All Points West: Thanks to high school coaches
     2016-02-19      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
Getting up in the morning was the worst.

The drive that it takes most adults to pop out of bed may require minimal prep – as in throwing on a robe and slippers, opening the front door to fetch a newspaper. As a rookie high school wrestling coach, I forewent all of the above, downed half a pot of coffee and pocketed a banana and a yogurt as a sort of brown bag lunch to go.

Watching wrestlers at this past weekend’s District B-4 Tournament in Sidney reminded me of getting up in the wee hours on a Saturday morning. My coaching days in Las Vegas are long gone, yet fondly remembered. Believe me, not everything ran perfectly. Coaching was a lot like herding cats.

The few days before a tourney, I was inputting wrestler information into a computer system − primarily the names, weights and the win-loss records of everyone on my team. (Recruiting an underpaid assistant was darn near impossible and reminds me of producing the Gering Citizen some days.) I’m not sure how the system worked before computers, but I imagine it had something to do with killing several acres of trees and using a courier system the likes of the Pony Express. I’d imagine giving instructions to one of my wrestlers to deliver an important message: “Take this lineup to the next high school over. See you in a few days.” Now, correspondence to fellow coaches goes something like this: “Didn’t you get my email? I was sure I clicked the send button.”

Setting lineups was preliminary. It was always guaranteed, some part of it would change, especially when my guys didn’t make weight. I had to strictly monitor the wildly fluctuating gains and losses of all 20-something wrestlers.

I cringed at our varsity 132-pounder shedding seven pounds in two days before a match, despite health guidelines to do things the right way. According to Nevada’s interscholastic athletic association and governing health organizations (the gospel according to high school sports in the Silver State), wrestlers were given information on advisable weight loss. Hence, the old days of dropping nearly 20 pounds were over. Yet, somehow it didn’t stop some of my guys from indulging in gourmet chocolate treats and salty chips to end the week of practice wrapped in sweats and plastics, running laps or skipping rope around the mat room with scared looks on their faces. Sugary Gatorade didn’t help.

Subsequent steps for weekly preparations involved making sure the equipment manager was on the same page as you. Did every one of our guys have a singlet, headgear, shoes, at a minimum? Warm-ups were optional, but not advisable. Equipment issues aside, if they wanted to wrestle, they got on the bus.

But let me backtrack to weeks before the season started. There were several things I learned as a rookie coach. The first lesson was on fundraising. Working at an at-risk school, coaches couldn’t exactly rely on a booster club, or local sponsors, which makes me wonder in retrospect if some of the nearest casino owners would have thrown money into the kids’ futures. Nah! What were the odds my kids would succeed in life? That’s a story for another day. In order for the team to have uniforms and go to tournaments outside the regular season schedule, we needed money. In our case, we sold sodas, hotdogs and really cheesy nachos at a season’s worth of home football games, and made an OK penny.

To support this kind of an operation isn’t easy. I voluntold the entire team. I also rounded up a core of student volunteers to help transport cases of drinks and snacks from the local discount grocery store to the concession stands at the football field in guess what? I drove my own car, with no reimbursable mileage. I bought free meals for the kids who helped out because they couldn’t be paid in cash.

One of my early concerns was that our football team lost more often than it won. Who would show up to watch the games? Surprisingly, fans of losing teams eat and drink more, hence we made a nice wad of cash, but always counting every dollar. Not having enough meant some kids missed out on tourney time; I couldn’t have that. So, I made up the difference out of my own pocket. Coaches also had to keep track of grades and school attendance, settle disputes with other students, and treat skin infections, all of which affected eligibility.

What does all of this add up to? It’s an investment in time, because it sure wasn’t money. As the head coach for wrestling, I earned an extra $1,500 on top of my teacher’s salary, roughly $47,000. (Don’t get me started on being underpaid as a teacher). And contrary to popular myths, I didn’t get summers off. Career oriented teachers attend professional development courses or teach summer school or drive athletes to training camps. My biggest flaw? I cared. One of my fellow wrestling coaches with 20-something years of experience estimated we made about 25 cents an hour. He wasn’t joking. When the bell rang for the last class to let out at 2:11 p.m., I was in the mat room until about 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., sometimes later. We also practiced on Saturdays. Traveling to duals, I didn’t make it back home until midnight, yep, the wee hours.

I worked 50-plus hours a week as a teacher. Tack on the more than 20 hours a week as a coach, chauffeur, mentor, or overall surrogate parent …

Despite dealing with the long hours and a mangled body at season’s end, I got to see how my wrestlers improved – they grew from weak and flabby to lean and strong, some of their hands raised in victory more as the season went along, glorying in their accomplishments. It wasn’t always about winning. For myself and the coaches I know, you got to love this job.

The point of my ramblings? The next time you see coaches JJ Behrens, Randy Plummer, Todd Ekart, Tyler Thompson, or anyone else on the Gering coaching staffs, or anyone on any high school coaching staff in this great country of ours, keep in mind the countless hours and the money they spend.

Take the time to shake their hand, and say thank you. Believe me, they’ve earned it.

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