Category Archives: Reads

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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#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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715

I saw the home run through my 10-year-old eyes.
The Record.
Hammering Hank.
I didn’t know of the bigotry.
I didn’t know of the hate.
I didn’t know of the threats.
I knew baseball.
I knew hitting.

I knew Henry Aaron,
my right-handed hitting hero.
I knew Carl Yastrzemski,
my left-handed hitting hero.
I didn’t see black and white.
I saw sweet, smooth swings.
I saw the ball popping off their bats
in the color of baseball, not skin.

In Atlanta, Georgia,
on an April evening,
I saw the ball fly over the fence.
The record fell.
715.
The Holy Grail of records,
the one which would never fall.
The Great Bambino.

Then the man with the brown sugar swing
ran around the bases.
Afraid for his life.
Afraid for his family.
Because he did what he loved to do,
the same thing I loved to do.
Hit a baseball,
and watch it fly.

April 8, 1974

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Reprise: CURSE OF THE JOLLY ROGER

CURSE OF THE JOLLY ROGER: A Cautionary Tale

Based on a True Story

by Mike Hays

In the days when Haddenfield was still a sleepy Midwestern town, when Camp Crystal Lake was a fine, upstanding youth summer camp and when nothing but sweet dreams dominated life on Elm Street, a curse cast itself upon an unwitting and undeserving, innocent young boy and his three older siblings.  A curse so horrible, so horrendous it still terrifies to the bone; still cuts a deep chasm into the soul some forty-plus years after that fateful stormy, chilled Halloween night on Cernech Road in Kansas City, Kansas.
It was a great day for the Boy #3.  The special day each fall when the leaves first began to show yellow, red and brown.  That natural changeover which seemed to trigger the opening of a secret vault in the hall closet of the family home.  Then out of apparent thin air on the upper shelf of the  hall closet, the orange plastic jack-o-lanterns would appear along with one of the most wonderful sights in the world, THE HALLOWEEN BOX.  The Mom would remove the box and the plastic jack-o-lanterns from the shelf, totally and completely of her own volition without any prodding by the youngsters of the household.  Boy #3 was hypnotized by the box as The Mom placed it on the coffin in the living room (Yes, the family had a coffin in the living room, under the picture window and it was the most valuable TV watching spot in the room.  A hand carved/hand-built coffin on loan from crazy Priest/Uncle who was traveling abroad studying different religions).
The children, Boy #1, Boy #2, Girl, Boy #3 and the very young Boys #4 and #5, would watch with bated breathe as The Mom would open the top of the large, white, JC Penney’s coat box.  The glow, as if she opened a treasure chest of gold doubloons, reflected on the faces of the kids.  Joyful expressions not surpassed by any other occasion other than Christmas morning spread from child to child.  A real Rockwell moment that soon crashed back into reality as the little hands tore for the decorations.  Out came the cardboard decorations; the fold-up, jointed skeletons, the black cat, the witch, the pumpkins.  All were grabbed and gone in six different directions.  Boy #3 was able to grab his favorite, the skull decoration, without losing an appendage in the scrum.  The skull decoration was old and worn, but a classic.  One could tell its exact age by counting the layers of yellowed Scotch tape, like rings in a tree trunk, placed at strategic locations on the top of the skull and the chin.  Boy #3 received his allotment of two pieces of new Scotch tape from The Mom and she pointed him in the direction of where the skull was to be taped onto the picture window.  Amidst the scramble for space on the coffin pad, Boy #3 pressed the skull to the window, crawled off the coffin and admired his work for a brief second before scrambling back to THE HALLOWEEN BOX to dig out the one thing he’d anticipated for months, the store-bought, hand-me-down Jolly Roger Pirate costume.
The Jolly Roger pirate costume, with its one piece suit and plastic mask, was a thing of beauty.  This was Boy #3’s first go round with the Jolly Roger and he had been looking forward to it for years.  The yellow pants, the blue sleeves, the pirate ship across the chest with the words Jolly Roger scripted across the top.  And the mask!  Never had a more fearsome visage been molded into plastic than this fellow.  With a real, actual felt 5 o’clock shadow beard, wry smile, furrowed eyebrows, this was no pirate to be dealt with lightly.  This was a man of the high seas, a man whom men feared and women swooned over.  Boy #3 admired the mask, then slipped the rubber band over his head.  It fit his large head very tightly, but it didn’t matter to him as he drifted off to his pirate ship.  He could feel the wind as it bellowed the main sail, he could taste the salt water on his plastic lips as they chased the Queen’s merchant ships off the coast of Spain.  This was going to be a great Halloween!
But, alas! As Boy #3 squeezed himself into the body of the costume, reality set in.  Boy #3 was not good at hand-me-downs.  It was by a turn of genetics that Boy #3 was a lineman in a family of running backs and receivers.  His lineman build, even in early primary grade years, did not mesh with the things being lent down from Boys #1 and #2.  And for that matter, he probably could not even wear anything the older boys were currently sporting.  But, Boy #3 was not going to allow a small detail such as a two sizes too small costume ruin this chance.  This Halloween would be memorable, one way or the other.

