Thank You Coach

Today I went through all the posts that I have done on this site and noticed one pretty significant missing component, appreciation and thanks for a lot of people that provided opportunities for many of the posts that I have made. So today, I start a process of trying to rectify that one person at a time.

Yesterday my sister shared a post on Facebook with me that they were making sweatshirts to celebrate Coach Bob Hyland’s 50th year of coaching at St. Marys Springs Academy in Fond du Lac, WI. I was immediately compelled to buy a sweatshirt and write the following post in response to The Springs post, I wrote the following response.

Thank you Coach Hyland for being a great influence on the person I am today, a sentiment that many can most likely share.

It definitely took a lot of living for me to realize all the lessons he was teaching me starting in grade school and was still teaching me the day before I got married more than seven years after high school graduation.

The day before I got married, he personally delivered a small gift that didn’t come close to the value of his delivering it. We spent ten minutes or so talking and he gave me a hug and handshake when he left.

There were more times than not, especially after I got what ended up being a career ending knee injury my junior year, that I did not have appreciation for Coach. This was especially true through a less than spectacular individual performance in my senior year.

Even though we had a 25 game winning streak and I got to play in three state championship games at the Springs, my most vivid memory of playing for him is him breaking a wood clipboard over my helmet and him screaming at me. All I remember of what he said was that it started with, “BALLS OF A BLUEBIRD FEYEN…”

After those four words all I remember was him screaming and all the droplet spray I was getting with him inches away from my face. Most vividly though he never broke eye contact and what I noticed though was the eyes weren’t mad. The eyes told me that he cared.

I’m not sure if what made him stop screaming was that he realized I didn’t hear a thing he said or the fact that I saw through the anger.

The next day he showed up to practice without his wood clipboard. He had taken the hardware from a clipboard and attached it to a clipboard shaped piece of a thick rubber tire.

I never saw him use that clipboard on someones head, but I also know he never yelled at me ever again.

From the ‘Balls of a Bluebird Feyen Day,’ I still made mistakes but he never yelled at me again.Instead, he would always pull me aside and look at me in the eye and talk to me about what had happened and I would usually never make the same mistake twice with the exception of releasing downfield to take out DBs on a draw because there was never anything better than decleating a 100lb DB as a 300lb offensive lineman.

From that day forward, he talked to me just like he did on the day he showed up at my house the day before I got married.

I always thought when he stopped yelling at me that he cared less about me than the other players that he yelled at. However, what I believe since the day he showed up at my house with the gift, I’m sure Carol Hyland [his wife] picked out. I believe he realized after be broke that perfectly good clipboard over my helmet that he could just talk to me or maybe he thought I’d be less distracted by trying to figure out, ‘what does he hate about balls of bluebirds.’

Right or not I carry with me 29 years after playing my last game as a Ledger, the lesson that treating people as individuals is important to reach them in a way they listen. It is something that serves me as a person, a professional and as a youth sports advocate.

Thank you Coach, I’ll wear this sweatshirt with pride.

My reply to St Mary’s Springs Academy Facebook Post on February 25, 2021

Continuing to add to the pride that I will wear the sweatshirt with, Carol and Coach reached out to me the day after I made the post. They thanked me for doing the post and gave me reassurance that the reduction in yelling was something that was the result of Coach’s recognition of my ability to take direction in that way. He reiterated he cares, as I ultimately recognized he did. The message specifically thanked me for the kind and unkind words, which actually made me feel a bit bad for how I worded the post in some areas.

My response to that was simply:

Not a bit of it was meant to be unkind, just the reality of the situation that made me the man I am today. I spend every day working to support better youth sports experiences, founded two hockey related charities, have an amazing wife and two kids that are for the most part polite and respectful. You [Coach and Carol] both gave me opportunities that I would have never had if it weren’t for you. Kids are sometimes just too stupid to recognize the opportunities they are given [when they are given them].

In response to Coach and Carol’s Facebook Message

I’m fortunate that Coach and Carol are both still around and I have been able to keep in touch with them as much as I have, some of the little upside that there is to social media. However, not everyone that has played a big part in your life will be around forever, in fact I have lost some of the greatest influences in my life already.

So please remember, life in the big scheme of things is short. Your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your teachers, your coaches, your mentors, your bosses, your peers, your friends as just some examples will not always be there. Always be sure to say thank you and know that in almost all cases they care about you and have good intentions.

I’ll leave you with this, my rules as a coach for my players since I started coaching at the kindergarten level have gone four deep and they’re not bad rules for life in general.

