for you to get a football belly-ache.

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The Snap

The sound. The sharp snap of a chin strap being fastened. It is a beautiful sound; a quick click of metal fastening to metal, followed by the crisp echo as the sound waves move through the plastic shell of the football helmet. A beautiful sound.

We have a unique situation for football in our town. Our stadium, the historic Otto Unruh Stadium, built in the depression by local workers using local limestone, is across town from the high school. So, for games, we had to ride busses from the school to the stadium. Some may look at this as an inconvenience, but I always thought it was pretty darn cool.

First, it gave the kids a game-mentality to associate with the stadium. We knew when we went to Otto Unruh Stadium, it was game time. We knew it was time to go to work and take care of business.

Second, the bus ride was kind of fun. After a home win, there was nothing better than to drive back across town with cars honking, people waving, and a bus full of singing, happy, sweaty, stinky, beat-up-but-not-feeling-a-lick-of-pain teenage boys. If we lost? Let’s just say the mood was a little more somber.

The most awesome thing, though, was the bus ride out to the Unruh Stadium. We made that ride in total silence. Yes, you read that correctly. 40 teenage boys fully dressed out to play a high school football game, riding in a school bus on a 10 minute drive across town in complete, utter silence. It was one of the many brilliant ideas of Coach Paul Lane.

The kids all knew the Coach Lane Silence Drill, especially on the second bus which carried most of the lineman and younger JV kids. Coach Lane and I were coach riders on that bus. Every once in a while, most often early in the year or riding out for a freshman or JV game, one of the younger kids, pumped up on nervous adrenaline, would say something. A simple hand up by me, or a stern look from an upperclassman would silence the bus again.

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The best part of the ride would happen after we crossed the bridge over Huntress Creek and prepare to turn left on “C” Street. As we came off the bridge, the sun would be falling over the limestone grandstands of the stadium a few blocks west of the bridge. You could feel the intake of breath throughout the bus. There was our house in all its glory, decked out with the orange and black flags, and the other various decorations associated with Friday Night in America. The scoreboard would be on and the lights may already be on, Otto Unruh Stadium was ready. Our stadium.

The Coach Hays part of the Coach Lane Bus Silence Rule was when we turned the corner on “C” street, everyone was to be strapped up and ready to step off the bus with fire in our eyes. The part which I hope stays fresh in my memory for the rest of my life would happen right there. The moment when the bus driver would turn the corner and behind me I would hear, no I would feel, the snap of 40 chin straps being fastened in almost perfect unison. It gives me chills just to think about it. That beautiful sound of the snap, 40 times within a second, and spread out just enough to where I could almost hear each individual snap.

The bus would continue, the silence would continue, and when Coach Lane stepped off the bus inside the stadium, Rocky, our radio announcer in the booth, would start “Welcome to the Jungle” at the second Coach Lane’s foot hit the ground. Friday Night in America, boys and girls.

I miss that ride. I miss that sound probably more than just about anything from the coaching days at CCCHS. In my head the echo of those snaps lingers. I can only hope when I am on my deathbed, after I see the faces of my family and after my life flashes before my eye, the very last sound I hear as I turn the corner toward my glorious stadium, will be the “SNAP!” of a chorus of football helmets.

 

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It Was a Good Day to be a Bubba

It was the same pool I’d gone to all my life. I took swim lessons there. I’d played Nerf baseball in the corner of the shallow end of the pool ever since I was tall enough to stand and keep my head above the water line. But on that day it felt as alien and isolated, like a place I had never, ever stepped foot in.

I took off my ball cap, pulled the tank top over my head and stepped out of my grass-stained Converse All-Stars. I spread my towel on the pool deck, slid my glasses into the right shoe on top of the sweaty dollar for the snack bar, and covered the shoes with my rolled up shirt and hat.

I hardly recognized any of the kids in the deep end of the pool, the “older” section. Just last summer me and my friends owned this section of the pool, now it was like our existence had been cleansed, our presence removed from the historical record.

Eighth grade was gone.

Catholic school graduation was in the rear view and my first ever year of public school, in a public junior high and as a ninth grader, filled every inch of free space in the windshield.

The older brothers warned me not to go to the pool. They said I was too old; it wasn’t cool to be hanging there with “little” kids. But, it’s rather difficult to take advice from the same guys who tried to wedgie your underwear over your head or poured a gallon of milk on your head at Thanksgiving dinner, so here I was at the pool. And as much as I hate to admit it, my brothers may have been 100% correct this time.

