Episode 6: JP

Sun. September 11, 2016

John Pendleton was born in 1946 in Chicago, IL. I imagined he looked then not all that different than he looks now—a small, mostly bald, shriveled person. His parents moved to Louisville when he was five because his father, who worked for the railroads, was stationed there. John’s father, Jarvis Pendleton, made a success of himself through quitting his job and starting his own rail transport company. John inherited the business when he was 40 years old, after which he promptly sold the company for a medium fortune. He used the money to start the Pendleton Foundation, a non-profit charity organization that has invested heavily in education, particularly his Alma Mater, St. Ignatius.

Our kids read books in Pendleton Library, we play football on Pendleton field, and even eat lunch in the Pendleton Cafeteria. The kids sometimes call St. Ignatius “Pendleton High” as a joke, or possibly just because it’s easier to say and makes more sense, as Pendleton’s name is found engraved around campus many times more than our patron saint.

On Sunday morning John called me to ask me to stop by his place on my way to the coaches' meeting. “It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes,” he said. I arrived to the Pendleton mansion and was greeted by his personal valet, who took my car. Then John came out the front door, ushered me inside to a sunroom off of one of the living rooms, and pulled out a cushioned chair for me to sit on.

He then began to make vague questions, such as, “How’s it going over there?”

“It’s going real well,” I said trying to keep a positive tone in my voice. “We’ve had some trial by fire, but the team is staying strong together, and that’s the most important thing. As long as they keep buying in to what Coach Nix is trying to do, then you’ll see us improve every week.”

It was the company line, but it was mostly true. The players hadn’t turned on each other, except for one fight over a girl. And they do seem to buy into Coach Nix’s unorthodox and passionate coaching style. After a few more vague questions and my vague answers, he tipped his hand and said, “We’ll I’m hearing rumors about Shawn and Cherice getting together.”

I thought for a second before I answered, “Well, John, you would have to ask them about that. But if they are getting together I don’t see anything wrong with it. They are both single adults with common interests.”

“Oh of course,” John replied abruptly. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t want it to affect his job performance. You can let me know if you see anything affecting his job performance, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said, just wanting this conversation to be over. I quickly changed the subject, “I spoke with Principal Goodlove,” I said, “and we both agree that getting a small band to sit in the stands during the games and play a few football anthems and the school song would be nice.”

John’s face lit up, “Well that’s great news. That should really liven up the games. Let me know if you need anything to get this up and running before the season.”

“It’s just a matter of learning the songs. Give us a few weeks and we should be ready.” I hadn’t spoken with Principal Goodlove, but since I knew John had already spoken with him about it, I knew where Goodlove stood. In fact, I was surprised Goodlove hadn’t already approached me about it. He was probably just too embarrassed to ask me to do even more work that was outside my job description.

After that John became much more relaxed, even chummy with me. Putting his hand on my shoulder he pulled me in, saying, “We’re trying to do something really special here Gary, and I’m glad you’re a part of it. Just keep working hard and get those boys ready to beat Hamilton next week. We need a win real bad.”

Shawn was unusually upbeat for our Sunday coaches’ meeting. Unusual because we lost for the third straight game last Friday 17-6 to Lincoln, and unusual because it was the 9/11 anniversary. I decided not to bring up my early morning meeting with Mr. Pendleton to Shawn, partly because I still wasn’t sure where Shawn’s loyalties where, and partly because the idea of bringing up that conversation with Shawn made me too uncomfortable.

It was obvious why coach was happy though. Enrique played in his first football game last week and scored all 6 of our points (which are also all the points we’ve scored the entire season). Also, our defense showed up this week. The Cobbler (Brett Cobb) had 23 tackles and 2 sacks, which is impressive by any standard, but for a boy who only strapped on the shoulder pads for the first time a few months ago, it is phenomenal.

“Ole Gold Toe showed us something on Friday and I think we need to make his leg the centerpiece of our offense.”

“Is that what you’re calling him now?” said Cherice, “Gold Toe?”

