Episode 8: Dinner for One

Sat. October 1, 2016

After a brief respite, we are back to our losing ways. We lost to the Black Bay Warriors 40-0. The first quarter was scoreless, but by two minutes into the second quarter they had successfully found our weak spots on defense and exploited them. Our “Grit and Spit” offense quickly lost all its grittiness when Big Bern went down early in the game with a high ankle sprain. He was the only reason our overly simple offense was able to move the ball. Without Big Bern collapsing one side of the defensive line, the Warriors easily smothered Sal and Hairy Perry. This also had the effect of neutralizing our best weapon, Enrique Gold Toe, because we could never get the ball close enough for a field goal attempt. We hope Big Bern will recover soon, because without him it seems we’re dead in the water.

The worst part of coaching a high school sport has to be dealing with the parents. They all have their opinions about how to coach and they usually involve playing their son more and in more high profile positions. The worst parents to deal with, though, are the ones like Paul Muncie, Gilbert Muncie’s father. After Big Bern left the game, Gilbert had to take his place. Being a freshman and nowhere near the size of Big Bern, he naturally struggled to get any forward moment from the tackle position. Among the myriad of voices coming from the stands, Paul’s overshadowed them all as he publicly berated his son for his poor performance: “Come on Gilbert, stop being a pussy and hit somebody! Get your lazy ass in gear!” I suspected alcohol was involved because some of his jeers turned disgustingly racist. “You ain’t no big black ox, but you can block, dammit!” Muncie yelled from the stands, probably no more than 15 yards away from the Huxley’s.

I turned to give Paul Muncie the stink-eye a couple of times, but to no avail. At halftime we were losing 13-0 and Paul Muncie was fuming by the visitor’s locker rooms. When we passed by him, he grabbed Gilbert by his shoulder pads and pulled him out of the line of players. He started shaking Gilbert violently and yelling at him “I know you’re better than this, start acting like it! You’re embarrassing yourself out there! Stop being so soft!”

Coach Nix, who was holding the door open for the players, let go of his door, walked over and turned Paul around, grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and lifted him about 5 inches off the ground. “Let me coach my team and leave Gilbert be. He’s doing a fine job and ain’t gonna learn a damn thing from your bullshit!”

Then Coach put him back on the ground, gave Paul’s face a firm slap, and whispered loud enough for me and Gilbert to hear, “If I catch you laying your hands on that boy again, I’ll lay my hands on you again, but I won’t be so gentle next time.” I felt a tingle go up my spine and thanked God that I wasn't Paul Muncie. I looked over toward the door and saw Cherice, standing there in awe of her new boyfriend.

I had seen Paul Muncie being a little aggressive before, at practice. Increasingly, the fathers of the boys are coming to watch practice, and I don’t like it. They stand over to the side, in the shade, and armchair quarterback the entire time.

“They ought to run a bootleg to the other side.” “They ought to teach the defense to stay in their gaps.” “They ought to put Big Bern in the backfield, can’t nobody tackle him,” they grumble.

Paul is the ringleader though, always griping about Gilbert’s performance. “No wonder they don’t play you son, you get driven back on every play!” I heard him say one day last week.

After coach let go of Paul he started back toward the locker room, only to turn around and march right back to Paul. “And your presence is no longer needed at our practices, Paul,” Shawn said glaring at him inches from his face. Muncie stood motionless, but his expression suggested he knew not to argue with Shawn.

Sun. October 2, 2016

On my way to the coaches’ meeting this morning I noticed John Pendleton’s Audi leaving the campus. “What did John want?” I asked Shawn when I arrived.

“Nothing, he just wanted an update on Big Bern.”

“What is the update on Big Bern,” I asked.

“It’s just a high ankle sprain, and not too bad. He’s already walking on it, but it is tender. We’ll keep him out of practice Monday and see how he is on Tuesday,” Shawn said.

Shawn didn’t quite seem like himself this morning. I suspected that Pendleton had more to say to him than just asking about Big Bern. Cherice arrived and we all went into the coaches’ office to start our weekly meeting.

“I think there is only one thing to say today,” Shawn said. “Our Grit and Spit offense is nothing without Big Bern.” Cherice and I both agreed. “So we need to come up with a plan in case Big Bern gets hurt again. Being predictable isn’t so bad when we have an elephant to run behind, but when we don’t we’re going to have to keep them guessing,” Shawn added.

“But how can we install yet another offense? It’s too much to ask from these kids. We worked really hard all summer to get a basic power wishbone offense, and already changed to an option wishbone offense. If we make any more changes, I think it should stay within the wishbone format,” I said.