A panic arose in my stomach as I thought about turning around and leaving, but since I stood out on the open deck, in my swim shorts, on the hot pavement, doing a little quick foot dance, I decide the less embarrassing path would be to get to the water. My plan evolved to getting in, cooling down, and then exiting the premises.

I’ve come this far, why not enjoy the pool.

I sat on the edge of the pool and cooled my feet. I scanned the pool again for friendly faces. None. I did notice out toward the center of the pool, though, in kind of an island of people, some recognizable faces. The public school kids.

I slid into the water and eased my way closer to the group until I stop about 15 yards away. First things first, there are three girls with bikinis on. Bikinis. Not something you see very often in the Catholic school girl’s circles, that’s for danged sure. Bikinis. After a few seconds processing this information, I decide bikinis are good, very good. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a few good things about public school.

My interest in the group went past the point of bikini interest when I noticed a surfer-boy kid and this mouthy kid in the group. I think the surfer-boy had an older sister who knew my older brother. The mouthy kid I recognized from summer baseball since he played on our biggest league rival.

I stayed my distance and observed. That is what big, husky, athletic, offensive lineman introverted kids do. We hang on the fringes and wait for something to happen. And as a sizeable Bubba-lineman introvert it’s kind of hard to “blend” into the crowd. I tried my best, though. I should have stuck with the plan and been heading back to gather my things and escape, but I was intrigued with something they were trying to do, something that was right up my alley.

The mouthy kid and the surfer-boy were trying to fly.

One of them stood on another kid’s shoulders as this kid squatted underwater. The one standing on the shoulders tapped the underwater kid’s head and the squatter stood up rapidly in an attempt to shoot the kid high into the sky.

The concept was good, but their execution was poor.

As hard as the surfer-boy and the mouthy kid tried, they just couldn’t vault high enough to do anything but barely get out of the water. Their attempts were duds and fizzled like bottle rockets hitting the surface of the pond. The soft, baby-faced kid they used as their underwater launch pad was, quite honestly, doing it all wrong and was the main source of their failure.

Over and over they tried but just couldn’t get it right. I shook my head in disgust, gravitating from my place at a safe introvert distance closer and closer to the group with each failed attempt.

The girls in the bikinis laughed at the boys, and even worse, their interest in this testosterone-driven show-of-male-teen-force faded. The boys began to argue about what was going wrong. The surfer-boy and the mouthy kid blamed the soft kid (at least they go that part right) and they eventually sent him to the sidelines.

They tried in vain a few times to launch each other. These attempts were even more of a failure than previous attempts with the soft kid. After one particularly heinous fail, I couldn’t help but laugh.

“What are you laughing at?”

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I froze. It was the mouthy kid. My eyes flittered around the immediate area and realized he was talking to me. I’d drifted to within 20 feet of these kids. I was caught on an island with nowhere to hide, no way to disappear, and fully exposed in the middle of the pool. My brothers were absolutely, positively, 100% correct. I should have stayed home.

“Nothing,” I mumbled.

He looked at me. I looked at him. The anger melted from his face. “You’re a big one, aren’t you?”

I didn’t answer.

“You play for Varsity Sports, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“I play for Bryant’s.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re pretty good. You got a nice swing.”

“Thanks, you too.” I looked at the surfer-boy, who had drifted in. “Hey,” I said to him.

The surfer boy nodded. “Hey.”

A moment passed. My whole body screamed at me to leave. Screamed for me to save face, get the heck out of the pool, and never come back. But just as my body was turning, my head blurted out, “You’re doing that all wrong.”

“What?” asked the surfer-boy.

“You aren’t getting enough drive off the pool bottom.”

The mouthy kid and the surfer-boy looked at each other.

I dropped down in the water to where I was almost floating shoulder deep and edged my way backward in an escape route. “You’re jumping good off the shoulders, but you ain’t getting enough drive down low to get you in the air.”

The mouthy kid smiled. “Can you do it? You look strong as an ox.”

I backed away a few more steps and eyed the pool wall’s distance.

The surfer-boy chimed in. “Yeah, come on. Give it a try.”

I stopped in my tracks. Stopped like a tuna caught in a net. There was only one thing to do, move forward.

