Red Devil Proud

February 1, 2017 | By More

I’d lived half of my 45 years in Atkins but this might have been a first. I could not see Crow Mountain. A thick, chilly January fog had swallowed the monolith that stands like a guardian over my little hometown. No matter where you stood in Atkins you could always see Crow Mountain. But not today. Down in the valley, in front of the new high school facilities, the fog thinned to light mist as a line of thousands nearly spilled out of the building.

It was a two-hour wait to reach the gymnasium. But the two hours were a journey back through 30-plus years. This building was young, I’d never even set foot in it before this day, but it felt familiar because of the faces in line with me. Older but also timeless, they were pieces of my life, and I of theirs, in this intimate small-town-life mosaic of relationships that always endure from cradle to grave.

My place in line finally reached the gym where a glass case crammed with trophies and photos stands as testament to the efforts of gritty athletes and determined coaches. The plaques are engraved with names I recognize. I went to school with their kids and grandkids and with them, and I’m proud of them. It’s a far cry from the resentful emotions I felt decades ago. I was a wannabe athlete, too small, too slow, too weak. The coaches rarely gave me a second look. But during sophomore spring changes finally started happening, and a glimmer of hope sparkled on — of all things in Atkins — the tennis court.

The sparkle nearly fizzled when I broke my Walmart racket. Coach could have told me tough luck. He could have told me to go back to Walmart. But that’s not who coach was. I played out all of my matches alternating between his and his wife’s rackets. Wins outnumbered losses, and though the year ended in a quarter-final fall against our district’s top-seeded player, it was an athletic season I could finally be proud of. I credited the rackets. I should have credited the man. The racket was just a tool. But it represented something far more effective in my success on the court and later in life — coach believed in me.

Old victory banners sagged with the weight of time as they hung beside the taut flags of newer conquests. The red casket was surrounded by grieving family and friends, by a community shrouded in the fog of loss. But unlike Crow Mountain, no matter where you stand in Atkins you can and will always see the inspiration that was Charlie Sorrels.

RDP forever, Coach.

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Category: Editorial

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