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Halloween came, finally.  The weather turned cold, damp and drizzly over the course of the afternoon.  The family sat around the dinner table, eating the traditional beef stew Halloween feast.  Occasionally one of them answered the front door to give candy to a small child trick or treating.  The family’s Halloween plan was set.  Boys #4 and #5 and The Dad were in charge of candy distribution at home base.  The Mom would take Boys #1-3 and Girl out for trick or treating.  Boy #3 could hardly wait any longer.

He had survived school with all the grace and patience of one attempting to cross the Sahara desert in the midst of a sandstorm.  This after-school day was like pulling teeth with pliers…long, drawn out and painful.  To make the day worse, The Mom would not allow Boy #3 to sport the Jolly Roger at school for fear of the seams busting out during the course of the classroom festivities.  Instead, she fell back on the requisite mummy costume of gray sweats with gauze bandages wrapped around his head.  Boy #3 did not care.  School Halloween was minor league, the Big Show was trick or treats on Halloween night.  Never in a hundred years would the shy Boy #3 walk up to a stranger’s or neighbor’s, house, knock on the door and actually speak to people.  But,  the pirate in the Jolly Roger costume would be able to charm his way into a bagful of candy by night’s end.
The wind howled as they moved from house to house.  This Halloween evening was bursting with excitement along the neighborhood streets.  The weather had taken a turn for the worse as the temperature plummeted, but, fortunately, the rain had died to an occasional mist.  The family was prepared, The Mom with her flashlight, each of the kids dressed properly for the conditions, carrying their full size brown paper shopping bags.  Much to Boy #3’s dismay, the sudden drop in temperature forced him to wear his gray sweats as an additional layer of clothing for warmth.  The Mom insisted Boy #3 reconsider the mummy in place of the Jolly Roger, especially since he was barely able to squeeze his stocky frame into the suit even without two added layers of clothes.  Logic, bribery, intimidation, all well-honed tools in The Mom’s arsenal, failed her that night.  So, under much duress and verbal abuse,  Boy #3 trudged in constant catch-up mode behind the rest of the family with a Frankensteinian monster gait from the constrictive grip of the costume.
Beside the difference in the body build with the other siblings, Boy #3 also uniquely prescribed to Poor Richard’s “Early to bed, early to rise” credo.  Many an ire did he draw from his night owl siblings for asking The Mom if he could go to bed at the un-Godly hour of 8:30 PM, because they knew they would soon have to follow.  Circadian rhythms know no holidays, so around the witching hour of 8:00 PM, as the leaves flew in their path and the tree branches bent in menacing fashion, Boy #3 began to tire.  And as he got more tired, the further behind he lagged and the more upset the rest of the crew became with him.
Finally, The Mom had enough and made the announcement “This is the last block.  We are turning around for home at the end of this street.”
Three sets of demon eyes shot daggers immediately at Boy #3.  He felt their anger burn through his pirate mask.  He tried to smile back at them.   He tried to charm them with the power of the Jolly Roger, the power that had turned men’s souls to jelly for hundreds of years on the seas.  But it did not work.  Boys #1&2, along with Girl, turned on their heels and stomped away to the second to the last house on the block.  Boy #3 was toast.  Or at least he thought he was toast.  Little did he know he had just stepped into the frying pan and had yet to feel the wrath of the fire.
They thanked the owners of the second to last house on the block for the candy gift.  They were an elderly couple Boy #3 had often seen walking their dog in front of his house.
“Watch out for that step, little pirate!  It’s a little tricky in the dark.” the man said.
