Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking skyward…..

When you are a high school senior there is a unique level of arrogance and innocence when combined accurately depicts this special yet awkward stage of development. Swag, is the modern term used by young people and succinctly depicts the senior year experience for most.

You are the kings and queens of the school, nobody can tell you anything because you are a senior. You are grown, life is at your fingertips and nothing seems impossible. It is time for you and your classmates time to shine as individuals while preparing for the next steps in life. What happens when that gets all thrown out the window? What happens when innocence and swagger is seemingly ripped from underneath your feet and you are faced with reconciling Charles Swindoll’s famous quote, “that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

This became a harsh reality for a group of seniors and for an entire school community on September 6, 1997. 15 years later there are only a handful of memories that are more vivid than the moment I was told by mother that we had lost “Coach”. For me it was one of those moments where you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with like it was yesterday.

I was out in the front yard throwing the football with my friend Buseman who had graduated from the same high school three months prior. He had joined my family for a day trip to Clemson as college football was getting underway. The Tigers had gotten off to an inauspicious start with a less than spectacular victory over Furman, when I got the news.

Anyone who knows me, knows I wear my emotions on my sleeves good, bad or ugly. Especially at that point in my life, react first, ask questions later was my M.O. I had just caught a pass from Buseman when my mom came out of the garage door with a distraught look, “we lost coach.”

The flood of emotions caused me to turn around and punt the football I was throwing with my friend into the street. I was paralyzed. What did she mean? I had just been with Coach the night before. Now talk about an inauspicious beginning, the mighty Riverwood Raiders had kicked off the 1997 season with a 42-6 defeat at the hands of Creekside. Not how you would draw it up from a storybook perspective but one of those things where you move on, learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

Well, do better next time was out the door. Bill Hoskyn, a retired Secret Service Agent, turned beloved Social Studies teacher and football coach had suffered a heart attack on the tennis court and died. That reality will snatch the swag out of your sails in a hurry.

After several frantic phone calls, teammates parents, former teammates all started gathering together to try to reconcile a new reality that none of us were prepared to deal with. It was not fair. Why did this have to happen? Did our play from the previous night have anything to do with it? What are we going to do now?

Why was a man who stood for all the right things, did things the right way, who loved his family and everyone he came in contact with get snatched up in such an abrupt fashion? That question still sticks in my craw today. That is something that I will be sure to ask God when I am reunited with Him and I see Coach on the other side.

Coach Hoskyn was cut from a different cloth, he was one of those coaches who would never swear at you. If you ever elicited a “frickin’” or “friggin’” from him, you knew it was time to step up your game. The thing that set coach apart from pack was his expectations. They were very simple. All he ever expected was your best. Regardless of if it was in the classroom, football field, how you conducted yourself at school, or in life all he expected was a person’s best. A simple yet overwhelming standard when you thought about it but it explains his gentleman, warm-hearted nature that everyone gravitated to, regardless of your status as a student or athlete.

His expectation of best was personal and he had an innate way of celebrating an individual’s best in a way that leaves me in awe today. He had the ability to be excited for a student who busted their hump for a C as the person who studied hard for an A. Yes vastly different marks but he understood what best really meant in an authentic way.

Someone’s best does not always mean rushing for 230 yards in a game or being named valedictorian of his or her class. For Coach it meant giving maximum effort, with maximum integrity and class in everything you do. Coach set out a simple yet high standard to live up to.

In the days following Coach Hoskyn’s passing, there were candle light vigils, church services, time spent hanging out, memorial services, a return to the practice field, tears shed, and attempts to reconcile why. A lot of firsts took place that week. The journey to create a new normal in the midst of a tragedy, while still embracing and exuding the swagger of being a high school senior.

It would take till the final game of the 1997 season for us to find a moniker of closure. It came down to that final day, when 20-plus seniors would put on the all blue RHS uniform one last time, a day filled with emotion as the stadium was dedicated in Coach’s honor, and one last opportunity for us to deliver him our best. I had sat and watch the previous three classes of seniors go out and him saying no matter what you do in life, you will remember your last game. I hope that is what he remembers not the 42-6 drubbing we took with our last game with him.

It is true. I remember that night as vividly as any other. It is a memory that provides peace 15 years later during one of the most unsettling experiences a person and a community can face.

I want to thank Coach for loving me, for having confidence in me, for expecting more of me than I expected of myself and demonstrating what it means to be a man. So today, when I look to heavens I will give two beats on my chest and point skyward, just as I did less than a week later as we took the field minus one but forever changed. May you continue to Rest In Peace Coach. 


Mom said...

James, you have eloquently captured the moments of heartbreak, the lessons of life and the spirit of a truly inspiring gentleman. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Dear Friend,
I wanted you to know that my husband, the eldest of Bill's sons somehow fell upon your tribute to his beloved father today. For some reason, as things like this go, he wanted to touch on a memory of his dad. Googling his name and expecting an article from his Secret Service days, instead your blog came up. What a wonderful thing to find that people outside our family circle still feel the impact of that awful day and better yet share the memory of his love. That he inspired you to do your best in all things is not surprising, as we all attempt and daily fall short of his shining example, but that you took the time to write these words is so special. Thank you for being a legacy of his love and dedication. As an aside, his 4-week-old grandson who stood on that field with us the day of the dedication is now 15 and playing football at Walton with all the heart and intensity Bill would have loved to watch. Life goes on...