After half a dozen attempts, the sight of two man-boys flying high and landing with monumentally awesome splashes in the water and their laughs, giggling, and high-fiving, filled the center of the pool. I’d take a deep breath and squat as low as I could on the pool floor. One of them would balance on my shoulders, and tap me on the head when ready.

With every ounce of strength, I’d drive up and jump in the air. Just as I reached the peak of my jump the kid on my back would jump and fly into the air. As I fell back to the bottom, I’d see a shadow in the wave growing larger and as I went underwater, I’d hear the splash of the body hit the water and feel the concussion. It was awesome.

The attention of the bikini-clad girls returned, along with the attention of two-thirds of the people in that end of the pool, and the lifeguards. We boys at the center of attentions did not notice anything around us; we’d disappeared into our own little world. We didn’t even notice the shrill screech of the lifeguards whistle when she told us to quit and eventually made us sit out when we didn’t.

While in lock-up on the hot pool deck under the lifeguard stand, I sat quietly and smiled. The mouthy kid chattered with the lifeguard the entire time and eventually talked her into letting us keep playing our game if we moved to the deeper end away from people.

The surfer-boy rolled his eyes and smiled.

I threw bodies into the bright blue sky for at least another hour. If my legs tired, or my shoulders ached from being a launch pad, they were completely restored with each laugh and “Whoa!” and “Dude!” from the surfer-boy and the mouthy kid.

Finally, it was time to go. I got out, dried off, and dressed. I headed for the concrete stairs leading up to the exit. I heard the mouthy kid’s voice yell out, but I couldn’t understand what he said over the din of summer pool activity. I turned and found him and the surfer-boy, still in the water and again talking to several of the girls. I held my right hand up to my ear to signal I couldn’t hear him.

He shouted, “See you here, tomorrow!”

I smiled, placed my Varsity Sports baseball cap on my head, and gave him a thumb’s up sign. The surfer-boy and the mouthy kid returned the thumb’s up.

I tugged the cap down over my wet hair and walked with a spring in my step up the stairs, three at a time.

It was a great day to be a Bubba.

 

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Why Free?

Not too long ago, someone asked me why I don’t charge for the baseball skills and hitting camps I offer. It’s because I’m a saint…okay, okay, quit giggling, I apologize for that “little” lie.

Honestly, I’ve thought about it. As a civil servant working at a state university, with twins in college, and a teacher wife taking graduate course work, heaven knows a few extra dollars wouldn’t hurt.

But, I don’t charge a dime.
Why?
Because, nobody ever charged me.

My father, Joe Hays, never charged me for his help.

My brothers, Pat, Tim, Dan, and Tom never charged me for their time or help.

The kids in the neighborhood and my friends never charged a solid quarter for the pick-up games, the whiffle ball games and the home run derby contests.

Coaching influences Bernie Hansel, Bill Patch, Ray Kistler, Dom Dumovich, “Easy” Ed Hernandez, Forest Miles, Bruce Gibb, Steve Burleson, Ron Koster, Rex Carlson, Barrett Long, and Dennis “Harpo” Hurla never charged Mike Hays anything to help him get a leg up in the game of baseball.

So, what gives me the right to charge? Nothing.

If I charge kids, who pays? Their parents, right? Now, those parents who emptied the wallet to pay for these lessons will naturally have high expectations. And, as sure as 2+2=4, these high expectations directly transfer to the kid.

Here’s a little sports secret: Stressed out, high anxiety athletes at every level do not perform well. The pressure and the expectation put on a kid after their parent’s monetary investment is something I do not want to make the kids have to deal with.

In a nutshell, here’s what we focus on in our camps:

  • Teach fundamental sports skills.
  • Teach them to be done with a relaxed and efficient body.
  • Practice, practice and practice these skills until they are second nature.
  • Now, the most important step, teach them to have fun playing. Teach them if they work at the skills and they learn to relax and perform, then success will follow. Success = Fun.

There is a lot of discussion in our community about money and extracurricular sports activities. Sports are important to me, always have been, always will be. But, I know sports are not life.
Sports are not at the core mission of what we do as communities. That is why they throw the “extra-” in front of the “curricular”.

Please, support your extracurricular activities with a positive mindset. Support them by providing the coaches and the programs with the budgets and salaries they need and deserve. But, never, ever forget to keep them in perspective.