Boy #3 grabbed the chin of the mask and lifted slightly up to see the step.  SNAP!  The rubber band on the pirate mask snapped!  Oh, no!  What was he going to do?  He couldn’t just walk up to stranger’s houses and talk to them just as him without the mask!  But, he also couldn’t say anything to The Mom or siblings without drawing more anger his way.  Boy #3 quickly formulated a plan.  He discovered he could hold the mask on his face by sticking his tongue through the mouth hole and hooking the end around the plastic.  It would take great concentration and will, but he could do it if it meant avoiding any more sibling venom.
“Twhwicko tweet.” He said at the next house before the turn around to home.
Sister elbowed him in the ribs. “Don’t be rude!”
“Ayem nwot.” He answered.
So began the long walk home.  They had hit both sides of the street and planned on making a U-turn on the next street over on the way back home, but that was all nixed by The Mom.  “Straight home, now” was her decision.  Boy #3, tired, wet, walking like a re-animated corpse, holding a pirate mask on with his tongue while using both hand to carry a giant sack of candy, struggled to keep up.
The Halloween euphoria of the precious few hours had worn down and dwindled along with the number of trick or treaters on the road.  Now, it was time to switch to the second phase of Halloween; Candy Inventory and Testing.  Along the walk back to the house, Boy #3’s mood brightened.  Everyone would forget their anger with him when the candy was spread out in each of their divided sections on the dining room table.  With the candy properly separated, counted and sampled, everyone’s mood will brighten.  The weather seem to warm a bit, the drizzle stopped and there were even a few stars shining through the clouds.  The costume seemed to loosen a bit, the mask almost stayed on by itself and his candy bag seemed lighter than a feather.  Things were looking up.
“Everyone, drop their bags in the kitchen and change out of those damp costumes, immediately!” came the orders from The Mom as they walked through the back door.
The kids rushed to their bedrooms to changed clothes while The Dad poured cups of warm apple cider for each of them.  Boy #4 was asleep on the sofa, still in his Winnie The Pooh costume, and Boy #5 was fast asleep in his crib.  Boy #2 fought past Boy #1 in a dead sprint for their candy bags, wrestling and jockeying for first position.  Girl calmly walked over, grabbed her neatly folded sack and went to her spot at the table.  Boy #3 walked out with his pajamas on, the Jolly Roger pirate mask still being held on his face by his tongue.  He picked up his candy sack.  Something did not feel right!  Something was dreadfully wrong!  His sack had no weight! Panic struck!  He slowly lifted the sack up off the ground and looked inside.  Empty!  Empty, save for a huge whole in the bottom of his paper sack!  Candy lost!  Oh God in heaven, say it ain’t so!  The horror!  THE HORROR!
Tears began to streak down his face, the sobs grew until he was crying.  Boy #3 doesn’t remember much after that except for consolations promises of candy replacement from The Mom and The Dad,.  Nobody would let him go searching for his lost candy…all hope was lost.  Boys #1 and #2 and Girl paid no attention to him, they avoided eye contact at all cost.  He was like a leper nobody wanted anything to do with. Sorry, you are on your own, sucker!  None of them wanted to imagine the unimaginable, a candy-less Halloween.
But, at that moment, when Boy #3 thought things could get no worse, they did.  The Curse of the Jolly Roger, as it became to be known to future generations, kicked in its full force and power.  The Curse tossed the boy from the frying pan and into the fire.
The Dad made an executive decision and announced. “You three older kids need to split off a third of your candy and give it to your little brother.”
The groans were deafening!  Disaster had struck!  Boy #3 sat there at the table and felt the glare from each previous owner of each piece of candy as it was being forced to change ownership.  Each glare stung Boy #3 like a dart.
The implications of the Curse of the Jolly Roger has festered for decades.  The losses incurred have yet to be forgiven.  What should have been a dream Halloween has become a forty plus year nightmare.  Lord, have mercy on our souls.

Happy Halloween!

