Teachers and coaches should never underestimate the impact they have on the lives of their students.
In these challenging times for teachers, and as a new school year begins, I hope these caring, dedicated, brave, gifted, kind, patient educators know the importance of the jobs they do. How they have more influence over the lives of our children than any other people, except possibly the parents, and in some cases more than the parents.
They shape us, mold us, set us on life’s roadway with a map to take us wherever we are eventually able to go.
Even those that we encounter briefly can make an indelible mark that stays with us forever.
I was reminded of two such coaches and teachers recently who I only knew a short time during my 12 years in school growing up — Coach Rick Johnson and Coach Don Brewer. And yet, I still remember them as Christian leaders and exemplary individuals.
The lesson I learn from those memories is that we absorb as much about the person the teacher is as we do about what they endeavor to teach us.
Coach Johnson was a part of the coaching staff at Canton Elementary and Cherokee High in the years I was there.
In my junior year at Cherokee he and his wife Ellen Palmer Johnson, were my tennis coaches.
Now, let me start by saying that athletics have never been my strong suit. That I played tennis for two years and lettered in high school is something of a miracle.
I was a cheerleader as well, but somehow that seemed more like a fun activity than a sport.
But that spring of my junior year, I learned that a tennis team was being formed by Coach Johnson. So I signed up and played doubles with partner June Davis.
There were only a couple of tennis courts around, one at Canton Golf Course and one in North Canton. We practiced hard, and hopefully won a few matches.
By the next year, Coach Johnson was gone to Newnan High School, and we had a new coach. But I still remember him and those times fondly.
So, when I saw him on Facebook recently, I was able in a sense to reconnect with him. I knew that he had always been a man of deep faith, active with Camp Ridgecrest. I learned that later in his career he became the first camp director at WinShape Camps, created by Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A.
Since I was in high school 50 years ago, Rick has continued to touch the lives of young people in a positive way.
What caught my eye recently was a post he made about how precious each day is, and in these pandemic times that is a message we all need to hear often and remember.
He quoted a Bible verse from Galatians, about the traits we should be practicing — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, self-control, and gentleness. I needed that message that day.
Coach Brewer was an outstanding basketball coach at Cherokee when I was there. I remember his efforts with our teams to build a winning program. This week he came to town and met up with some members of his team winning Junior Varsity team from my sophomore year. They went 20-0 in a school that was not known for boys basketball.
The former students he met up with included Steve Stancil, Anthony Whitmire, Bill Fincher, and Rick Bradshaw, all of whom went on to make their own marks in this world.
A photo of the group was posted on social media, and Rick Johnson saw it. Rick wrote about the time he had to fill in for Coach Brewer, and the team lost the only game it ever lost that next season. So Coach Brewer ended his tenure with a 59-1 record for the JV team at Cherokee High.
Coach Brewer would then go on to be head basketball coach in Gainesville.
These two men were here in Cherokee County only a short time, but they left a mark. They changed lives. They made us better people and helped point us on our way.
The two men eventually reunited at WinShape Camps, where Coach Brewer was the first director of the WinShape Foundation.
When I picked up my devotional book this morning before writing my column, today’s message was that same passage in Galatians. I don’t believe in coincidences.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
These coaches had the opportunity to teach us many lessons, some about learning and some about life.
Teachers are one of our most precious resources and we should all remember as this school year begins how important they are.