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Lesson Taught: Lesson Learned

Excerpt from the TEXAS COACH, November 2010 Edition

Author: Coach Ubaldo Pena

He was a stickler for chivalry, decorum, and sportsmanship. Well dressed and in his mid 40’s, Coach taught science to a bunch of students in a South Texas border town. He dedicated himself to not only performing his coaching responsibilities, excellently, but also his academic assignment. We all know there re not too many of those. He gave 100% into both areas of his job. He stood by the door daily and not only greeted us about yesterday’s homework, class work, quiz, or study notes.

He was going to teach you Earth Science and he was going to make sure you learned, hence, the constant review and reinforcement. He was a tough old bird, but we all knew he cared. Even for us, yes the Hispanics, we sensed a genuineness about his concern for us. We had been around the bigotry long enough to perceive the real thing when we saw it.

His lectures were always interesting and dynamic. He could sway us with his voice and demeanor to do almost anything he wanted us to do. However, it did not stop there. We would do hands on experiments that made even the most uninterested gang member, join in with the rest of us with the glee and exuberance of a toddler playing with the “forbidden glass container of M&M’s.” He was so detailed and varied in his presentations and everything else he taught that you would find it hard to stray from his class to daydream even for a minute. Everyone enjoyed Coach’s class.

Many of us loved his because he was not afraid to tackle any topic that his presentations would raise. He would speak on topics ranging from health and wellness to religion and spirituality. He would speak about racism, government issues, teenage life, athletics and many other topics as well as Earth Science. He truly cared for us. Often times, we seemed to tangibly feel he loved us. All of us.

One day in class he began to speak about times in a persons life when commitment and dedication to excellence in all areas of life was not only needed, but also expected. He began to speak about fulfilling our responsibilities and keeping our commitments. “You said you would do; DO IT! You said it would get done, GET IT DONE!” So, you had something unplanned spring up and interrupt your life, GET THE JOB DONE!”

He was not being calloused and insensitive about this, but he was focusing on this one student on class who was an athlete. The kid was shabbily dressed as if he had slept in his clothes. His body odor was strong, and his demeanor was distracted. Coach pressed on for about 20 minutes. He addressed the often maligned special treatment of athletes, and he would quite often glance toward the corner table where the apparent object of this lesson was aimed.

He closed with, “if you had a game last night, it does not exclude you from the work assigned nor from your daily healthful routines. Bring your homework to my desk and place it in the appropriate tray.”

As I fumbled for my homework i my binder and realized that I could not find all the papers I needed, I noticed the kid from the corner table who seemed troubled today get up and walk towards Coach’s desk, also. I decided to turn in what I had even though it was not complete.  I grabbed my stuff and rushed to Coach’s desk before he started his lecture; I was not going to miss his lesson. As I dropped my homework into the assignment tray after the kid, I overheard Coach ask to see him after class.

His lesson again was fantastic. I did not know that cardboard sliced up and placed in coffee cans with water added in a timely manner could lift a person. WOW! The lesson taught: the lesson learned.

Class ended, the bell rang and we all began to exit the room. Halfway down the hall, I remembered where the other part of my homework was. I ran back to class and walked into the classroom in time to hear the kid from the corner table say, “Coach, I am sorry for looking the way I do, and for smelling this way also. Last night when I got home from the game, my dad told me that mom was in the hospital and might not make it. He asked me to get in the car to go see my mom.  spent all night at the hospital; my mom died this morning at six. My dad wanted me to go home and rest, but my mom’s biggest desire for me was to educate myself in order to have a better chance for success than she did. That I come to school would have been her wish. You have taught me to be a man of my word and do what I promised to do. So, I came to school to fulfill my obligation to you.

Coach did not know I was in the classroom because when I walked in his back was to the door, and the kid could not see me because he was directly in front of Coach, but as I stood there I saw (I do not know how but I saw) Coach’s muscular frame perceptibly soften with compassion and regret. We all loved the man deeply, we respected him immensely, but this side of him no one had never seen.

“Coach,” he stammered, “May I go home and be with my Dad and family. Coach’s shoulders crumbled like drought – dried sod, hugged the kid and unashamedly wept with him saying through interspersed sobs, “I’ll drive you.” At the point, my responsibility was to leave the classroom and the two men to their moment of shared mourning. I quietly left the classroom with the second part of the homework in my hand.

The lesson taught; the lesson learned.