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Marital Communications & Freshman Writing Prompts

The Mrs. Hays teaches freshman English. She does a daily writing prompt for the freshman journals. Below is one of particular interest she posted last week. I couldn’t resist joining the discussion to point out a glaring omission from the personal assistant options on this writing prompt.

They say communication is key to a marriage. We “communicated” about the writing prompt. With her permission here is a transcript of the brief discussion. I think (know) I am right. What do you think?

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me:  Where’s Darth Vader on that writing prompt list? Huh?????

me: He’d be the perfect personal assistant.

me: 1. DV can force choke people who tick you off. Who doesn’t need THAT skill around?

me: 2. In a fight, DV’s one good man to have at your back. Only Hulk would be better.

Mrs. Hays:  I’ll mention it to the kids.  They flipped out this morning when I admitted to never having watched star wars.

(At this point, I ignored the aforementioned “never having watched star wars” comment. Plus, Star Wars starting in lower case???? A major English teacher FAIL.)

me:  3. The restaurant forgets to bring a steak knife for your 32 oz. sirloin. A disaster? No, with DV as your assistant, it’s only a few swipes of the light saber and you’re good to go.

me:  4. His wardrobe selection will never overshadow yours.

me:  5. Loyal as a Labrador Retriever. He’d even ALMOST kill his own son to do your bidding. That’s about as loyal as they come.

me: We can save the other 99 great reasons to have Darth Vader as your personal assistant for later…

Mrs. Hays:  Or never.

Marital bliss. Need I say more?

Oh, brother…

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Season of Thirds

Coach Paul Lane, in his infinite wisdom, indoctrinated the mini-seasons within the high school football season in all of us players and coaches during his coaching tenure. It was a great concept to incorporate with a state system where your postseason hopes depended solely on your performance in the three district games at the end of the nine game regular season.

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Season One: The first three games. Figure out who you are.

Every team has a personality, every team has things they are good at and things they aren’t good at.  Every team has things which lead them to victory and things which drag them to defeat. This is the time to figure out these things. And, hopefully, at least one of these games is against a quality team, a team good enough to expose the cracks in the team.

Personally, I always liked at least one slobber-knocker early in the season to “wake” the kids up and make them realize how much harder they needed to work.

CC@Abilene2009

Season Two: Games four, five, and six. Fixing cracks and finding your stride.

Repair the cracks you discovered in Season One and get better at the those things that shine from the team’s personality. This is the stage of patience and development. Everyone settles into their roles on the team and, magically, the whole thing begins to move forward and grow like a snowball rolling down the side of the mountain.

It is also when high school boys begin to tire of the routine of practice, so it’s time to throw in a wrinkle. Wrinkles? Things like having the Bubbas (offensive lineman) run “no holds barred” physical pass routes while the backs try to cover them for their daily warm-up (Note: Bubbas ruled these passing games) or playing a physical game of “goal line stand” in the mud.

Tigers @ Royal Valley 2008

Season Three: Games seven, eight, and nine. THE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON

Districts. Four teams, three games, with the winner (and in our later years, the runner-up) advancing to the state playoff tournament.

The Championship Season.

During this stretch it’s time to press the foot to the floorboard and let the engine rev as the team heads down the road. It is time to get after it.

The time is now to put aside the bangs and the bruises, the nagging injuries everybody struggles with this time of year. It’s time to throw caution to the wind and get after it. An attitude of “take no prisoners” begins to flow through the really good teams and a fresh attitude of “second chance” excitement pervades the team who’s had a rough year thus far.

Everybody starts The Championship Season at 0-0.

Hope springs forward.

tigers @ Atchison 2006

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Blocking the Veer With Your Best Friends

“Hey, Ned.”

“Hello, Mel.”

“Yo, Vic.”

“How’s it going out there, Opie?”

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you had a pretty good idea how stupid I can be. That said, here’s one I’m extra proud of. When you coach, one of the most important (and most difficult) things you have to do is get everyone on the same page. Doesn’t sound that hard, does it? Now, consider you are dealing with high energy, hormone-driven, attention-span-of -duck, teenage boys and the difficulty level rockets through the stratosphere.

A veer-based run game is an explosive, quick hitting scheme and can be a potent offensive weapon.  With veer principles, two level one defenders are left unblocked to be read by the quarterback.   The first level one unblocked defender is the dive read and the second level one unblocked defender is the option read.   The offensive linemen aligned on the two read defenders release to seal level two defenders, creating running lanes for the backs.

