Back in the fall of 1998 I was working as the Dean of Students at McCord Middle School. After school I would work as an assistant football coach at McCord for then head coach Tom Lichtenberg. Tom was a fascinating man who was once the head football coach at Ohio University and was previously the Offensive Coordinator at Ohio State and Notre Dame. Thus, he was a little overqualified to be coaching our middle school team. (We did routinely beat Perry in those years. Just Sayin!)
Back in 1998 we had over 100 boys playing football at McCord which was a huge number because we only had 450 total students in the school. Tom would walk the halls and tell every boy he saw that he should come out and play football. Many did. Some had no business being on a football field, but they didn’t realize that. They were told by the coach that they would be good at it, and they believed it. From Tom I learned the simple power of an encouraging word. Many times in life all someone needs is to know that a trusted adult believes in them and they will do things because of that belief that they never previously considered. This has become a pillar in what I believe about leadership and in working with students and I learned it from watching Coach Lichtenberg.
I learned something else really important from Coach Lichtenberg. Everyday after practice the team would gather around coach. Everyone took a knee in front of coach (never behind coach as he would explain that Jesse James was shot in the back…not sure if that’s true, but I’ve repeated it hundreds of times since.) Coaches like myself, Greg Ross, Dave Murphy, Mark Gallagher, Jeff Todd and Bill Wolford would take a knee in front of Coach Lichtenberg too. He would talk to the team about the day’s practice and everyday he would remind the kids to tell their parents that they loved them. Everyday.
That year was special for me for another reason. My dad had recently retired from his job as a U.S. Secret Service agent and he was also working as an assistant coach on this team. So each day we would take a knee together and listen to Coach Lichtenberg remind the players to tell their parents they loved them.
As a 26 year old man at the time my dad and I had an excellent relationship. He was the best man in my wedding and I would have considered him my closest male friend. But, we were men. We didn’t hug or tell each other we loved one another. Men just didn’t do that. We likely both believed it to be true but we certainly didn’t tell each other!
Sometime in the fall of 1998 that changed. We’d heard Coach Lichtenberg remind us everyday and I don’t remember when exactly but we began telling one another we loved each other. That’s continued for the past 18 years and with a stroke of school calendar luck Worthington’s spring break last week coincided with my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Like many midwesterners their age my parents spend their winter (and fall and spring) in Ft. Myers, Florida. Thus with Coach Lichtenberg’s words in my ears we piled the family into the Honda Odyssey (official family car of Columbus, Ohio) and drove the 1,167 miles to Ft. Myers, Florida.
We were able to spend last week with my parents, my sister, my nephew, my cousin, her family, and many dear old friends. We celebrated 50 years of marriage for my parents and spent good family time together. When we left Saturday morning to begin the long drive home, I told my parents I loved them. I learned that from Coach Lichtenberg and he was right. As a middle aged man I no longer take that time together for granted. Neither should you.