Perspective. That’s what makes the difference.

Do sports because you enjoy doing sports. As a parent, fan, administrator, coach, or player, put sports in the proper context and savor every second you are fortunate to be involved in them.

Coach and teach sports without trying make a fast dime. I calculated my pay rate one year when I coach both football and baseball at Clay Center Community High School and it came out to be just over $5.00/hour (AND that did not include summer football conditioning hours or baseball field work time that year. It was too depressing to even calculate all that.).

Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you love the sport and love passing it along to future generations just as those in the last generation passed them along to you.

Finally, a little sports disclaimer:

Sports are not life.
Life is life.
Sport are for enjoyment purposes only.
Enjoy them!

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Proposed Holiday: Magic 8 Ball Day

“See, I’m an idea man, Chuck.” – Bill Blazejowski, NIGHT SHIFT (1982)

As Minister of Stupidity, it recently was brought to my attention there is no real summer holiday between the stellar events of July 20 (Apollo Moon Landing, 1969) and Labor Day.

Sure, if you are a heathen or a teacher, there’s always that first day of school thing, but, seriously, not exactly a holiday. There is also the first day of football practice. But again, although somewhat exciting to be back at football, two-a-day really are not anyone’s real idea of a holiday.

So where are we left now? The Holiday Desert.

I would like to propose a new holiday. A holiday which does not take itself too seriously and may or may not involve a day off (mostly depending of whether you are willing to spend your own leave time.)

The new holiday is Magic 8 Ball Day. I propose a date of August 8th to hold this new esteemed holiday. On Magic 8 Ball Day, one should only respond to questions with standard answers from the most famous toy-with-a-dark-purpose ever invented. The toy which can read the stars and give the most relevant answer to life’s biggest questions.

Q: “Magic 8 Ball, is today a good day to tell my boss to !@#$-off?”

A: “REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN”

Q: “Magic 8 Ball, should I buy my wife a nice gift because she’s so awesome?”

A: “OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.”

Are you starting to see the beauty of Magic 8 Ball Day? It will be the perfect day to find answers to your burning questions.

To get the inaugural Magic 8 Ball Day off to a rousing start, here are the 20 possible Magic 8 Ball answers:

  • It is certain
  • It is decidedly so
  • Without a doubt
  • Yes definitely
  • You may rely on it
  • As I see it, yes
  • Most likely
  • Outlook good
  • Yes
  • Signs point to yes
  • Reply hazy try again
  • Ask again later
  • Better not tell you now
  • Cannot predict now
  • Concentrate and ask again
  • Don’t count on it
  • My reply is no
  • My sources say no
  • Outlook not so good
  • Very doubtful

Happy Magic 8 Ball Day!

You’re welcome, in advance.

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There’s no “I” in team, but there is a “ME”

“There’s no “I” in team, but there sure as heck is a “ME”.”

Of all the stupid coach-things I ever said, this was one of my favorites and maybe the wisest stupid thing I’ve ever said. It kind of goes against the grain against the popular “No ‘I’ in team” sayings we are so familiar with.

A good team is not a group of harmoniously tuned clones; a good team is a collection of individuals, from diverse backgrounds and personalities, who work well together toward achieving a goal.

I did not care where you can from.
I did not care who your friends were or what interests you had.
I did not care who your parents were.
I did not care where you came from.

What I cared about was how you contributed to the team. What I cared about was this. When you stepped across the white line and onto the field, you put the blinders on and committed to working toward making the team better.

Every minute, every hour, every day.

There is some intriguing research being down on the team concept in education, business, etc. Po Bronson, co-author of TOP DOG: THE SCIENCE OF WINNING AND LOSING, has some interesting ideas about the team.

One very important find from the research identifies the 60/30/10 Rule as a formula for a team, whether business, sports, education, etc.

60% of a team’s success is directly related to who is on the team. This means talent. Talented teams succeed. Building a team and/or acquiring talent matters in a big way. The talent level matters more than most people ever realize (or wish to admit). Coaches/leaders are important, but not nearly for the reasons most of us believe.

30% of the success is in the setup of the team. The setup of a team includes the program’s philosophy, goals, and the road map plan to get there. The single most important thing a leader can do to give a team the best chance to succeed is to clarify the roles on the team. Every member of the team should have a role and understand this role.

