Episode 9: Parent-Teacher Meeting

Sat. October 8, 2016

We lost again. But at least it was a spectacular game. The final score was Gastonville 14 - St. Ignatius 12. Enrique Gold Toe kicked four field goals, one of which was from 45 yards and would have secured the game had we not allowed Gastonville to throw a Hail Mary for a touchdown in the final minute of the game. It was such a tense game, and Shawn hung his emotions on every play. When Enrique kicked a field goal in the first quarter to give us the lead, Shawn jumped higher than I think I’ve seen anyone jump, throwing his fist high into the air and shouting an unintelligible squeal. On the ensuing kickoff, Shawn ran down the sideline with the kickoff team, keeping up step for step. The fact that Shawn new he was now coaching for his job added to the intensity. Pendleton had threatened to fire him last week at the dinner party he hosted and none of us had heard from JP since.

At halftime we were tied 6-6 and the game looked like it could go either way. We had some successful drives, two of which ended in Enrique Gold Toe showing off his Gold Toe. They also had some threatening drives, but only one of which resulted in a touchdown, after which the extra-point was missed.

Shawn’s exuberance reached its maximum when we successfully ran one of his trick plays. Cherice had talked him out of building an entire offense of trick plays, which would have been unfeasible, but she and I conceded one trick play to be installed in our wishbone option offense. It took three days of practice before we managed to run the play without our own players crashing into each other. The play, which was a double reverse, worked beautifully last night, though. Sal ran his option to the left, and pitched it to the wide receiver, Junior Dale Berry, who was running right. The defense adjusted and quickly moved right to tackle Berry, but he had already sneakily handed it to freshman Oliver Gellman, who casually waltzed to the left sideline unnoticed. Had he been faster we would have scored on the play, but he was eventually caught at the 25 yard line, giving Enrique Gold Toe an easy 3 points. This was late in the 4th quarter, giving us the lead 12-6. It seemed like we had our second win already bought and wrapped when, with less than a minute left, Gastonville’s quarterback heaved the ball high and far into the air, eventually landing in the arms of his receiver for the touchdown. They then decided to go for 2 points (since their kicker had already missed an extra-point attempt) and ran a naked bootleg around the right end for the conversion, making the final score 12-14. It was a heartbreaking loss, both for the kids and for Coach Nix.

Mon. October 10, 2016

Last Thursday, the morning after our uneasy dinner party with John Pendleton, the local paper came out with an article about Shawn. It was titled, “Victories off the Field” and spoke about Shawn’s unorthodox approach to coaching. The article began, “Coaching life and football, in that order, Coach Shawn Nix enriches students through community service.” The article goes on to discuss his involvement with suicide prevention, lauding the scope of his purview as beyond the football horizon. They even included a brief interview with Hilton Speight, the boy who saved Big Bern’s life after he started choking in his sleep on our camping trip. “‘Speight the Hate’, as he is known around campus, together with Harold Quimby, put into practice the life-saving skills mandated by Coach Nix in his CPR training course.” When asked, Speight said, “I just did as Coach Miss Youngblood and Coach Nix taught us - ABC - Airway, Breathing, and I forgot what the C stood for, but luckily I didn’t need to because after we got the food out of Big Bern’s mouth, he started breathing normally again.”

The article was glowing of Shawn’s efforts, even when making conciliatory remarks about our football record. “Coach Nix’s Spartans are just 1-4 on the year, but they are making a valuable contribution to their community,” the article said. My first thought when reading this article was, “JP is not going to like this.” Pendleton is obsessed with his image and it has become pretty clear that his whole motivation for starting this football program was centered around glorifying himself. He hates it when he feels attention is stolen from him. Coach Nix and I didn’t speak about the article the next day, or the next, which seemed odd, but at our Sunday coaches meeting I learned that Shawn hadn’t even seen the article. I went out to my truck and pulled a copy I had in the dash. As he read over the article a slow and steady grin appeared on Shawn’s block-shaped head. “You see, Gary, this is what I’m talking about. Making a real difference in kids’ lives,” he said as his eyes continued to scan the article.

“But didn’t you know they were doing an article on you, didn’t the reporter contact you?”

“Oh yeah, there was a reporter who called me last week, and she wanted to ask me some questions about my coaching, but I don’t remember her saying when the article was going to come out. It don’t matter anyway, though. I’m just happy that what we’re doing here means something more than just a losing record.”