“That’s right darlin.” Shawn continued, “We’re gonna play conservative football. Move the ball slowly, kick field goals, and play defense. We’ll call this our ‘Grit and Spit Package’.” Sometimes it seems that Coach Nix gets the most enjoyment out of naming things and people. I’ve heard him say “I’m here to coach life and football, in that order” so many times that I’m tempted to sarcastically suggest he trademark it. The biggest success of our losing effort, however, was Sal Medrano as our option quarterback. It’s not perfect yet, but a few good runs by Medrano gave life to the offense, and took some of the focus off of Hairy Grimes, giving him more room to run. This allowed us to keep the ball game close—at halftime we were only losing 7-3. I guess this is also what triggered John Pendleton to take the liberty of addressing the team between the halves.

Coach Nix was making adjustments to our defense when JP burst in and took command, and that’s exactly what it felt like, that he was taking over the leadership of the team. “It’s gut-check time gentlemen! Time to look inside and see what you’re made of. Ya’ll are better than that team,” said Pendleton, among other things of the same nature. I found the whole thing grossly inappropriate and undermining to Shawn’s leadership.

Despite not scoring a touchdown, we had more than 200 yards of offense, and made 0 pass attempts. The offensive yards were divided among, in descending order, Sal, Hairy, Sophomore Percy Locke, and Junior fullback Zach Ames.

It was pretty wild that we didn’t throw a pass for the entire game, but Coach Nix seemed to love that I would run the ball even on 3rd and 8. When he realized in the third quarter that I hadn’t thrown a single pass, he pulled my arm and whispered in my ear, “Just keep running it. Its so predictable they’ll never suspect it.”

That wasn’t the only predictable aspect of my offensive scheme. I had Big Bern switch sides when we wanted to run left. I’ve never seen a more predictable scheme. All the defense had to do was see where Big Bern was lined up, and they would have a pretty good idea of where the ball was going. Almost every play was behind Big Bern, and he played fantastically. The defensive ends for Lincoln were a 3rd the size and half the speed of those we faced the week before from St. Mark’s, and this helped Big Bern play his best game. If he continues to play this well, and if we can win a few games, he may get a few looks from college scouts.

Wed. September 14, 2016

“Boys” Coach Nix said as he addressed the team, “We’ve got a new offense. Yes it is still wishbone, but now it is an amped up, ‘grit and spit’ wishbone, and that’s what we’ll call it - The Grit and Spit Package. And we’re gonna need more grit and more spit.

Senior defensive back, Hilton Speight, raised his hand. “Ah Coach, what does that mean, exactly?”

“Well, I’ll tell you what it means,” replied Shawn. “It means looking deep inside and pulling something out just when you think you ain’t got no more left. Since your entire generation is so dependent on video games, ipads and movies, I’ve selected a movie for us to watch during your athletics period at the end of the day. As soon as the movie is over, though, ya’ll will have to get your pads on quickly for practice.”

For once, I supported one of Shawn’s ideas. The last period is generally a waste anyway. We can’t start practice because a few freshmen players don’t have the athletic period, and the other kids generally just bum around until school’s over. The first movie Coach played for the team was Rudy, arguably the best football movie ever made. There were a few kids that hadn’t seen it.

When practice started on Monday, after we finished watching Rudy, coach was walking around during the pre-practice stretches, talking to the players about the movie. “You see boys, Rudy had grit, and grit will make up for what you don’t have in size, strength or skill.” He walked over behind Hilton Speight and pressed on his back, aiding his stretch. I heard him say, “That goes double for you ‘Speight the Hate’, I want to see that grit you got inside you.”

Yesterday was the same as Monday, only we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. I didn’t expect the classic movie that always plays on television at Christmas time to be the next film on Shawn’s list, but I couldn’t complain. Halfway through someone said, “Hey coach, can we watch Anchorman 2 instead? Big Bern has it in his car.”

Anchorman 2? Is that a Judd Apatow movie?” Shawn asked. “Yeah,” said a few voices from the team.