“I agree,” Shawn said, “We’ll have to make our trick plays fit in to the schemes we’ve already got.” Suddenly they became trick plays. “I think we’ll need at least two different statue of libertys, a fumble-ruski, a hook and ladder, a split pea formation with double barrelled wings, and maybe a hot potato.”

I recognized the first two football terms from playing backyard football as a kid. But the rest was just gibberish to me. “Coach,” I said, “trick plays are the hardest to execute, couldn’t we just add some variations to the option, maybe throw in an option-pass, or an option reverse?”

“And I suppose you want to just send them a telegraph with all our plays? That’s exactly what they’ll be expecting. We play Gastonville on Friday and they’ve got our horrendous tape from Black Bay. You know as well as I do that they are going to be working hard on Big Bern, maybe even try to injure him. Come on Gary! Use your noggin!”

Coach Nix went to get some water and I just shrugged at Cherice. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him,” she said gently.

“I hope so, because I don’t know how in the world we’re going to put together all those trick plays,” I said.

Cherice certainly had changed toward Shawn since they started dating. A few weeks ago, it would have been Cherice losing her patience with Shawn and I would be the calm one. Now it seems their relationship has affected their job performance, but if Cherice can get Shawn to stop flying off the handle with wild ideas, then I say it’s changed for the better.

Mon. October 3, 2016

Today before practice I ducked outside to put a dip in my mouth. I used to smoke, but because I spend so much time around these kids, and I don’t want to be a bad example, I’ve switched to clandestinely using the wet tobacco in my bottom lip. When I walked outside I saw Sal, Perry and Hilton practicing punt snaps. Hilton is our long snapper but also one of our rushers on our punt-block defense. After they did a few snaps, they switched to practice rushing the punter. Sal lined up to punt and Hilton and Perry came rushing from 11 yards away, just barely missing Sal’s punt. Sal laughed at them, “Y’all are slower than a hard shit.”

“Oh yeah, well let’s see you block one from that distance,” Perry said, wryly looking over at Hilton. Perry lined up to punt and Hilton and Sal stood 11 yards away, ready to rush the punter. Perry said go, and they both came rushing, though Sal was running at the punter much faster and harder than Hilton. It was a set up. Perry took two giant steps forward, and kicked the football right into Sal’s crotch. It had to be one of the worst crotch shots I’ve ever seen. Sal laid on the ground, writhing in pain, while Hilton and Perry stood over him laughing and pointing.

I couldn’t help but chuckle a little myself. Perry had gotten his revenge and properly this time. To be honest, Sal deserved worse for presenting Perry’s mother to the rest of the team in the spread eagle position. Perry and Hilton went back inside to get changed for practice, but Sal stayed laying on the field, clutching his lower abdomen. I decided to go over and check on him.

“You alright Sal? That was quite a cup-check they pulled on you.” “No I’m not alright! It hurts! It hurts so bad!”

I stayed with him for another ten minutes and noticed the pain was not subsiding, and I started to get worried. “Hold on, I’ll get Coach Miss Youngblood,” I said.

I brought out Cherice to have a look, but Sal was resistant to having a woman examine his manhood. “Come on, Sal,” I said. “She’s got the most first aid training of anyone here, let her have a look.”

He did let Cherice examine him, all the while he was still in as much pain as when he got kicked in the groin fifteen minutes before. Cherice looked worried. “I think he’s twisted a testicle.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means he needs to get to a hospital soon or he could lose one of his balls.”

I was unprepared for a serious injury, especially one before practice and especially one that involved a kid’s testicle. As I drove Sal to the emergency room, he sat there cursing Perry the entire way.

“You brought this on yourself, you know,” I said. “If you would have just left Perry alone instead of trying to one-up him at every turn. You crossed a line when you brought his mother into this.”

“That son of a bitch took my girlfriend, he deserved to get his ass beat,” he replied.

I guess he had a point, they were both fighting unfairly. I missed the old days when boys just fought each other and it was over, instead of stealing sex tapes and twisting testicles. Thankfully, we made to the hospital and they were able to manually fix his testicle torsion without surgery.

Wed. October 5, 2016

Tonight I went John Pendleton’s estate to have dinner with him. He invited the coaching staff over for a dinner party, a dinner party that Shawn and I were grossly underdressed for. I at least had on a shirt with a collar, unlike Shawn who wore his velvet green tracksuit. He wears it at least twice a week, which was all the more strange in August before it started cooling off.

