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Departing coach

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Appgrad05, Jul 10, 2006.

  1. Appgrad05

    Appgrad05 Active Member

    Just some background on this piece. Local track & field coach is leaving, which normally isn't that big of a deal. But this is a guy who is known as the dean of Eastern North Carolina track and knows just about everyone from everywhere. The week before our female track athlete of the year said he was a huge influence on her, and he never coached her. Just gave her quick pointers at meets and such. He's also a talker and I decided to just go with it and see where it took me. End result was a feature that was much longer than orginally planned but I feel was worth it.

    The time is 6 a.m. Alton Tyre is on the Durham Freeway, driving his third car in four years. It's late winter and the animals are starting to come out of hibernation while Tyre is making the 82-mile trek to Bailey and his job as social studies teacher and track coach at Southern Nash High School.
    One of those animals, a deer, comes out of the woods and onto the freeway.
    It's too late and Tyre has hit a deer for the second time in 2006.

    Tyre went home that March day and told Nancy, his wife of more than four years, that maybe this was God's way of telling him to slow down. Tyre had been making the 165-mile round trip, getting up at 4:30 each morning, to Southern Nash since he had married Nancy. A new marriage was stressful enough, she had told him then, so you might as well not worry about getting a new job that you might not even like just to complicate things.
    So Tyre worked just as hard as he ever had, coaching three sports and helping out where he could with football. He was sure he'd retire as the track coach of Southern Nash, organizing meets that the rest of Eastern North Carolina flocked to and forgetting about the physical toll that the schedule was reaking on his body.
    But that second deer made him rethink all of that and start putting out resumes for positions as a social studies teacher and track coach.
    The offer came a few weeks ago, from Southeast Guilford High School. The school was aggressive, bringing him in for an interview days after the initial phone call.
    It won't be a short trip, still 50 miles each way, but it's another hour he'll be able to spend with Nancy.
    But that doesn't make leaving the place he had grown to call home any easier.
    "These 17 years have been the best 17 years of my life," Tyre said. "I've loved every minute of it."

    A17-year-old senior steps up to the starting blocks on the old concrete track. To his left and to his right, he sees boys his age who are bigger and stronger. They wear lily-white track cleats, the sun beating against their shiny uniforms.
    Thomas Bailey didn't have such extravagances, just an old physical education uniform. He did have a new pair of cleats, bought especially for this meet, but someone had to show him how to screw the cleats in. He had run all season with a pair of suede Adidas or even barefoot.
    When the starting gun is fired, Bailey is the fastest man on the track. He rounds the corner a good 40 meters ahead of the pack, the soon-to-be-legendary college track coach running alongside and telling him to slow down. The soon-to-be-legendary high school track coach just stood at the finish line, beaming like a proud father in his very own physical education uniform.
  2. Appgrad05

    Appgrad05 Active Member

    As soon as Bailey crossed the finish line, the 23-year-old first-year track coach from Bunn High School, Alton Tyre, shuffled him over to meet George Williams, St. Augustine's track & field coach. Williams was standing with his assistant director of admissions, ready to sign Bailey to a full scholarship. Tyre stood there as Bailey did as he was told, signing every piece of paper without even reading exactly what he was signing.
    It's 27 years later. Tyre has just turned 50, his hair and beard have turned a shade of gray and the once-pristine white shirt from a track season years past has slightly yellowed. But he still remembers the first athlete he ever coached that was signed to a college scholarship. Bailey had planned to enlist as a private in the U.S. Army, Tyre recalls, but instead turned into an NAIA Division II All-American and entered the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant.
    But Tyre isn't sitting in this cramped school library in the middle of the summer to talk about Bailey or the 10 years at Wilmington Hoggard.
    He's here, at Southern Nash High School, to clean out his office. There are 17 years worth of permission slips, meet forms and red tape from central office to filter through. He does this without the glare from the library's lights seeping into this small space of solitude. Blocking the glare is the newspaper clippings from the 21 students who have gone on from their track careers at Southern Nash to college athletic scholarships.
    Tyre remembers the story of each of them, pointing out each photo and talking at length about the boy or girl. A smile creeps across his face as he proudly boasts that all but two graduated from a four-year university.
    He's called most of the current members of the track team to let them know personally what was going on. Some cried, and Tyre cried with them. Some explained that they, too, wanted to be on that wall, the wall of Southern Nash track fame.

    Tyre, looking back, knows he should have had suspicions. Julius Peppers, then just a sophomore, had never started a conversation in his life. So when he wrapped his arm around the foot-shorter Tyre and asked his track coach if this had been his first conference championship, something was up.
    Tyre's son, affectionately known as "Altie" to the old man, tugged at his father's shirt ,but it was too late. Tyre had just recieved his very first Gatorade bath.

    That 1996 team was special. It didn't win the state championship or even the regional meet. But it was those kids who had been with Tyre when he became the track coach in 1992. It was that team that in 1994 started a streak that would eventually go eight years without losing a dual meet.
    It was the foundation of that team that led to the core of the 1998 team that piled up 200 points at the regional meet – "That's unheard of," Tyre said – and was so dominant in the days leading up to the state meet that coaches were congratulating Tyre as the Firebirds walked onto the track that May day.
    Tyre had runners, throwers or jumpers qualified in 16 of 18 events - in nine events, he had more than one Firebird signed up - so to not win the state championship would have meant the entire Firebirds' team collapsed on a colossal scale.
    His assistant coach, current Southern Nash football coach Brian Foster, told him to relax as the day wound down. Tyre still walked up and down the track's infield, trying to squeeze every last point out of his team.
    They had more than enough, 76 to be exact. Greensboro Dudley was second-best with 45 points. In the days following, Tyre fielded calls from across the state from fellow coaches. They all told him the same thing, the boys from Southern Nash could have beat a team in any classification.
    Southern Nash did it again in 1999, even after Peppers and company had graduated.
    "That was coaching," Tyre said of his 1999 team.
    Derrick High put on what his coach called a "legendary" performance at the state meet. Tyre used a 6-foot-8 basketball player who had never run track before and a long-distance runner in the sprint relays.
    Kelvin Howard, who had been on such a hot streak with the pole vault, came out of the competition crying. The short, red-headed boy told Tyre that he had let the entire team down. He had tied for fifth place and recieved just three-quarters of a point.
    Tyre assured him that the three-quarters of a point would come in handy. The Firebirds won by 2.75 points.
    "A lot of our kids' dreams weren't big enough," Tyre said.
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