In case you don’t understand a word of the previous few sentences, here it is in a nutshell. The offensive lineman need to be smart. Not ACT/SAT, Ivy League smarts, but football smarts. And part of this football smarts is…having everyone on the same page as to what we are trying to do and how we are going to do it.  So, as a coach, you must develop a language everyone, from the ACT 32 composite kid to the kid whose best grade in junior English is 32%,  can wrap their heads around. 

The first year we went to a veer-based offense, we used schemes and rules based on identifying read men from their defensive alignment technique when blocking each of our three veer running plays, the midline veer, inside veer and outside veer.  During that first season, we ran into problems adjusting to the multiple defensive fronts we saw on a weekly basis (or even within a single game) which forced confusion at the line of scrimmage. 

Since the key for blocking success with the veer offense is to get off the ball fast and aggressive, the confusion created when identifying read men against multiple defensive fronts often led to our offensive lineman playing timid, which slowed down our entire play.  As a result, we did not move the ball as well as we would have wanted and we were forced into developing a new system of veer blocking. 

So we went with our Best Friends. But, first a little football basics.

We came up with the gap read veer (GRV) blocking principles which simplified the schemes allowing for continuity of this simplicity throughout multiple defensive fronts and continuity through the midline, inside and outside veer plays.

Gap Read Veer Basics

 The GRV is a combination of the no-mesh mesh technique and a clear/cloudy read of the target gap by the QB.  A speed attack from the dive back into the target hole is necessary.  The goal is to get the dive back 1-2 yards into the line of scrimmage before the defense has a chance to react.

The dive back targets the call hole, 0 or 1 for midline, 2 or 3 for inside veer and 4 or 5 for outside veer (Table 1).  The dive back attacks the target hole full speed expecting the ball.  If he gets it, he tucks and runs, looking to cut out, stay on path or cut back.  If he does not get the ball, the dive back tucks and collides with the defender to sell the fake.

The QB opens to the hole and steps into the line of scrimmage.  He has the ball extended with both hands with his eyes on the read gap (Read Gap = gap directly outside the hole target of the dive back).  If the read gap is open (clear), he gives the ball to the dive and continues on with the fake.  If the read gap is closed (cloudy), he pulls the ball and explodes into and down the line of scrimmage to the option read man.

So, here come the problem of communication. Everyone, when they get to the line of scrimmage, needs to be on the same page as to who the read men are.

We felt it necessary to establish simplicity and consistency in our system which identifies defensive read men.  We wanted a system based on our offensive structure rather than the old system which was based on a defensive alignment structure that could change when the defense changed.

Within our GRV structure, after our linemen get to the line of scrimmage, each lineman verbally identifies the defensive lineman that will ultimately help them determine who the dive and option read defenders are.  What they call the read men doesn’t matter as long as everyone understands what the names stand for and how they need to use it. We designate or identify the defensive lineman with our “BEST FRIEND” names:

  • Center – Called and identified “NED”. The defensive line defender aligned anywhere on the center.  This man will never be a read man.
  • Guards – Called and identified “MEL”. The first defensive line defender outside A gap. This man will be the dive read on Midline.
  • Tackles – Call and identified “VIC”. The first defensive line defender outside B gap. This man is the dive read on Inside Veer.
  • Tight End – Call and identified “OPIE”. The first defensive line defender outside C gap. This man will be the dive read on Outside Veer.

If a lineman felt he could block a defender one on one, he called his friend “ELMO”

If the lineman felt he needed double team help, he called out his friend, “OSCAR”

We also had our friends for lineman pull blocking:

  • COWBOY – Center pulls
  • TODD – Tackle pulls outside
  • GOD – Guard pulls outside
  • SAM – Backside guard pulls
  • GUS – Both guards pull
  • SAW – Both baskside guard and tackle pulls

Our offensive lineman had ALOT of friends!

TABLE 1.