We arrived at 7pm and were greeted by a butler of sorts. He was dressed in a black suit with a black jacket with tails. His name was Landes and could have been British, or just spoke with a funny accent.

John Pendleton came to greet us as we were coming through the main entrance. “Welcome, Welcome, my favorite coaches in the world!” He was oddly chipper. In every interaction I had with him he seemed like a bag of nerves, always frantic and overly dramatic about the smallest issues. This was a different John Pendleton, a laid back John Pendleton.

“Thanks for having us Mr. Pendleton,” said Shawn.

“Please, you don’t have to call me Mr. Pendleton, you’re friends and friends call me JP.”

JP took us to the lounge where cocktails were being served. “What do you want? If its in a bottle then we probably have it.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll have a 30 year-old Scotch,” I joked.

JP walked over to the liquor cabinet, looked for a moment, then pulled out a bottle of Glenglassaugh 30 year-old Scotch whisky. I was stunned that he was actually offering me 30 year-old scotch, but then I noticed there was another 30 year-old scotch in the cabinet. It was a Macallan 1937, which when I looked on my phone found that it cost $40,000 a bottle. He was saving his really good stuff for the important people. As we sat down Pendleton kept up his shmoozing, but I couldn’t tell why. “Shawn, I heard about what you said to Paul Muncie, Friday. Well done, man! I’ve wanted to tell off that prick all season. He sits up in the stands and yells obscenities. I’m so glad you put him in his place. I don’t think we’ll have any more problems out of him.”

“Well,” said Shawn, “I’ve heard his grumbling at practice, and I guess enough is enough.”

“I guess so,” said JP. “But that was a tough loss on Friday, eh Shawn?” Was this the same man who lost it when we lost our first game of the year? He was being so friendly and understanding. I started not to trust it.

Pendleton carried on, “We are really hurting without Big Bern, how’s he looking?”

“He practiced today in full pads. He seems to have all his mobility back and he says he’s not in any pain. I see no reason why he shouldn’t play against Gastonville on Friday,” Shawn said cautiously. I started to sense that Shawn was feeling just as wary of JP’s new found affection for us.

“Boy, we’re sure gonna miss Big Bern next year,” Pendleton said.

“Yeah, but we’ll be fine. Someone else will step up and fill his shoes. You never know Gilbert might hit a growth spurt in the offseason,” I added.

“But Big Bern is one of a kind, nobody can fill those size 15 shoes, maybe we ought to do more urban outreach, to get more Big Berns at St. Ignatius.” Pendleton retorted. “How are his grades in your class, Cherice?”

Cherice hesitated for a moment, then answered, “He’s struggling but there’s still lots of time; he can turn it around.”

“But if he doesn’t turn it around, if he were to say…get an incomplete in your class. Then he wouldn’t fail but could play for us again next year?”

“Well, yes,” said Cherice. “But I won’t let that happen. He needs to pass my class to graduate. He’s already had a look from a college recruiter, nothing big time, but it’s got him excited.”

Pendleton mulled for a moment. “That’s a good opportunity for a young black man, but don’t you think he would benefit from another year in high school, to prepare him better for college?”

Cherice set her drink on the side table and crossed her arms, “No, I don’t,” she said sternly.

Shawn stood up and poked out his chest. “Now hold on here, JP, I think I understand what’s going on and if you’re suggesting that we hold a kid back just so we can win a few more games next year, then its out of the question.” Shawn’s voice started to rise in volume and emotion. “We’re not going to sabotage a perfectly good education for football. These kids depend on us to do what’s right for them, on the field and off it, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

Pendleton looked frustrated, his face started to redden. “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you’re working in a factory next year. No one’s going to hire a football coach that can barely win a game and has no clue how to run a program!”

A shouting match had ensued, but I just stayed seated, enjoying my Scotch and trying not to get involved in the fight. “I’d rather work in a factory than ruin a kids life! And I may not know much about running a football program, but I know how to put the kids first, and that’s a hell of a lot more than you know!” Shawn yelled.

“Get the hell out of here Shawn, all of you!” and these were the last words I heard from John Pendleton.

As we were waiting on the valet to bring our cars around, Shawn lost it. “Now I see what JP’s all about. I’ve had my suspicions. He sees these players, especially Bern, Percy and Alonso, as his own personal property. I’ve seen this shit before. White men pulling the strings, buying and selling black boys, boys I tell you, playing with their futures because they assume they have none without the white man’s help. Hell, even sometimes I’m guilty of it. We can’t forget, Gary, these boys are people. They’re not our pets that we show off on Fridays.