I don't know how many lives were changed for the better because B.C. Crowell coached junior high sports in Newton County, but I know that mine was -- along with hundreds and hundreds of others.
Take Betty Faith Jaynes for instance. (She goes by Betty now, but she will always be Betty Faith to me.) Betty was a great athlete, but her mother, Ruth, wouldn't let her play basketball for Coach Crowell's PJHS Eagles because she was afraid it would take too much time away from Betty's school work -- not to mention her piano practice. Besides, what if she broke a finger? How could she play the piano then?
B.C. wanted her to play, though, and he wanted her to play badly enough to talk to Ruth Jaynes face to face. He finally convinced her that Betty could most certainly blend academics, athletics and the arts.
I have no idea what Betty Faith's grade-point average was and I have never heard her play the piano. But I have seen her plaque in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
Thank God the Newton County schools had athletics for junior high kids when Betty Faith came through. If she had made it all the way to high school without participating in sports, it is very doubtful that she would have picked up a basketball at all. If she hadn't played basketball, she would have never have been a college coach. She would never have been denied membership in the National Basketball Coaches Association. She would have never created the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, and the whole world of women's sports might have been light years behind where they are now. Thousands of women would have lost the opportunity to attend college. Thousands of lives would have been changed -- and not for the better.
It's just like throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples continue outward long after the stone is stuck in the mud at the bottom.
B.C. touched Betty's life, and Betty touched thousands of other lives.
Most of the kids who came through Porterdale School back in those days didn't have it as lucky as Betty Jaynes and I did, and as important as athletics were to the two of us, athletics might have been even more important to a lot of them. Athletics gave them a place to belong and kept them on the right track when the wrong track was a lot more easily accessible. Athletics, for a lot of those kids, filled a void that parents should have filled. Athletics helped them establish a firm footing on the bridge from elementary school to high school.
When I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1974, I took a job at Cousins Middle School. I taught life science to seventh-graders and coached football and basketball. I think I made $9,500 for teaching science and $1,000 for coaching the two sports.
Now please understand I was a good teacher -- or tried to be. But I spent about 35 hours a week in the classroom. I bet I spent 60 on my coaching duties. That works out to about 46 cents an hour. I would say the Newton County School System got a bargain when they hired me to coach. And I would never claim to be a B.C. Crowell, but I do believe I had a positive impact on the kids I worked with.
In fact, I know I did, because a lot of those "kids" are grown men now and many of them have made a point to seek me out and tell me. We had something special at Cousins Middle School -- back when a lot of the kids at Cousins needed desperately to feel special. I'm pretty sure that when Dirk Whitsitt and Greg Cowan run into one another and start talking about the old days, the talk gets around to brutal practice sessions and championship basketball games before it gets around to English poetry and world geography.
And when Vincent Price and Roscoe Leslie see one another, I bet they remind one another about the time Roscoe played with a broken thumb or the time Vincent gained 1,009 yards in an eight-game season before either of them says, "Remember the time you diagramed that sentence on the board in English class?"
And if you run into Greg Autry, Robbie Floyd or Gary Sims, ask them what middle school would have been like if they hadn't had the opportunity to be a part of the Cousins Rams.
Don't hear something I'm not saying. I'm not saying that athletics are more important than academics. I'm an academic guy. I teach AP U.S. history, and anyone who has taken my class will tell you how serious I am about the books.
But I am saying that athletics are important -- very important. To some kids, athletics -- even in middle school -- can make a huge difference in the direction their lives take. The Newton County Board of Education had to make some tough budget decisions, and one was to eliminate middle school athletics. I sympathize with the predicament, but I abhor the solution.
The board believes it cannot afford to offer an athletic program. I believe that will turn out to be an expensive solution in the long run. I can't speak for Betty Faith, but I bet she would agree.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at email@example.com.