 

 

Dive Target

Hole

QB Gap Read

Release Man

(Dive Read)

Combo

Block

Option Read Man

Midline

Right

0 – Center’s Right Foot

A

1st DL on or outside A gap

DL inside A gap

2nd DL on or outside A gap

Midline

Left

1 – Center’s Left Foot

A

1st DL on or outside A gap

DL inside A gap

2nd DL on or outside A gap

Inside Veer Right

2 – Right Guard’s Crack

B

1st DL on or outside B gap

DL inside B gap

2nd DL on or outside B gap

Inside Veer Left

3 – Left Guard’s Crack

B

1st DL on or outside B gap

DL inside B gap

2nd DL on or outside B gap

Outside Veer Right

4 – Right Tackle’s Crack

C

1st DL on or outside C gap

DL inside C gap

2nd DL on or outside C gap

Outside Veer Left

5 – Left Tackle’s Crack

C

1st DL on or outside C gap

DL inside C gap

2nd DL on or outside C gap

So once we had everyone identified, then we blocked with this simple rule set. General Veer Blocking Rules

                        RELEASE – COMBO – SEAL – CLIMB – ESCORT

Play Side Offensive Linemen

  • Release – An inside release or outside release, whichever is most efficient, around the read man.  Attack and seal a level 2 linebacker.
  • Combo – Double team the first defensive lineman inside the read gap to drive him off the line of scrimmage and seal defenders in order to create a running lane.
  • Seal – Stretch step and cut or seal the 2nd defensive lineman inside the read gap.

            Backside Offensive Linemen

  • Climb – Stretch step and climb to seal play side gap or move up to a level 2 linebacker.
  • Escort – Last man on the backside of play. Sprint downfield to block safety or deep backside pursuit.  Escort the RB into the end zone on a breakaway run.

A veer-based run game can be a potent offensive weapon to attack a defense using an explosive, quick-hitting run scheme.  The key to success in the veer is for the offensive line to get off the ball fast and aggressive.  Confusion at the line of scrimmage will force offensive lineman to play timid and slow down the offense.  For us, the gap read veer blocking principles and the naming of our “Friends” simplified our blocking schemes. 

From an offensive line point of view, the GRV Friends blocking system allowed us to approach the veer package of midline, inside veer and outside veer as one play with different target holes instead of three plays with three blocking schemes.  This concept dramatically simplified the mental aspect for our lineman and was a big part of our success running the football.

 Don’t you agree, NED, MEL, VIC, and OPIE?

(Author’s “Ha ha ha, that’s stupid funny” Note:

I just recalled a story about our blocking friends that cracked me up. We were playing our rival, Marysville, and one of the lineman who also played defensive line came to the sidelines and said, “Coach Hays, Marysville is so f!@#$-ing stupid. Their o-line is calling stupid stuff like ‘San Antonio’ and ‘Fort Worth’.”

I looked at the young man. “Seriously? You’re calling Marysville ‘f!@#$-ing stupid’ and WE’RE the ones who are yelling Sesame Street characters out there?”)

  

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Game Of Tears: September 14, 2001

It was Football Friday Night in America. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Believe me, it was hotly debated before the decision was made to move forward with the week’s scheduled games. This was no ordinary Football Friday Night, this was the Football Friday Night a mere 80 hours after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It was also only one of two times I’d been brought to tears associated with a football game, either as a coach or a player.

CONTACT/S: 30 Exhibition -ACP

In the grand scheme of things, football is not life. Sure there are ups and downs, wins and losses, injuries and triumphs all associated with this great game. Even so, I’ve never really felt the need to cry over a sport, even one I am so passionate about. But on that night, September 14, 2001, standing on a football field in my homeland of Wyandotte County, KS, tears streamed down my face from the emotion of that awful week in American history.

The powers that be in the state decided to go ahead and play the scheduled games that Friday. I don’t envy the people who made that decision; it had to be a difficult one to say the least. But we needed to move forward, we needed to establish a normalcy in our own backyards. We needed  to find some way to accept the inexplicable tragedy and restore some means of logic into our lives.

At Tuesday practice the evening of the tragic events, all I remember is that we were shell-shocked. I don’t recall much from that afternoon except trying to establish some sort of normal practice within the quagmire of shock. And these poor teenage boys asked question after question of which there were no answers to.

