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Prep football coach feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Bob Loblaw Law Blog, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. It's summer and it's slow, so I slapped together this feature piece after having a nice, long chat over lunch with a local football coach. I was pretty happy with the way it turned out (as was the coach) but just wanted to get some other people's opinions since I'm always looking for input on how to improve my writing. Thanks in advance for taking a look.

    Mike McCabe didn’t know quite what to expect.
    It was Friday afternoon, June 15, and McCabe’s Forest Grove football team had just wrapped its final practice before heading down to Canby for two days of full-contact scrimmages. The team was preparing its gear for the next morning’s trip when senior running back Jake Toll approached.
    “Hey Coach, a bunch of the guys want to see you in the locker room,” Toll said.
    McCabe’s mind raced. Did someone get hurt? Arrested? Suspended? As he walked back to the locker room, the possibilities seemed endless — and they were all bad.


    It had already been a rough spring for McCabe. In February he was informed that after he retired as a teacher, presumably following the 2007-08 school year, he wasn’t wanted back as head football coach. After dedicating 30 years to the school district and 10 to the football program, the news came as a tremendous shock to McCabe, a 1972 Forest Grove High School graduate.
    In private, McCabe wrestled with the news. Should he tell his family? His coaches? His players? Eventually it all came out, and McCabe fought a long and public battle to keep his options open. In the end, with almost the entire Forest Grove community rallied behind him, McCabe was told he could stay on as head football coach as long as he wanted.
    It was a victory, but the ordeal had taken its toll on the easygoing head coach. He felt betrayed. He had trouble sleeping. He wondered if maybe he should take his services elsewhere.
    McCabe’s stress at work came on the heels of a difficult period in his personal life. The previous fall, McCabe had begun making long visits to see his father, Mac, at The Grove assisted living center. His father had fallen ill, so they would often just sit together and watch television, seldom speaking a word.
    On a cool November night, McCabe found himself lingering longer than usual.
    “Do you want anything to eat, dad?”
    “No thanks, just go on home.”
    “Do you want anything to drink, dad?”
    “No thanks, just go on home.”
    Finally McCabe buckled and headed for the door. Before leaving, he turned back to his father.
    “I love you, dad.”
    “I love you too, son.”
    When McCabe walked through his front door a few minutes later, the phone was already ringing. His father had passed away.


    McCabe stepped into the Forest Grove High School locker room and was encircled by 30 or more of his players — mostly seniors and juniors, kids he had coached for years. He sat in the center of the room.
    “What’s up, guys?”
    Toll stepped forward and produced an envelope from his pocket. He opened the envelope and handed McCabe a small sticker, shaped like a football, bearing the letters “MAC.”
    “We had these made, Coach, and we want to wear them on our helmets this year to honor your dad,” Toll said. “Would that be OK with you?”
    McCabe didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. Tears welled in his eyes.
    A long moment passed as the coach composed himself.
    “Yeah, I think that would be OK. I think dad would like that.”
    McCabe excused himself and retreated to his office, where he broke down.


    A month later while recalling that incident, what resonates with McCabe is that few of his players really knew his father. For most of the year, Mac McCabe — widowed in 1988 when his wife of 45 years, Margaret, passed away — lived in Mesa, Ariz., and he would come up a few times every football season to watch practice and catch a game or two.
    “He always had Viking apparel on — that was his wardrobe,” McCabe said, recalling his dad’s visits. “He’d ride around in the cart at practice and the kids would come up to him and say hi or just chat for a few minutes.”
    Although McCabe’s players didn’t know his dad well, it didn’t stop 55 of them from turning out for Mac McCabe’s funeral, dressed in brand new shirts and ties, fresh out of the bag from Fred Meyer. And it didn’t stop them from coming up with the idea for the decals or approaching Kyle Kobashigawa at Frye’s Action Athletics, who offered to print them for free.
    It was a selfless, unsolicited and unexpected gesture. It was also a sign of how much McCabe means to his players and how much they mean to him. They knew their coach was hurting and wanted to honor him by honoring his father.
    “It was amazing,” McCabe said. “I’m an emotional guy by nature, but that was almost too much. It was all I could do to keep it together.”


