At age 72, my father has come out of retirement for the 17th time. This is his first venture back into the working world that the rest of us didn’t see coming.
My dad leads an active lifestyle. He follows a healthy diet, but even so, he has diabetes and has been unable to get his blood sugar down from a near crisis number recently, despite the insulin. No matter how much he exercised, his blood sugar number recently has been topping 200.
Until three weeks ago.
That’s when he stepped back onto the sidelines.
Albeit on a somewhat familiar field.
The faces of the coaches and players are all new, but he will stand on a sideline from his past, and in doing so he will fulfill one of his dreams. He is beginning a coaching job at his junior college alma mater, East Central Community College.
The sidelines must have some sort of curative powers for him, because in the process of coaching again, he has also lowered his blood sugar. Apparently, coaching is the best thing he can do for his diabetes. The day after he started football coaching again, his blood sugar dropped to 97. He’s not getting any more exercise. He’s not eating any differently. He’s simply coaching again.
Football coaching is so deep in his blood that he missed it down to a cellular level.
Until three years ago, except for a few years here and there, my dad has coached football. For nearly 50 years, he has coached mostly high schoolers, with an occasional junior high team thrown in for good measure. I estimate that he’s coached at least 2,000 football players — but this fall is the first time he’s trying his hand coaching at a junior college.
East Central is in a tiny town called Decatur. Since the day he stepped foot on that campus when he was 18, he says he believes that place to be as close to heaven as one gets on this planet. In the fall of his second year as a student there, he and some friends were watching girls play intramural volleyball. He watched for a while, then leaned over and whispered, “You see, that girl right there?” When his friends said they did, my dad said, “I’m going to marry her.”
At that point he had never spoken to her, but in less than two years, he did, in fact, marry my mom — that girl playing volleyball. He has been grateful ever since. For that reason and more, East Central’s campus is hallowed ground to him.
To be clear, junior colleges, or community colleges as they’re called now, in Mississippi are set up differently than they are in many other states. Fifteen community colleges throughout the state serve different geographic regions, and 14 of them play football — hardcore, rugged stuff.
My dad played football at East Central more than 50 years ago. According to all sources, he was a good player, but not a great one. I don’t know what he was like back then, but I can’t imagine that anyone then or now could love the game much more than he does.