10% has to do with leadership. The leader’s job, once the team’s goals and roles are established, is to keep the team on course. Don’t micromanage a team.

So what the research is saying is that coaches are not the wizards most people perceive them to be. Coach K, Bill Self, or Bill Snyder are all exceptional in their set up of a team by implementing their goals, philosophies, and role clarification. Where these coaches excel at is acquiring talent and getting those players onto the field with the program’s goals, philosophies and specific roles fully ingrained.

They set and keep the course, not micromanage.

There’s a misconception about a team that everyone must get along. This is crap. Seriously. Harmony and chemistry are two very different things. Harmony means a peaceful, constant state. Harmony does not equate to team, though. Harmony kills progress with complacency. Sure you need some team harmony; you can’t be a team that goes for each other’s throats at every turn, that’s dysfunctional.

One of my biggest coaching pet peeves was the deal making kids would do. The
‘I’ll go easy and scratch your back if you’ll go easy and scratch mine” of the #1’s on the depth chart vs the #2’s and #3’s on the depth chart during drills and scrimmages. I want competition, I want fire. I want an environment the #2 is out to beat the #1 and the #3 is out to put the #2 and the #1 on the edge.

A little skirmish every now and then is not a bad thing for a team. Just don’t allow these little skirmishes to develop into team rifts. Players should challenge each to get better, not beat down each other. Serious issues need to be addressed and resolved early prior to becoming team rifts.

Chemistry is a mix of team member’s personality and skills which move the team forward and drive every member to get better. The players in the mix don’t have to be homogenous. They can be as different as can be. The only thing that matters is the team moves toward its goals.

A team needs someone to rock the boat and be a catalyst to trigger improvement. A team needs someone to point out the deficiencies in the team AND (this AND is very, very important) work to find solutions to improve.

Don’t underestimate the power of the individual to a group or team. As a coach, boss, or team leader, make an effort to understand the 60/30/10 Rule. Assemble the best talent you can, define and assign roles, and let people do their jobs.

Individuals matter.

Don’t allow ego to get in the way of progress.

There’s is no “I” in team, but there is a “ME”.

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#MeReadBill

“Me thinks I shall take on Shakespeare this year.”

The Bard. William “F-ing” Shakespeare, as a friend of my used to say. Shakespeare. The mere word sends shivers down the spines of most young males, conjuring images of fiercely cruel language arts teachers, senseless drivel, and a looming conspiratorial theory the educators of today must be receiving a royalty kickback from the descendants of the Bard.

Now that I have that Shakespearean rant off my chest, I have an announcement.

I am making this the Summer of Shakespeare.

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That’s right, doubters of my intellectual inspirations and motivations. I am going to spend the wonderful Summer of 2014 reading me some Shakespeare.

What gives, you ask?

Well, the Mrs. Hays just finished a two-year teaching stint of freshman English at the local high school. She really got into the Romeo and Juliet. In fact, she even convinced me to listen to the audio CD version she bought for her classroom. I did. It was good. No, it was a very awesome, great kind of good. Much better than I remembered from my junior high days when I may have bribed someone to read the play and supply enough modern, translated information to pass the exam.

(NOTE: I did enjoy watching the 1968  Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet movie in a 9th grade assembly and was wondrously impressed we freshmen were allowed to view a movie with nudity, albeit partial and fleeting, in the name of “art”.  And coming from Catholic school to my first year of public school…Go art!)

So, at 49 years old, with my new, slightly-skewed-toward-the-positive, personal worldview of Shakespeare in place, Mrs. Hays sent me a link several months ago to a free app download from PlayShakespeare.com. An app which contained the complete works of one William Shakespeare. Now, “All the world’s a stage…” and I have access to read and learn more about Shakespeare than I ever dreamed I’d need or want.

Thus was born, the Summer of Shakespeare. I am going to read Shakespeare this summer to go along with my #MeReadBook philosophy. My plan is to flip between tragedies and comedies to squeeze in as many of the plays which I have always been curious to read but never “got around to it”.

So to start the Summer of Shakespeare, I am reading Macbeth. We’ll see how this goes, friends.

Please join me if you are so inclined and join the Shakespearean fun. Check the Twitter hashtag, #MeReadBill to keep updated on current reads and any idiotic Coach Hays commentary.

Who knows?

Maybe I will survive and move out of the Summer of 2014 a changed man…

 

 

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