This week is the week of the state championship. Today there will be three games played to determine the winners of the state title in their respective divisions. Tomorrow three more and Saturday three more with the size of the school increasing as each day passes. Last week two of the smallest schools (1A) were determined in the 6 man playoffs.
This season is particularly bittersweet for our household. We just quit playing, missing the state game by one game. Today one of our senior lineman told me, “I would be packing my bag right now.” I was handing him his final game exam. I almost cried.
Our team made history this year. They went farther than any other team in the history of our town. They united a community around a common cause and it healed some deep lines of separation according to the locals. Through it all, the team moved as one and worked as a unit. This is typical Texas football. What is not typical about our team is the fact that we are not loaded with D1 recruits. We are, however loaded with character.
I often try to stay as anonymous as possible and be objective about this life but in moments like this, I cannot. I waited for a long time to decide to reveal this but I thought today’s post was good as any for the moment. While I will still keep from naming my location, there will be enough people who can piece it together that I can’t worry about hiding it for fear of not letting the story be told authentically.
My husband was contacted two seasons ago by a young head coach he admired very much asking him to consider a job that would be open. When he was contacted, we were recovering – spiritually and economically – from a devastating loss of his Athletic Director position a year earlier. While Coach Coker was able to land a coordinator position pretty quickly, he spent the first season after his athletic director job without a win. Needless to say, we were searching for the meaning in all of it.
Immediately after we cleared his office, he prayed in it one last time. He stood there in an office that that no longer belonged to him, silently praying over the desk, the chair, and the space that would soon belong to someone else. In that moment, I understood that his job was not about him although I had spent the last two years thinking it was only about him. He prayed that the coach who followed him would be welcomed, supported, and most of all protective to the young men in that small town. Coach Coker was deeply concerned about the influence of the head football coach in a place so isolated. He knew the power that the position held and he knew how easily that power could be used to do harm. He prayed that the next man would understand and respect the position enough to do good work and nothing for harm. It was in that moment, that I knew my husband put God first.
As we pulled out of that little town in our Uhaul, I felt not only guilty for competing with his job for two years but relieved that I didn’t have to do so anymore. I secretly felt blessed by his loss and then felt deplorable in my cheer. It was hard to understand what to do as a wife and how our family would be able to recover. During this time there was a change in Coach Coker. I watched my husband, a patient faithful and loving man, focus on his family and take peace in our health and happiness. I watched him revert from spending time watching film that made him frustrated to baking cookies with his daughter. He was very focused on making sure what was left for him was not falling apart as well. This doesn’t mean that the family was second to his team or that he was avoiding his duty to his team. It was just a reprieve from the pressure of being the man in charge. It was during this time that I saw what family meant to him. I felt so blessed to be married to him and it made the thought of moving on to new places easier to do. During this time, I understood that our family – with me first – was the second most important thing in his life.
It was also during this time that Jeff called him and asked him to travel six hours for an interview. It just so happened that the English department was also looking for an instructor. He first told him that he was hesitant about moving our oldest son again who had just begun high school and really liked the new school despite the winless season. I listened to the conversation and felt deeply that he was passing on something good. We talked that evening and I encouraged him to reconsider. “The worst thing that could happen,” I said, “is you get a new job and we get a new house.”
So here we are, at the end of the season with four playoff wins and bronze medals for the third place finish in the state. But that isn’t what is good here. What is good is that we have an extended family of boys and parents and grandparents that love each other. We have a saying here: code red. As we got deeper in the playoffs, we gained cowbells and huge crowds. There was some talk on the interwebs about code red being the mantra for the crowd and the influence the fans will have on the game. It became so misunderstood that the last team made a run through sign that read “code red is dead” and it upset many of our faithful.
See, our code is one we have lived by, as a family, for a long time: God Family Team. It’s an order of things to keep this crazy life in perspective. It’s a way to keep your focus in winless seasons and to follow the right leader in successful ones. But most of all, it is the heartbeat of the mission. We can fearlessly say “God” in our stadium and we can openly love each other as family. This doesn’t mean that we are all perfect or that we always get along. It does mean, at the end of the day, we are on the same team.
A team that puts character over victories.
A team that knows teaching a player to be a good husband and father will be more valuable than teaching them how to run a nice route.
A team that doesn’t let the weakest link feel weak but strong in the collective strength of prayer and fellowship.
A team that knows the best part of this is “Ohana.”
If we never win another football game in this town, I can confidently say that code red will NEVER be dead here. I also really think that the code lived here before we came and that if we ever move on, Coach Coker will not have to pray as hard in his office in the field house.
Moorea Coker teaches AP Literature and adjuncts at a Junior college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @polypel88 or reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org