Horseshoe Bay Texas
My very first flash of memory when I think of Coach Eathorne, Mr. or Les doesn’t sound right, is the slamming of the clip board on the gym floor with a piece of the masonite sliding half way across the court and the bench and the crowd getting quiet. My steel trap mind immediately told me he was unhappy. And the fact that I was sitting on the bench gave me hope that he wasn’t unhappy with me. What I grew to understand was that this wasn’t some random act of anger but a calculated action aimed at a referee, our team or both. It was meant to say we need to take it up a notch and Mr. Referee don’t get in our way. Eathorne was a genius at getting you to take it up a notch, particularly when you didn’t know you had another notch left. In fact I would submit that his most enduring legacy, to those with the privilege to play for him, was he was able to take 15-18 year old boys, raised mostly in a blue collar community with few parents who had college educations, and teach them that their biggest limitations were the ones they set for themselves. By demanding more and pushing us beyond our self imposed limits he made us realize that we could reach for and achieve goals well beyond our limited view of the world. Another high school coach named Sturdivant and a band leader named Francis did the same.
The team my senior year had some real talent if not much size. Anderson, Eno, Dolmseth, Leismann, Mackey, “Beans” Lee, Francalangia all had talent. I loved the game but had a body and an attitude that was more linebacker that power forward. As with a typical Eathorne team the strategy was pretty simple, full court press, fast break and beat them with conditioning and the transition game. His transition……….. our conditioning. Never before and never since, including a successful football career at Washington State, have I been in such good shape. It was a wonder they could even keep paint on the floor of the gym. We ran until our shoes, our feet or both were about to fall off. He forced you beyond that point of exhaustion where your mind and body said, “that’s it, I’m done, there ain’t no more to give.” Then you found there lurking in some unknown crevice of your brain that there was more, that the pain could be pushed to the back of your mind, that there was great joy and pride and satisfaction finding that you could do more than you thought you could. He already knew. I had to learn it, experience it, embrace it and fuse it with my will and determination.
Many years later in Chicago, at a senior management symposium on leadership, the moderator asks everyone to describe the person who had the greatest influence on their live. The responses included mothers, fathers, other family members, wives, ministers, grandparents, teachers, and mentors. My response was my coaches. From little league to college they pushed me beyond my self imposed limits. And theses coaches with their old sports/life cliché’s about preparation, hard work, practice, focus, and winning were actually instilling an attitude and discipline that would serve us the rest of our lives. But none had the enduring impact of Coach Eathorne. His enthusiasm became your enthusiasm. His hope became your hope. His will to win became your will to win. His willingness to pay the price became your willingness to pay the price. And once you have experienced the sheer joy of giving an endeavor all you can give, leaving nothing on the field, or the court, or at the office. It becomes the way you want to live your life.
I left Bremerton after graduation living all over the country in some 15 different cities. I would return to visit my parents and my 2nd mom, Jean McAboy, and only once did I find the time to seek the coach out and say thanks. If you get a chance to read this Coach, it is a very belated and expanded thank you. And what is truly amazing is that I am only one of hundreds or thousands you have touched in your life, both on and off the court. Few in this world leave such a wonderful and positive legacy.
The great work of coaches like Eathorne continues today and you can see it in many venues on and off the courts around the world. Masonite clipboards on the other hand are getting harder to find.