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|Innovation fosters champions|
Editor's Note: The following column was first published in The Ouachita Citizen on June 7, 2007.
I don't believe that I have met anyone who knew more about the human psyche than the former football coach of Neville High School, Bill Ruple.
He had always said that he was influenced to go into coaching when he saw his football coach with a store-bought sandwich. Ruple said that he always brought his own lunch in a syrup bucket. He would take out his biscuits, poke a hole in the biscuit with his finger, and pour the syrup into the hole. But he said that when he saw his coach with that store-bought sandwich, his life changed.
He said that from that day on that he wanted to become a football coach. He told me that he did not know how much money that a football coach made, but whatever it was, it was enough to buy a store-bought sandwich.
Ruple knew people. His country-boy wisdom and his common-horse sense helped many a teenager with life's demands. After my daddy passed away, Ruple's guidance kept the highways in my mind marked with mental speed zones to keep my thoughts from speeding into those dangerous curves where my life could have crashed if not for his advice and support at a time when it would have been so easy for me to have lost control.
He was there at the two most critical times in my life. The death of my father and a season-ending injury during my senior year. I had so many plans for my senior year. I had reached my goals for my junior year and now it was time to match and surpass my own daddy's feats as a high school football player. After only six games, my senior year came to an abrupt ending. I was injured during a short goal-line scrimmage during an open date.
After I was rushed to the doctor's office, I was immediately taken to be x-rayed. After completing all the x-rays, it seemed to be taking longer than usual for the doctor to come with the report. When the nurse went to see what was causing the delay, she found the doctor at his desk all teary-eyed. He explained to the nurse that he did not know just how he was going to tell me that my collarbone was broken.
I had surgery the next day. Ruple could maximize the emotions of any event. Ruple entered my room with perfect timing. By this time most of my teammates were there in my room. Ruple had made sure the player who was going to replace me was at my beside. Ruple had everything in place for a well-thought-out announcement.
"Rob, I have just talked to the doctors. They said if your teammates can get us to the state championship, you can play." Now do you see that Ruple just placed the entire responsibility on the shoulders of my teammates? He said that I could play if my teammates could get us to the state championship. And that was eight more games. I would bet my collarbone that Ruple never had that talk with the doctor. I know enough about my coach to understand that perfect timing with much of my team there to hear the announcement from the doctor was his psychological game plan for state.
When the team returned to practice on the following Monday, there I was hanging from the dressing room ceiling with the note "One of us is missing." Of course, I wasn't hanging from the ceiling, but my uniform was. And yes, Neville won the state championship and remained undefeated.
What a lesson to learn as a young man. How easily it was for me to be replaced.
Robert Charles Payne is an inspirational writer who lives in West Monroe. He can be contacted by e-mailing email@example.com.