“More like Judd Apa-wow, because Wow! I can’t believe how vulgar it is. Nothing but sex, penis and vagina jokes. Grow up boys, this is a classic movie and we can learn something from it.

Again, Coach used the stretching period to discuss his thoughts on the movie. “I want to see a bunch of George Baileys on my defensive line. What’s a George Bailey? It’s a man that won’t quit, no matter what!”

Today, during seventh period, we were all ready to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to presumably learn how to turn our linebackers into some no-nonsense Clint Eastwood clones, but when Coach pressed play on the DVD player, a different sort of film started playing. It was clearly a homemade video, featuring a completely nude Linda Grimes, Perry’s mother, handcuffed to the bed while a masked man wearing leather pants and nothing else whipped her with a riding crop. We watched about 7 seconds worth before Coach managed to switch it off.

Apparently, Sal Medrano had not forgiven Perry Grimes for his make-out session with Misty Johnson, Sal’s girlfriend. When Sal had stayed with Linda Grimes as part of Coach Nix’s family swap, he found a sex tape while Linda was at work, and made a copy. I think he may have been using the sex tape for his own purposes, but came up with a more nefarious plan when Coach started showing films during seventh period.

That was the end of showing movies before practice, and Coach Nix and I sat through another conflict mediation between Sal and Perry. At least no punches were thrown this time, but I have a feeling Perry is not going to let this one go. We destroyed the DVD, and Sal swore there were no copies in his possession.

That wasn’t enough for Shawn, though. He loaded up Sal up in his truck and told me to take over leading practice until he got back. When he arrived I asked him where he went.

“To Linda Grimes workplace. I made Sal tell her that he stole some of her personal, intimate property and he showed it to the football team. Then I made him apologize in front of all her co-workers. That’ll teach Sal not to go messing around with other people’s sex tapes.”

“Sounds like you taught Linda a lesson about making sex tapes in the first place,” I said.

He laughed. “Yeah, her face was as read as a pomegranate, kind of like the way her ass looked after that masked guy beat on it,” he said cackling. Still laughing, he leaned in and said, “Now that’s what I call Grit and Spit.”

Thurs. September 15, 2017

The local paper came out this morning and in it was a feature on John Pendleton and the new football program at St. Ignatius. I had no idea this was coming out, since I was never interviewed for the article. It was mostly about Pendleton and his efforts to bring football to St. Ignatius. The feature was pretty straightforward, though there was one notable highlight. When asked about our three straight losses to open up the season, the reporter quoted John, saying, “Well we are disappointed with the way the season has started, but there’s still a lot of football to play. I am 100% behind Coach Nix and his staff. We take winning seriously at St. Ignatius, and no matter what the future holds, we’re committed to building a solid football program that wins games.”

You had to read between the lines a bit, but there was a suggestion that if Coach Nix can’t win some football games, he won’t have that 100% support for very long. I’ve never really asked about Shawn’s relationship with Pendleton. In the beginning it seemed that they were thick as thieves, but over the last several weeks I’ve seen less of Mr. Pendleton at practice and sensed that he may be cooling on Coach Nix as the one who will send St. Ignatius, and John Pendleton, into the high school football notoriety.

I wasn’t sure how Shawn would react to the article. He barely featured in it, except for one quote in which he got to say his catchphrase. “I’m here to build excellence, on the field and off. I coach life and football, in that order.”

“What did you think of that article, coach?” I asked Shawn before practice.

Coach shook his head and threw his hands in the air, “Well you hire one head coach and two assistants and you act like you invented football. Who the hell do they think does all the work? Pendleton ain’t worked a day in his life.” Shawn stopped himself from going into a full rant, made a big sigh, and then went to the water fountain. After taking a big gulp, he turned to me, let out a big sigh and said, “I guess some people just don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“The grit and spit. It’s about the hard work that’s unceremonious, day in and day out, that eventually gets the results we’re looking for. John Pendleton has zero grit and barely enough spit to wet his mouth.”