Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thank you, Coach

This year one of Waco's greatest coaches retires. Next year one of Waco's greatest will be missed. But not by us. Yesterday we, who were a ragamuffin and ragaknot collection of former runners of this coach, celebrated in a small and large way the great career of Bill Farmer, Midway High School track and cross country coach. And what a great experience it was for me, and for all of us.

Bill Farmer coached cross country beginning in 1981 and has coached the sport, in some form or fashion, for the past 27 years. Now the head track and cross country coach for the girls teams, coach will retire after one more year having brought his team to the state championship meet 11 times in 28 years. Though his team never won the title he did have teams finish 2nd, 3rd (twice), and 4th, and had seven men finish top ten at the state meet. Though remarkable, we thought this was the least of what he did. Certainly he would agree.

This morning, as I was being exhorted by Paul to open my heart wide I could not help but reflect on this man. His steady demeanor was marked by an unflinching care and deep love for his runners. A runner's promise on the track had little bearing upon how coach treated us. His slowest runner and fastest harrier were to him teammates worthy of equal attention. Likewise, his most difficult and most disciplined athletes were to him both kids in need of equal love. He displayed a gentle and balanced spirit, save the time he exploded at a runner's parents and dates as the runner sobbed on the course at the district meet. His affections toward us neither waned nor needed any ignition.

This man we loved back because he taught us much ourselves and life and yesterday I was honored to be among the 47 former kids of his who were able to celebrate his career. In that crowd were significant accomplishments including state champions (individual cross country and track), All-Americans, bank Vice Presidents, partners in law firms, etc., but none of these meant anything to us. None of the men present flaunted their accomplishments and none of the less accomplished runners looked with awe at the men grown out of the pictures hanging by the locker room door beside each of the school records. (Previously, every one of us had stared with awe at the scrawny likes of Todd Copeland and Paul Stoneham.) We had a single bond and a single purpose. Yesterday we were united together as 47 men honoring our coach just as much as any of us were united in purpose any of the crisp mornings of the district meet*.

Many events, good and bad, I have forgotten already in life. Some are remembered after a friend calls and tells the story he can't believe you forgot. Some are remembered looking among old photographs and the various lore of past days. And some are not forgotten. Coach has not been forgotten--not by us, his harriers. Not by us, his kids. He said what he needed, which was sometimes nothing at all, but we always understood what he taught. In the biographical book prepared for the celebration we had opportunity to remark about our experiences and what coach meant to us. Some who had run in college remarked that he was the best coach they'd ever had. I remarked that he taught me how who you are means more to your team's success than how fast you are. In the end we all ended up saying the same thing. I guess we just paid attention to what coach said. And we remembered. And we will not forget. Thank you, coach, for running us hard, coaching us well, and teaching us how to live.

[*I've had much to reflect in these two days and of the thoughts I've had is that the realized unity of the church of Christ must be a great event, if the realized unity of our group is any true harbinger. Being that the good on this earth is of the favor of God and usually little more than the shadow of his righteousness, the culmination of humanity into the fullness of the age to come will be some experience beyond any possible description, and one which may possibly take an eternity to experience in its entirety.]

1 comment:

Jen Strange said...

What a fabulous tribute, dear. It was indeed grand to be in the room with all of you--for someone who has hardly run at all and certainly hadn't met any of those runners before (save Tigger), the sentiment you convey here was clearly evident on Saturday.

The respect all those men have for Coach Farmer is remarkable, perhaps largely because it's not the kind of awe one would have for a superstar coach. Rather, it's the kind of deep affection one has for a man whose consistent character and equanimity translated into practical devotion to a program focused on educating young people in a craft.

But thanks too for your bracketed conclusion--makes me itch for the full realization of the Kingdom. Bring it!