Thursday, 20 November 2014

Athletic Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Induction Speech

Unfortunately I am unable to be there to induct one of the greatest Field and Track athletes (not a typo) in Westminster Christian School history. During her athletic career, she carried the weight of the team on her shoulders both literally and figuratively by her weight room prowess sheer dominance of her events. In her 4 years, she only had one season where she lost more than one event. To explain the greatness in that statistic, the one season she lost more than one event was her freshman year and was to her teammate who is also in the Hall of Fame for the same events.

The day Stephanie came out to track for the first day was a bitter sweet day for me. Allow me to explain how coaching a future hall of fame athlete could be bitter sweet. On that day, Coach Howell, who was the head coach at the time, came over to the discus throwing area at the start of practice to tell me he had a new athlete for me who was going to the best I’ve ever coached. At the time I laughed and said “ya, okay, coach!” To validate my statement, the athlete I comparing and denying her potential to was a 2 time state champion and state meet record holder for her events. How dare he compare a skinny freshman who was long and lanky to one of the greatest field and track athletes the school has ever seen. After all, in my two seasons coaching her, she won her state titles! I was ready to retire and go out on top of the game… every coaches dream. I made a point to tell him if he brought any more athletes out, NOT to bring freshman, not because I didn’t like freshman but more so because I wanted to step away and finish school.

A few moments after our dialogue Stephanie walks out to practice and we’re introduced. My coaching style is very different in the sense that upon meeting ANY athlete, I never coach them… I simply ask to see what they can do. The reason for that is I want to see their raw, un-coached ability so that I am able to see what their natural strengths and weaknesses are. With that being said, we gave Stephanie a discus and Coach Howell told her to go ahead and show me what he saw earlier during PE class. Her grip on the discus was correct, she foot alignment was surprisingly correct, her wind up and release followed suit. When Stephanie released her discus, I looked at Coach Howell and asked why he hated me so much?? Why does he not want me to finish school?! Stephanie asked me how she did. All I could say to her at the time was “I’m going to make you a state champion.”

Stephanie’s junior year at states she had a less than stellar states performance in the shot-put but still won by convincing fashion. It’s very rare that an athlete would win the state championship and be unhappy. The reason she was not ecstatic was because she knew she didn’t do her physical best… sure, she won states but that’s how great of an athlete she was… She wanted to dominate the competition. She made a promise to herself that she would not have that same empty feeling.

Having a personal training background, we hit the weight room hard! She was so dominant in the weight room that she developed her own little following of student-athletes that wanted to train with and like her because they saw how strong she had become. To put it into perspective, at the end of her off-season training, she squatted as much as the football players and that’s not an exaggeration because I coached them as well.

At the start of her senior season she was head and shoulders above her 1A competition and became a high school legend amongst her competitors. I remember showing up to meets and having people stare, whisper and point at her as she’d walk by. It’s very uncommon at the high school level to have competitors be in awe and wait to shake your hand and meet you just because you’re THAT good. That was a very typical meet for her with everything short of signing autographs. One meet we competed Westminster Academy and I recall a few coaches coming up to me and saying they thought/hoped that we weren’t coming so someone else could have a chance to win or at least be competitive. At the end of some meets, she would help coach other athletes that asked for her advice on technique… That’s the kind of athlete she was.

As the season wrapped up, she carried with her an undefeated record into the state championship along with the #1 seed in both shot-put and discus. The way Track and Field works is you have prelims where everyone has 3 total throws and the top 8 qualify for finals. In finals, you’re placed in order of your prelim results. All of her hard work was on display during her first event, the shot-put. If you recall, the year before she won the event but was dissatisfied with her result so now was time to impose her will on the rest of the field. She was so dominant in the event that the second place winner was 10 feet behind her distance. To equate that to another sport, that’s the equivelant of losing by 30 points in basketball or 10 runs in baseball… AT THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP. With one state championship in the bag, she was on to discus. I left out her junior year results in discus because, well, lets just forget that happened! Again, she was seeded 1st going in to the meet but after the preliminaries, she hadn’t performed very well and was seeded 2nd going in to the finals. I told her afterward but, going in to finals, I was a little worried because she threw the same exact distance she had the last 2 state championships where she didn’t finish well. After prelims, before finals, I met with her to talk about any corrections and see where she was mentally. I asked her “So how are you doing? What’s going on? Are you okay?” She was eerily calm and composed. She looked at me and said “Yup, I’m good.” Now, having played sports my whole life and having coached for 6 years up to this point, I’ve heard this many times from many athletes only to have them fold under the pressure. This one was different. I saw the calm in her eyes and her composure was remarkable. I said “You sure? You realize you have some work to do to catch up.” Again, “Yup, I’m good.” I went on to press her and ask “So what do you think you need to correct?” … Her response- “Nothing.” A little confused I ask “ok so what’s the deal? What’s the plan?” This was the moment her greatness showed true, her response “I’m going to win the State Championship.” Now, it’s easy to say that when you have a sizeable lead but when you’re competing in the one event you had trouble in the past few championship meets and find yourself in the exact same situation as before, it’s pretty bold to make that statement but being a coach that let’s his athlete compete without getting in their way, I told her “let’s go get it then.”

What Stephanie went on to do was demoralize her competition with her first throw in the warm-up round of finals. She let out a throw that had the other 15 competitors look at each other and literally put their hands up as to say “well, that was fun while it lasted.” Each throw in the finals round was further that the previous throw and left fans, athletes and even the officials in shock at what they just witnessed. Stephanie went on to set the Class 1A State Championship Meet record in both shot-put and discus as well as shatter every record in the state of Florida for her events in the 1A class. She still holds the record in the shot-put at the 1A level. To further demonstrate her greatness as an athlete, after she received her 1st place medals, she put them away in her gym bag and left them there. When I told her she’s crazy, she should wear them proudly and show them off, she simply told me “for what? I know what I did. I don’t need to show off to the other competitors that I beat.” That’s the kind of athlete she was… she let her greatness show through her performance, not her words or draw attention to herself.

To wrap it up, I’d like to say it was an honor to not only be Stephanie’s coach but also say she’s still a great friend, even though she pushed my retirement back another 4 years. I’m a guy who’s very big on quotes and one I think fits perfectly “No man is truly great who is great only in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the page of history.” Records are made to be broken but the bar she set is incredibly high and her greatness will stand in the record books for years to come. Congratulations, Stephanie!

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