Teachers to Remember

Earl P. (“Coach Whitey”) Schubert By One of His Ballplayers

This writing is dedicated to someone in particular, and, for those of you who did not know him, that's not the message here.  The message speaks to all Teachers to Remember, what they did and why we shall remember them -- and, perhaps, why, should we have an opportunity to teach or coach, we may want to apply some of the wonderful ways of our Teachers to Remember.

If you were lucky, really lucky, you, too, had a teacher or coach who became one of your heroes. Earl P. Schubert, known as “Whitey” for his flaxen hair, was always known only as “Coach” to me.  He was one of those rare human beings that you can’t forget. When I met him, he was 30 or so and was Head Coach of the Varsity football, basketball and baseball teams at my high school, and, in only a handful of years, he had converted all of our tiny school’s perennially dreadful varsity teams into competitive winners – often beating much larger schools. During my two years under him, he led our wee baseball team into the Missouri State Tournament, where we finished second place, a classic Cinderella achievement then of Gothic proportions. This almost superhuman achievement was reminiscent of Notre Dame’s football coach, Knute Rockne, then the Icon of the Coaching World, who had turned Notre Dame into a perennial football power. Like the legendary Rockne, Coach Schubert (who had attended college on an athletic scholarship, as a boxer, football and baseball player) had skill, knowledge, an enormous work ethic, joyfulness, tender loving care and, above all, the ability to breed excitement and desire into his teams.

What was it about him that made him so special? It wasn’t just “winning”; it was the way that he made us feel about the sport, the game, the team, and, above all, the way we felt about life in general and about ourselves in particular – and he often did it with humor, and I can’t a recall him ever criticizing anyone; he showed you; patted you the back and moved on.

I can still see his cheerful face and often comical expressions, barking instructions on bunting, sliding (hooking left and hooking right or straight in to disrupt a double play throw), and on glove techniques, throwing methods and myriad other nuances of quality baseball – techniques that many Major Leaguers have yet to learn.  He was a true master of the game!  Whitey was a one-off. Like Sabatini’s immortal Scaramouche, “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” He often wore his cap sideways or even backwards – making him light years ahead of his time, even without an earring or tattoo – as he grimaced and gesticulated humorously, to crack us up, to gain our attention, and thus make a permanent impression. Not surprisingly, he made us better, much better than we really deserved to be!

He was given to espousing timeless gems. Whether original or clichés, we never forgot them:  Three of my favorites were:

Make a smile your greeting card.

Quitters don’t win, and winners don’t quit.

It’s not how you start that matters; it’s how you finish.

Some of us passed these pearls of wisdom along to many others. In my case, I coached several hundred boys over a span of 20 years, winning 15 titles from local to regional, all in The Coach Schubert Way, and I still hear from some of those now middle-aged lads. It’s so rewarding! When I told Coach this a few years back, he quipped, “Well, I guess I got you started.”  Indeed, indeed he did.

In 2004, I wrote Coach a thank you note, which I concluded, “So, dear old friend, I thank you again and again – and again -- for the instructions, the laughs, the good times and, above all, for the wisdom. As they say in Hollywood, “Don’t change.” Three years later, in 2007, he came to visit me and stayed in my home, and we reminisced happily for several days. We ignored the ravages of time that plagued us. It was an unforgettable time with a priceless person.

It’s so difficult to say “Goodbye” to loved ones like this. Yet, as Longfellow said,

“The biblical quote, ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest’, was not spoken of the soul.”

Still, the process of saying farewell to loved ones is, perhaps, the most difficult part of life, and, unfortunately, it becomes a larger and larger part of our lives as we age; but I’ve found a way to numb much of that relentless pain and partially fill that void. I make a special point to position my favorite pictures of these departed ones (of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends) in places where I often look; so, the day rarely passes that my thoughts fail to wander back to them, and I have little “visits” of sorts, savoring their vivid visages, their encouraging words, their kindly admonitions, their tender glances, the laughter that we shared, and the constancy of their affections.  Rather than let them slip into dusty books in our rarely visited archives, I frequent their faces and memories. Now, as a bonus, they’re on my Screensaver. This works; it helps, my fellow-lovers of departed heroes!

In the end, to celebrate the departure of those whom we cherish, our words still fail us. As the unforgettable early 1900’s novelist Theodore Dreiser said best:

                          “Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean.”

Yes, my words now are but “vague shadows of the volumes” that I mean.  Poets, perhaps, say it best. So, I’ll leave you with the words of America’s well-loved John Greenleaf Whittier, from his poem, “Snow Bound”:

“How strange it seems with so much gone, Of life and love -- to still live on… Ah, brother, only I and thou Are left of all our circle now -- Yet, Love will dream, and Faith must trust That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.” ______

And such was the end of this hero’s Beginning