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How My High School Coach Became A Force In My World

Jun 24, 2020

When I picture my high school principal, he has a whistle around his neck, cargo shorts and white running shoes. I admit I never quite got used to his gym attire — it was such a contrast to the suit and tie he wore during the day. My principal was my basketball coach. He ran practices early in the morning, five days a week. His expectations were clear; show up on time, deliver your best effort and no excuses for a lack of commitment.

"When life is chaotic, it’s surprising what a little bit of consistency can achieve."

As for nurturing an athlete’s mindset, he’d tell me, "There’s no point running down the court hanging your head after missing a shot. That guarantees you’ll miss the next one. Hold your head high and try again." He’d share these pieces of advice with little emotion or fanfare. There was no movie soundtrack in the background to punctuate the importance of this life wisdom. He’d say his piece and move on. Little did he know, he was to be a major character in my narrative and more than worthy of swelling music and a close-up. For a kid who didn’t have a lot of stability at home, my principal and coach was a force in my world.

The teen years are tough — but for some, situations in the home can make it difficult to show up, let alone learn. Most parents are trying their best, but life is tricky and full of challenges. Teachers are on the frontlines dealing with the fallout. Here’s the thing — sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference. When life is chaotic, it’s surprising what a little bit of consistency can achieve.

For me, having my principal show up day after day, expecting my contribution to the team was enough to add a sense of order to my world. It also allowed me to build a trusting and respectful relationship with an adult figure of authority. 

That trust gave me the confidence to ask him an important question. This was the '80s and my heart was set on broadcasting. I asked, “Do you think girls can be sports reporters?” Without a moment's hesitation he replied, “Of course. Women can do anything they set their minds to and that includes you. Now please get the pylons and load them in the locker.” That was it. In that moment, I believed I could reach for my goal and grab it. 


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His leadership clearly rubbed off on his staff — there were many teachers in my high school who cared deeply about supporting their students. When I broke down during a gym class because I couldn’t finish a mandated run, one of the teachers was by my side in a flash. She said there was no go free pass since it was expected all students complete the task, but she offered to run with me at lunch the next day so I could finish what I started.

My geography teacher could see I was struggling to choose a topic for a major assignment. He coordinated weekly check-ins to get me back on track. An English teacher, who knew I needed practice for my speech competition, arranged a series of extra dry-runs in front of her classes. My guidance counsellor called the organizer of a highly competitive university program to put in a good word for me. This kind of support continued until the day I graduated.

I was told years later by teacher friends of mine, there are often families the staff looks out for if there are issues at home. I have no idea if there was a formal plan, but I can assure you, every single day I went to school, I felt safe and cared for. High school was my sanctuary.


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I have tried to show my gratitude over the years by reaching out to my former teachers with thank you notes, but it never felt enough. One of the ways I have honoured their contribution is to raise three children to respect the teaching profession. My oldest son is about to finish teacher’s college, and will do his part to help with this generation of kids. It’s not an easy job. These last few months are a perfect example, but I do believe it takes a village to raise a child.

I became the person I am today thanks to a group of teachers and a principal who showed up every day with an open heart and a 'how can I help?' mindset. I hope they all know what a difference they made in one child’s life. And my guess is, I wasn’t the only one.

Article Author Karen Horsman
Karen Horsman

Karen is the former national parenting columnist for CBC. She is the mother of three and working in the field of corporate communications.

Sharing stories and learning from others is at the centre of Karen's world. When she isn't writing or connecting with fellow adventurers, you can find her walking a local forest with her amazing puppy.

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