  1. Have fun
  2. Be positive in your words and actions towards everyone
  3. Have good sportsmanship (treat everyone with respect)
  4. Hug your mom every chance you get, but especially after every practice and game

To learn more about Coach, here is a podcast where he is interviewed about his 50th year at St Mary’s Springs.

Bob Hyland is the Wisconsin’s all-time leader in career wins as a head coach and his ability to get his St. Mary’s Springs and was named the 2019 Associated Press coach of the year. Coach’s overall record stands at 477-107-2 in 49 seasons with the Ledgers and the program has also finished as state runner-up nine times, putting Springs’ championship game appearance total at 26. Coach is the #3 winningest active coach and #6 all-time winningest coach in high school football history.

A Non-Career in Review

While I sucked at basketball and baseball, I was not a terrible football player.

Before my seventh grade year I attended the summer football camp at St Mary’s Springs. It was the first time i did anything remotely related to organized football. I was 6′ 2″ tall and weighed 300lbs. (I am the exact same height and weight today.)

I was also relatively fast and agile given my size, but growing up in Eden there wasn’t a football team for me to play on.

One of the coaches from the camp just happened to be the coach for Saint Mary’s grade school in Fond du Lac and my mom’s next door neighbor. Somehow I ended up on his team even though I didn’t go to school there.

The team went undefeated both years I played there. In fact I never started a game one of my teams lost ever.

Now there were losses I was part of, but my team my junior and senior year of high school team went undefeated as well.

I dreamed from the first time I put on a helmet that I would play pro ball and even when I knew the NFL was out of the question I still felt I could find a professional level I could succeed in.

That all changed though in one game in Two Rivers Wisconsin in my junior year.

Right before that season I was in the best shape of my life. I broke the 4.8 second 40 yard dash mark, benched a max 520 pounds and squatted a max of just under 1200 pounds. I also could do a seven mile run once a week just for the hell of it, but the coolest thing I could do was slam dunk a basketball.

At the game in Two Rivers I tore my ACL, MCL, LCL and a bit of meniscus to boot in my left knee. I was never able to dunk a basketball again and spent the next two years in and out of surgeries and on a mix of painkillers of various strengths and types.

I eventually did get a football scholarship to St Cloud State in Minnesota and even got a visit in my home from the Wisconsin Badgers head coach, Barry Alvarez, during the recruiting process.

It was cool to be recruited and cool to get the scholarship, but three days into practice before we even had pads on someone rolled my knee and I never wore pads as a college player with the exception of picture day.

It wasn’t easy for me to decide to quit playing football. In the letter giving up my scholarship; I summed it up as I didn’t feel I was quitting football, but accepting a new path and challenge in life.

I had no idea what I was going to do in reality, but it sounded good on paper.

I eventually ended up where I’m at today, but I definitely did not take the shortest distance between two points. I actually ended up taking several paths and accepting numerous challenges.

Life does not come with a roadmap, so you do need to be willing to navigate a bit in the dark when detours come up. It gets easier though because every experience you have and person you meet will help light the paths a bit more.

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How I Met Your Mother

I guess I’m feeling a bit excited about this whole blogging thing today so I might as well just keep going. Don’t worry my energy will probably fade and life will interrupt as it always does.

I just posted on Facebook last weekend that my pointless accomplishment for the year was watching every episode of How I Met Your Mother. Your mother actually liked watching that show and I just didn’t get it so I always gave her a hard time for watching the openly gay guy who used to play a teenage doctor play a womanizer. I finally gave the show a chance over Labor Day weekend at your Uncle Steve’s urging and I loved it.

The show is actually about a father telling his kids about how he met their mother, this is the short story about how I met your mother.

As I am sure I will get to at some point, I dropped out of college the first time I went because my football career came to less than a glorious end. As a result I found myself back in good old Fond du Lac, WI and when I met your mother I was working in a feed mill mixing animal feed and driving a bulk feed truck.

On an evening where I was hanging out with my friend Steve, who had also lost his way when it came to higher education a bit, we went to his house and your mother was sitting on the couch wearing a friend’s pair of packer mittens. She was a friend of Steve’s brother Paul.

A couple of days later she had got my number and called to ask me out on a date. About seven years later we got married.

The lesson you can take from this post is, your mother is always right. After all she picked me and she knew well before I did that How I Met Your Mother was a great show. I could come up with a lot more reasons, but let’s just stop with those because most of them make me look much more stupid.

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