Tues. October 11, 2016

John Pendleton was at practice today for the first time in a few weeks. He was sporting a new haircut, a buzzcut to try and detract from his hair loss, which was almost total anyway. I felt uneasy as he just stood in the shade with a few of the parents and stared at us. He didn’t seem to be talking to the other parents either, just intently watching our every move. I felt like I was in a herd of gazelles being stalked.

I was working with the receivers and running backs on blocking, Shawn had the offensive lineman on the five-man sled, and Coach Miss Youngblood was working with Enrique by the goalposts. I could hear Shawn speaking to his linemen like they were cattle, “Hya! Hya! Let’s go now, Big Bern, move that big black ass of yours, Hya!” Bern didn’t seem to mind being spoken to like that, but I hated it. Admittedly, I only hated it because Bern was our only black lineman, and I probably wouldn’t have minded if he wasn’t there.

I stood there in the heat, trying to figure out why I hated Coach Nix’s “Hya!” at the linemen. “It sounds racist,” I said to myself, but I wanted a clearer understanding than that. Why does he have to refer to Bern’s ass as ‘black’ but everyone else’s as just ‘ass’? I thought to myself. Isn’t this exactly what Shawn was going off about after our dinner party with JP?

I looked over at Cherice and Enrique and saw a beautiful 50 yard kick sail through the upright posts. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “Cherice has really transformed that boy into one hell of a kicker.” He was a legitimate contender for a scholarship from a division 1 university now. His stats become more impressive every week. I turned to see my wide receivers and running backs taking advantage of my daydreaming by standing around, doing nothing. “Let’s go!” I yelled, “Get back in line and run that drill again.”

After a few minutes I heard some commotion in the direction of Cherice and Enrique. When I looked over I saw a drunk and belligerent Paul Muncie, on a bender of some sorts because it was barely 4 o’clock, pointing and yelling at Cherice. “Where is that asshole! You know who I’m talking about, bitch! Where is he, I’m gonna tear him a new one!” I looked back over at Shawn, who was riding on the sled being pushed by the linemen. He couldn’t hear what was going on because of all the grunts and groans of the players.

I yelled out at him, “Shawn!” to which he turned and saw an aggressive Muncie with his hands clasped hard around Cherice’s shoulders. In an instant I saw the rage appear in Shawn’s face. He went utterly mad as he jumped off the sled and sprinted over toward Muncie. Paul never saw it coming, and Shawn demonstrated the perfect form tackle for the entire team. Paul’s breath was knocked out of him when Shawn’s shoulder buried itself into Paul’s chest. He made that wheezing noise of someone trying to find their breath, but Shawn didn’t let up. Mounted atop his chest, Shawn reigned down blows on top of Paul, breaking his nose and bloodying his mouth. Big Bern was close by and quickly picked Shawn up off of Paul Muncie.

“Coach,” said Bern, “It’s not worth it. You’ll go to jail for this.” I ran over immediately and helped Big Bern hold Shawn back, “he’s right,” I said, “you can go to jail for this.” This was ultimately a mistake, as it coincided with or, dare I say it, gave Pendleton the idea to call the police. As Pendleton dialed, Shawn started to come to his senses. We let go of him and he immediately went to check on Cherice, who was fine, only shaken up a bit.

Paul Muncie sat up, his face and white t-shirt covered with blood. It took him a second to realize what had just happened, but when he did he was furious. “You’ll pay for this!” he shouted. The kids were all looking on in disbelief, except for Big Bern, who had followed Shawn to check on Cherice. He stretched his gargantuan arm around Cherice to comfort her, saying “It’s ok Coach Miss Youngblood, we won’t let anyone hurt you.”

The police eventually arrived but things had settled down a little. Paul Muncie, who, realizing he would be just as likely charged for public intoxication, decided it best not to press charges and left the scene before the cops arrived. I explained everything to the cops, just as it happened, and some of the kids and parents backed up my story. Mr. Pendleton stood off to the side watching the whole thing unfold. Shawn, however, was oblivious to Pendleton and everyone else, and now that Muncie was gone his sole focus was on Cherice. “Are you ok my sweet baby girl?” he asked her tenderly.

Pendleton got into his Audi and drove away. I went over to Shawn and advised him, “Watch out for Pendleton, I think he’s got your number and is looking for any chance to dismiss you.”

“I ain’t worried about Pendleton, he can try to fire me if he likes, but I’ve got a contract with a buy-out clause. He’ll owe me $150,000 if he pulls the contract before the season’s over.” That was interesting information I had not learned before. The police left and Shawn gathered the players together, to try and regain some structure and finish practice.