    Now, with the drama and the heartbreak behind him, McCabe’s life is back to normal — or at least as normal as it can be.
    He is focused on the upcoming season, running — as he has for the past 10 years — summer weight lifting and conditioning sessions for his players. The Vikings attended team camp at Canby, where they scrimmaged six times in two days. Last week they wrapped their own team camp, co-hosted with Banks, which featured three days of technical sessions and two days of full-contact drills.
    “Overall it was good,” McCabe said of last week’s camp. “It gave us a chance to look at some of the new stuff we’re doing. Our offense right now is looking really good.”
    Despite, or perhaps because of everything that has happened in the last nine months, McCabe is as excited about the upcoming football season as he’s ever been. The Vikings have a talented senior class, led by Toll, the team’s leading rusher in each of the last two seasons, Kyle Swaja, an athletic tight end, and Joey Flanery, a shifty wideout with highlight-reel moves.
    The schedule, as always, will be tough, with games against Pacific Conference heavyweights Canby, Tigard and Tualatin. Improved squads at McMinnville and Newberg will once again make earning a state playoff berth a tall order.
    Outside conference play, where the Vikings have a 26-5 record in McCabe’s coaching career, Forest Grove will host Benson and Franklin, plus make long road trips to face Grants Pass and Hood River Valley.
    “We’re not playing any pushovers,” McCabe said. “We should be pretty exciting on offense. We’re still working on some defensive line stuff, but I think we’re going to have a good team.”
    What McCabe means is that on paper, his team’s win-loss record could be good. What goes unsaid is that wins and losses are only one way to measure success.
  2. Appgrad05

    Appgrad05 Active Member

    Overall, very good effort.
    Only thing I can really impress on is the idea of more, and better, details. I don't need to know the owner of the local printer shop and maybe not even that he did it for free (unless you talk to him and he has something worth quoting). But I wanted to know what the players talked to his Dad about. I wanted to know why, from the players, they did this very kind gesture.
    As a one-source story, it is a solid read. But a few more sources would have knocked it out of the park.
  3. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    Agree with App. This is a really good story that has some potential to be a potential award-winner.

    At the end, I found myself wanting to know more about McCabe's dad. Give me more about what type of person he was. Any kind of description, antecdote or just more quotes would do this. Also, like App said, I think you should take this story further and get more sources into it. Talk to Toll (I think that was his name) about the day he approached McCabe, his experience with McCabe's dad, stuff like that.

    The last thing that stuck out to me was the end. I see what you were going for, but I don't think it worked. The last line stuck out as a bit of editorializing. Let McCabe say that if he meant it. Also, it seemed like you were trying to cram a season preview into the last few graphs. I don't think that was necessary, at least not in this story. You could probably cut that last section to about half the size and have twice the impact.

    Great effort though. Re-post if you re-write.
  4. Thanks for the feedback, guys. Unfortunately, this already went to press. To address some of your points, however, I had lunch with the coach on Monday afternoon and went to press on Tuesday morning. While I agree that it could have been better with more sources, I just didn't have time to hunt them down. I was going to interview Toll on Tuesday at an agility session, but I found out that morning the players weren't due to practice again until Wednesday.

    I will say that I wanted to go deeper into the stuff about his dad, but almost all of what he told me was off the cuff, just two guys talking over lunch. It was all very personal and private stuff and I didn't want to overstep my bounds as a writer (I wasn't taking notes during lunch and wrote about 90% of this story from memory -- although I did fact check afterward). The story just hit me so hard that I couldn't NOT write it. So I did the best I could and got the coach's blessing and ran with it.

    So in many ways it was a deadline feature piece. Again, I agree that with more time and more sources it could have been an award winner. Still, I'm pretty proud of it considering the circumstances.
  5. Bullwinkle

    Bullwinkle Member

    Just a question for the board........

    If Bob didn't take down any notes, and is recalling all of this straight from memory---quotes included---how do you feel about this? Surely he couldn't have remembered all of the quotes word-for-word? Personally, it doesn't make a bit of difference to me. But I know there's some people out there who can't stand the omission of any words and hate to have any quote altered.
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