After we watched the horrific images on television, we tried to cope with the unimaginable event as best we could for the next two days. America was attacked on its own soil by terrorist. As hard as it was, we tried to keep this on the periphery and keep a football focus in order to give the kids a place to escape the tragedy, if only for a few hours.

Friday came. Game day. We made a two and a half hour bus trip to Kansas City Piper High School. The normal pre-game preparations ensued as game time crept closer. I was looking forward to this trip because this game was in Wyandotte County. I was born and raised in Wyandotte County, it is in my blood. It is a tough-minded place that produced tough-minded people. The whole Kansas City family was there and my own family made the trip also. I felt a great sense of pride coming home coaching the visiting team against a school I really hadn’t liked since the misguided days of my youth.

Both teams lined up before the game in the middle of the football field. Uniform color did not matter one bit as the kids and coaches and officials stood together for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks. So there I stood in silence, the soil of my homeland holding me onto a planet tipping wildly out of control, questions and chaos threatening to punt me into the stratosphere of despair.

The moment of silence seemed to last forever and a day. There was nothing but stillness and quiet. No whispers and no jokes from even the most immature of teenage boys. No noise from the large crowds gathered, the traffic seemed to freeze in time and even the sun dove for the horizon in hues of orange across the cloud-tinged blue sky. Solemn. The very meaning of the word.

Then the National Anthem began and I think everyone within a ten mile radius of the stadium sang the Star Spangled Banner that night. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. Of the hundreds of times I’ve sang it in school and the thousands of times I’ve heard it at various events, it has never really hit an emotional string. But, this time, on Piper High School Field, mere days after terrorists attempted to destroy the very heart and soul of America, the national anthem hit home.

We sang it loud and we sang it poorly. Nobody cared. We were united. When we hit the last three lines, I think the true spirit, emotion, and meaning of the Star Spangled Banner flooded across me for the first time ever.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I understood. The meaning was crystal clear. Our flag was still here, our country was still here, and it would take more than an act of terrorism to squash our spirit. The flood of emotions pent-up all week flowed down my cheeks in the tears. The horror, the sadness, the loss, the pain, and the total helplessness dripped with each salty tear from my eye.

I wasn’t sure whether it was right to play those games on the Friday night until that moment. It was the right thing to do. By moving forward with these sporting events it not only provided a distraction away from 24 hours of news coverage, it gave a reason for Americans to congregate and spend time with their community. It gave us a chance to begin the healing process.

We won more than a football game that night. We, as a group, learned to persevere and to move forward.

God Bless America!

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Roll With The Changes

“So, if you’re tired of the same old story, oh, turn some pages”

-Roll With The Changes, REO Speedwagon

The moment you accept you are good enough is the moment you begin to lose.

Getting better is a constant, no matter the endeavor you have chosen. Whether it is as an athlete, coach, writer, scientist, teacher, trashman, welder, librarian, etc., it doesn’t matter. If you want to get better you have to work at it on a consistent basis. We have to learn to break out of our shells of complacency to improve. We have to learn how to turn the pages if we are tired of the story.

cicadashellside

Getting better also means accepting change. Change pushes and pulls improvement. A refusal to change stops improvement dead in its tracks. Why? Because change often comes with failure and this failure needs to fuel the desire to improve. We used to call this concept The Fail Cycle.

In a perfect world, we would fail, back up a couple steps, analyze the situation and then make the changes needed to overcome the failure. But, being human, we don’t always accept the need to change our tact and we too often stay on the path of complacency and acceptance in our stagnate situations.

I had two standard speeches for football and baseball athletes when I felt we were not doing the necessary adjustments to be successful. Things like using the same swing every at-bat in the midst of a 0-20 slump or falling for the same QB pump fake and losing contain rush time and time again.

  1. Running into the solid, brick wall at increasingly faster speeds will not get you through the wall, it just gets you more pissed off and feeling a lot of pain. Change your plan of attack, take two steps over, and walk right through the open doorway.
  2. Don’t hit yourself in the head with a hammer time and time again and wonder why it hurts. Quit hitting yourself in the head with a hammer!

To me, part of the great joy in life is working to get better at the things that you love doing and the things that make you happy. The only way to do this is to change and move forward.

So, get up and get to work. Whatever you choose to do if your life, do it with purpose, pride, and passion.

Turn the pages and enjoy your new story.

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