An Athlete Essay - A New Beginning

One of the coaches new to our SportsLeader association is Coach Jon Clark. This is his first year as the head football coach of Madison Southern High School in Berea, KY. He has done a pretty amazing job rolling out all of the different elements of the virtue program and the fruits speak for themselves.

Here below is an essay written by one of his players - a testimony to the power of virtuous coaching. It shows how important the player-coach relationship is ... that the virtue of the coach truly does make a difference.

Just imagine if every coaching staff was like this across the country. I highlighted some phrases that hit me the most.
A New Beginning
By Zachary Morgan

The theme for the 2011 Madison Southern Football Team is “A New Beginning”, and that is exactly what this football program has been to me. Before I started playing football I was struggling to find a true hobby, something to be passionate about and that wasn’t the only issue I was having. In school, my grades were fine but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t meeting my full potential. Also, I can’t forget to mention how out of shape I was, even though I’m still out of shape today, it’s night and day compared to where I was before football. Another obstacle for me has been my medical condition known as Aspergers. Aspergers is a high-functioning subset of Autism that enables me to achieve greater heights academically but at the same time limits me socially and also makes coordination somewhat of an issue. Even though it is football that has shaped my life, I ultimately never would have been a part of the team without the help of Coach Jon Clark and the other Coaches.

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be where I am today with the football program, or if they had told me that I’d even be playing football at all, I’d look at them as if they were crazy. And they probably would have been if it weren’t for Coach Clark. When I first heard about a new Madison Southern Football Coach I decided to read up on him and see what he had done in the past. I was shocked at the experience level of Coach Clark, with him having experience from coaching at the high school level and coaching at some successful college programs, I right away saw this as a great opportunity for me to not only find something to be passionate about but also as a way for me to be a part of something bigger than myself, as a way to be part of a team.

Later, after some thinking, I decided I would make an attempt to join the program. After emailing Coach Clark and after a very encouraging phone call, I knew this was going to be a great experience for me. Since I was so out of shape, a plan was put into place to get me where I needed to be physically. Coach Clark, along with Coach Boon and Coach Skinner, worked with me individually after school for about a month at my own pace. When I first started working with the coaches, I couldn’t even squat without any weight, and at the end of that month there was a definite improvement. After that month the coaches and I agreed that I was ready to join the rest of the team during morning workouts before school.

The anxiety coming from the anticipation of the first morning workout was intense. The anxiety I had walking into the gym that first morning workout was probably my first and pretty much my most difficult emotional obstacle to overcome. This was mainly because of my Aspergers and the social difficulties it presented. Even though I did know a few people that were on the team, most of them were new to me. Even not knowing most of the group, with the help of the friends I knew and even the ones I didn’t, I felt like I fit right in. So even though the workout was physical it was still a bigger growth socially and emotionally for me than it was physically.
After another month or so of morning workouts, Spring football came around and I was looking forward to it quite a bit. It was going to be the first time I put on football equipment since the 4th grade. With Spring football there also came another obstacle, the heat. The medication I take for my Aspergers makes me much more heat intolerant. This required me to not only be more hydrated but also to be more cautious of heat related injuries such as heat stroke and dehydration. There were times during the practices where I had difficulties, but in the end I overcame them. This was made possible due to the coaches and the understanding they showed when it comes to the obstacles that stood in my way and of course with the motivation from my teammates. After a long week of practice it was finally time to hit the field for the last time before we got our new turf.

To end Spring football, there was going to be an intra-squad scrimmage on the last Friday of the two week period. It was all I could think about in the days prior to the scrimmage. After school that Friday I could barely wait an hour before showing up to the locker room. When I got to the locker room, on top of everybody’s locker was their jersey that they were to wear that night along with their pants and all their pads. There was a depth chart and roster on the wall, music was playing and as I walked around the corner to my locker and saw the neatly folded, white jersey on top, I knew Spring ball had paid off. Before I knew it, it was game time and we were headed out to the field.

It was a cool crisp evening, the lights had just come on and as we walked on the field the band was playing the school fight song, the stands were loud and people were everywhere. The field numbers had been set up along with the pylons. Everyone’s breath was visible as we started stretching and as game time came closer and closer I had chills running down my spine. And when game time finally came around the chills stopped, almost as if adrenaline had taken over, it was like no other feeling in the world. After the scrimmage I felt proud of myself and my teammates around me. There was no score taken that night, but even if it were I feel as if it wouldn’t have mattered. It was a victory for me and the entire team. We had completed Spring ball and it was back to lifting until the 2nd week in July.

After a few more months of lifting we began conditioning alongside our lifts. We were not only preparing for the season but also for our upcoming camp. This was no ordinary football camp; in fact there was no football at all during the camp. It was all about team building and coming together as a team. This was just another brilliant idea brought to the program by the new coaching staff. There were several things to look forward to about team camp, for instance the new helmet design was to be revealed. Along with those things to look forward to came some uneasy feelings regarding the physical aspect of camp. This was especially true because of the heat, not to mention the fact that it was being held at a National Guard training facility.

The bus ride there was nerve-racking and it wasn’t just me freaking out, a lot of other players were worried about the difficulty of the camp. And Coach Clark telling us to make sure we had tennis shoes on and that they were tied before we got there had us even more scared. When we got there we were welcomed by a National Guard drill sergeant banging on the side of the bus yelling at us to get off the bus and head over to a nearby grassy area for some PT (physical training). If we started with “Up Downs”, “Flutter Kicks”, and “Push Ups” many players, myself included, wondered what else camp had in store for us.

Later on in camp, we were introduced to the “Confidence Course” which is a scaled down version of the obstacle course used to train the National Guard recruits. Everyone on the team went individually but it was far from an individual task. Teammates were encouraged to cheer their fellow teammate on as he ran the course. Although the course is scaled down, it is hardly a walk in the park. Not even the most athletic people on the team found this course easy. When I started out, I didn’t think I could do it and the truth is I couldn’t have without the help of my teammates cheering me on. As I came onto the final stretch I was surprised to see some of my teammates running with me and helping me push through to the finish line.

Near the end of camp Coach Clark went on to tell us about the horse Secretariat and his Triple Crown victory and how it inspired the nation. Coach Clark also was able to relate the story to things like determination and inspiration. One of my favorite things he said was “If a horse can inspire so many people, certainly 80 football players can.”

More than eight months after my original decision to join the football team this journey has culminated in Field Dedication Night. I find a strong parallel between the inauguration of our new football field and the new life I feel I’ve found with and through this football team.

We began our evening offsite sharing a meal with our brothers on our team and our coaches. The bus brought us back to school where our family, friends, cheerleaders, band, and fans were waiting for us and lined our walk to our locker room and field. As I proudly put on my new number 77 jersey I can’t begin to tell you how proud I was to represent my school and my teammates. As we took to the field with our coaches it felt as though the moment I had been waiting for had finally come. I stood on the field and I witnessed military personnel parachute in the American Flag and the game ball. As I looked up into the sky and saw the parachutes open, I knew anything is possible.

When I first started out with football I had many worries, one of them being how we will fare on the scoreboard but now I realize that is not the most important aspect of this team, of course we want to win, but as long as we try our hardest it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. After looking back at all the obstacles I overcame. This is truly a “New Beginning” for me and for this football program and I am glad to be a part of this family brought together by Coach Clark.