“Boys, I’m sorry you had to see that. It was shameful all the way around. Shameful that Muncie came up here drunk, shameful that he put his hands on Coach Miss Youngblood, and shameful I had to whoop his ass in front of his own boy. I’m sorry Gilbert.” Gilbert, who had been trying to blend into the background, just shook his head side-to-side, as if to say, “it has nothing to do with me.” “But to be fair,” Shawn continued, “I gave him a warning last week, and he should have taken me seriously. I don’t joke when it comes to handing out ass-whoopins.”

We had just broken up into groups again to pick up where we left off when the cops came back to the practice field. “Sorry Shawn, we’ve gotta put you under arrest for assault and battery. Muncie is pressing charges.”

“You can’t be serious! He was drunk as a skunk when he came up here and assaulted Cherice!” I said angrily.

“Oh we know, he’s going in too.” said Officer Hulsey.

They took Shawn back to the station where he posted bail and came back to the practice field, but by that time all the players had gone home and it was just me and Cherice left in the coaches office.

“Well I hope ya’ll at least finished practice,” Shawn said as he opened the office door.

Wed. October 12, 2016

The charges against Shawn were ultimately dropped when John Pendleton assigned his personal attorney to Shawn’s case. Before practice today I asked Shawn about it. “I know I’ve had my differences with Mr. Pendleton, but he really saved me yesterday. Without his lawyer, I probably would have been charged and fired from this job.” I suppose it was good of John to put up his personal lawyer to defend Shawn, but I wasn’t so confident in JP’s beneficence. He was the one who called the cops, which according to Shawn was for his own protection, but I read the situation differently. Pendleton didn’t reach for his phone until I suggested that Shawn was the one who could be in trouble with the police. I also saw a disgusting grin on JP’s face as he dialed. I was convinced that JP wanted to throw Shawn in jail. Why he then went to bat for Shawn, I wasn’t sure.

I decided I needed some coffee and went to the local gas station to grab a cup. When I returned, ready to start practice, Shawn was completely bald. “What on earth have you done?” I asked him.

“I shaved my head! Ole Pendleton went out on a limb for me, its the least I can do for him,” Shawn said with a big smile.

“What are you talking about? How does shaving your head do anything for JP?” I asked.

“The boys were saying that he shaved his head because he started chemo. He’s got cancer, didn’t you know that?”

I didn’t know that, and I doubted it was true. “Who told you this?” I inquired.

“Hairy Perry and Hilton Speight.”

I went to Hairy and Speight the Hate to find out where they got their information. After questioning half the football team I figured out that it was Sal Medrano who started the rumor. He had told Hairy Perry that Mr. Pendleton had cancer in the hopes that Perry would say something to JP and embarrass himself. Little did Sal know that it was Shawn who ended up embarrassing himself by shaving his head to look like a square-shaped cue ball with a pinkish hue. I went to the coaches’ office to find Shawn.

“Coach, it was all a big misunderstanding. Sal started a rumor at practice yesterday that John had cancer because he was trying to play a practical joke on Hairy Perry.”

“So, he doesn’t have cancer,” Shawn asked, dejected.

“No, it was just a rumor.”

“I’ve really got to investigate these things before I go flying off the handle like that,” Shawn introspected.

The door opened and revealed John Pendleton standing there holding an envelope. “Why’d you shave your head? You look like an idiot,” said the man who had recently shaved his own head. “Is this a joke, are you making fun of me? Nevermind. I’ve got something for you Shawn.” He handed Shawn the envelope.

“No need to read it, all it says is, ‘You’re fired’.”

“What!?” Shawn shouted rising from behind his desk. “You can’t fire me. We have a contract. You’re going to owe me a lot of money, you son of a bitch!”

“Oh please, Shawn, $150,000 isn’t a lot of money, but I don’t owe you anything. You attacked a parent of one of the players, there are witnesses and a police report was filed. You’ve broken the conduct clause, which means I owe you squat.”

Shawn’s rage dissipated as he slunk back into his chair. “Can I at least finish out the season?”

“No,” said Pendleton. “Gary can take over for now as the interim head coach.”

“I don’t want it,” I said. “I’m not qualified and I don’t want to coach for anyone but Shawn.”

“Fine.” Pendleton said smugly. “Cherice can do it. And I’ll pay her your salary, Shawn, on top of what she’s making.”

Pendleton left and Shawn and I sat there for a few minutes in disbelief. After a long silence, Shawn looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I didn’t think it would end this way.”