just ponderin'

… on mattering humans

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Half-kid Jack, Coach Lisa Owens, and First-born Mac. SAA Track and Field Championships 2014.

Some people just matter.

And they don’t just matter once or twice, or in the past or you are sure they will sometime in the future.

They are busy mattering all the time.

Mattering people.

That beautiful, athletic, competitive, compassionate woman up there in between Half-kid-Jack and First-born-Mac?

Mattering person.

They just call her ‘Coach’.

When Mac was looking at colleges, she and I pinky swore that we would have a great time traveling all over the place to schools that she thought she wanted to see.

She was looking at smaller schools, with small classes, and where she would know her professors and they would know her.

And she wanted to run track.

Actually, she didn’t want to run too much (like her mother, she is allergic to running too much), but she wanted to jump (and maybe run a little (preferably in short, quick bursts with the promise of a nice snack when she was done)).

We visited a number of colleges, from Pennsylvania to Iowa to Tennessee, and Mac chose a little college in Danville, Kentucky. And it changed her life. And then it changed Jack’s.

And I think Mac’s final decision was made for two reasons.

The first was the handsome older man who stopped her in the parking lot as she was leaving her admissions interview. He welcomed her to Centre College and they chatted for a minute. Before he left, he asked her name. She told him, and he said, “Okay, Mac Dingle. I’m going to remember your name. Hope to see you here one day.” And he was off.

And Mac got in the car and said she thought people were so nice at Centre. Then she said she wondered who the man was. Turns out he was the President of the College.

She never forgot that.

And he actually did remember her when she came.

Pretty dang cool.

The second difference maker?

Coach.

Coach Lisa Owens welcomed Mac into her office on the day of her very first visit to Centre.  I was about to head back out to the waiting room, but she ushered me in as well with a, ‘Come on in, Mom!’. The office was an absolute cluttered mess, and she apologized for it. The season was coming to an end and she had been so busy.

But when you looked around, you realized that the ‘clutter’ was made up of so much more than track equipment and paperwork.

Photos were everywhere.

Photos of kids on podiums, and kids on the track.

Kids running, kids jumping.

Kids throwing things.

Shoes from a 50-plus-foot triple jumper who had just gone to Nationals for the third time, and was an olympic hopeful. When I asked, she told the story of his forgoing every single full-ride scholarship from Division One colleges to come to this Division Three school (D-3 schools can’t offer sports scholarships) and work with this program. And she didn’t say it, but clearly he came to work with her.

She had those shoes because she was going to bronze them for him. She told his story with tears in her eyes. She was clearly so proud of him.

Coach was serious and driven. She was also interested in Mac as a person, as well as what she might do for the team. She was encouraging, and spent a lot of time talking about the college itself – not just her program. She talked about how tough it was, and how rewarding it was. She talked about the balance of sports and studies.

And when Mac chose Centre as her college, she made her first call to Coach, and only then called Admissions.

And Half-Kid-Jack? He was at a much larger school as a freshman, and feeling like a number in classes that often had more than 200 kids in them. He spent a lot of time in line during office hours, asking questions of professors who had to ask him his name more than once in the same ten minute span. I once saw his face as he tried to reconcile the fact that Mac had been invited the day before – via text – to stop by her professor’s house just off campus to go over a calculus homework problem she was having trouble with.  Jack wasn’t fitting in at his school, and he was really trying. But he was miserable there. And through Mac’s descriptions, and those of her friends he was meeting through Skype, he fell in love with her school (or at least the idea of a smaller school like hers).

After a series of events too convoluted to explain easily here, he decided to try to transfer schools.

He did research, and made a list of possible schools. His first list had small schools closer to Mac, and Centre wasn’t on the list. I asked him if it wasn’t there because he thought we wouldn’t be okay with him transferring there. He said that wasn’t it. He said he didn’t think he could get in.

And, okay, there was an issue. He had been sick – very sick – in high school. And, in his sophomore year, he had missed many days. Grades had suffered.  He didn’t have a lot of guidance toward college either. In his senior year, he took the SATs because his best friend, Bill Li (we always call him Bill Li…hardly ever just ‘Bill’), told Jack that the last chance to take the SATs was approaching and, if he wanted to go to college, he had to take them. So Jack signed up and went, having no idea what to expect, and having prepared not at all.

So, okay, grades and classes taken weren’t necessarily stellar, and SAT scores were average, but not even trying because you think you can’t get in?

Bullshit.

Especially when he said it would be a dream to go to a school like Centre.

My thought? Centre is a small enough school. It’s a school that prides itself on the students knowing that they matter. This was a great kid with a great story. They would at least listen.

And who did Mac seek out to figure out where to start?

She went to Coach.

Coach already knew Mac had a boyfriend, and Coach is a sucker for love (and a super secret matchmaker (except for now, because I just outed her)).

Mac told her Jack’s story, why he wanted to transfer, and that we thought he would be such a good fit all-around at Centre. She also told Coach that he was an award-winning athlete in high school. Could he play football? What did she think?

She wanted to meet him.

So Jack and I flew down and we all sat down with Coach – Jack, Mac, and me.

And Coach looked him up and down and said, “thrower”, and then she said, “javelin”. And we all laughed.

She listened to him talk of pursuing his dreams, and that he was worried his family wouldn’t support him in this.  She asked him lots of questions as we all sat in her office with all the photos and the now bronzed shoes that her star triple jumper gave her to keep.  She listened to his SAT scores and grades, and said she wasn’t going to lie, it was going to be tough. She said his grades at his college that semester would matter a lot. She gave him the eye. She was serious, and he knew it. Then they veered off the academic and sports paths. They talked about their respective faiths. They talked of their childhoods and families. This talk wasn’t about Centre, or her team.

This talk was about Jack.

Just as it had been about Mac two years before.

And when he decided to apply as a transfer student, she supported him as much as she could. She told admissions she would love him on her team, she helped make the case for his well-roundedness, because she knew him as a person. She knew he would fit, and grow, and contribute to Centre and her program.

She also propped up an emotional Mac as she anxiously awaited the college’s decision on whether the young man she loved was going to be coming to Kentucky.

Ever try to prop up an emotional young lady as you are trying to coach her toward perfecting her form in the triple jump?

I would have needed medication.

And since then?

She has coached the both of them to medals and podium spots at Conference meets.  They both hold the school record in their respective events. And this year, Coach even got to watch Half-Kid-Jack accept his medal as Conference Champion in the Hammer Throw, having never participated in Track and Field before coming to Centre. He might even make it to Nationals this year.  He certainly has a shot.

She knows what else they are doing too. From their jobs on campus, to community service, to academic ups and downs. She has struck bargains with each of them when they’ve asked to skip a practice for a formal, or to study for an exam. She has encouraged when they’ve been discouraged.

And she has smiled watching their relationship.

Remember, Coach is a sucker for love and family and good things.

So this past Saturday, after the medals were handed out and all the pictures were taken of athletes on podiums, the Coach’s team was posing for photos. The jumpers wanted a photo of themselves, the relay team too. The boys, the girls, the whole team. And then the seniors, which is always bittersweet.

Coach was in that one with them.

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Mac and Coach.

And then there were tears, of course.

And then Mac and Jack called her over for their photo together.

And Coach welled up and said she couldn’t believe four years had gone by so fast.

And Mac and Jack took their places beside a woman who has mattered. Who has made such a difference in their lives through her coaching, and caring, and supporting.

And I raised my camera to my eye.

And took a few photos through tears of my own.

Thanks for readin’.

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Jack, Coach, Mac. April 26, 2014

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