COLLINS: Head Coaches Sacrifice To Make Things Better
The black SUV that traveled around Lackawanna County for the better part of the last week with the words “THIS COACH SUCKS” carved into the passenger’s side doors is driven by one of the best coaches in Lackawanna County. Never mind, one of the classiest people.
It’s about time the rest of us think about that.
It’s also about time we think about how many players he has coached who are spitting mad someone even thought to do this, never mind did it.
How many coaches have let the most sobering thought of all enter their minds. That, this could just as easily have happened to them. And, that they’re frankly surprised it hasn’t.
“It’s embarrassing,” Jamie Higgins said with a nervous laugh, which ironically makes him the only coach in the region who can muster any sort of laugh about this. “I’m driving down Route 6 the other day, in the right-hand lane behind all the slow people. I don’t want people seeing it. I pulled up alongside a lady in Dunmore, and she did a double-take. I just kind of shrugged my shoulders. I don’t have another car to get to work. I have to drive this.”
At some point during, or shortly after, Scranton High School’s 2-1, extra-inning loss to rival West Scranton on Tuesday in the District 2-4 playoffs at Battaglia-Cawley Field, someone scratched those words into the side of the longtime Scranton coach’s truck. He didn’t realize it until long after the game, when he asked his son to pull the truck around and noticed the message some dunderhead wanted to deliver to him, but was too much of a coward to say to Higgins’ face.
He reported the incident to Scranton Police, and sure, Higgins has his suspects. There were only a few people it could be, after all. Couldn’t have been his players: They were too busy playing the game. Couldn’t have been anyone from West Scranton: They don’t know which vehicle is his.
“It has to be a parent,” he said, his voice trailing off, “someone who was too invested in that game and that season, and maybe the season before. Whatever beef they had with me from this year or the year before or the one before that, now they could take it out on me.”
When he took photos of the damaged vehicle — he estimates it will costs thousands to repair — Higgins did something he rarely does. He uploaded them to his Facebook account, wrote a passionate message and forwarded the entire post to, you guessed it, the Scranton High Baseball Parents Club.
“I guess this is the thanks I get,” he wrote, “for treating your sons like they were my own children.”
While Higgins is really willing to just leave it at that, it’s important to know that’s not just lip service, not just some line he threw out there to glorify himself. Because there aren’t enough column inches in the Sunday newspaper to describe the impact this man — and coaches just like him at every school district around our region and the nation — has had on the youth he has been guiding for more than two decades.
“If you talk to any player who came through his programs, they would say the same thing about him,” said A.J. McKenna, Old Forge’s quarterback coach and former star quarterback on Scranton’s football team, where Higgins is an assistant. “Whether it was a ride home or sometimes bringing guys to have dinner with him or, later on in our lives, as a reference for a job. Or, just someone to talk to.
“He was a father-figure to some of us who didn’t have them. Even today, he still plays that role in his players’ lives.”
Right there. That’s a coach’s job. Not winning the game. Not playing your son.
About an hour north of Scranton on Tuesday night, Lawrence Thompkins saw Higgins’ Facebook post, and he cringed.
The first thing that ran through his mind, he said, was that he wasn’t really that surprised.
“I think I realized it in high school. I had teammates who had people around them who treated my coaches like crap, treated my coaches poorly,” the Susquehanna boys basketball coach lamented. “I didn’t get the full spectrum of it, because I was a kid. But from a coaching side of it, my first year I coached a junior high team at Susquehanna, my first year teaching in 2006, you feel it when you’re first approached by a parent who wants to know about playing time. Or, ‘How come so-and-so didn’t play?’ You have to explain to them why your decision was made, and you immediately realize, there’s a lot more that goes into your decision-making and how it’s perceived.”
Nobody wants to succeed more than the coaches do. No coaches want to see players fail, because that reflects poorly on them, as well.
Nobody spends more time and effort on kids and gameplans and schedules, often at the expense of time with their own families, than coaches do.
If you’re thinking coaches are motivated by politics, you’re wrong the overwhelming majority of the time. Once, years ago, I chatted with Joe Paterno about this subject. He said, “You think I liked everyone who ever started for me at Penn State? You think I hated every kid who never got on the field?”
Ultimately, Higgins just wants to know. Who did it?
“I probably know this person, and that’s burning me up,” he said. “Sometimes parents think if their kid is not playing, it’s because you hate them, and not because of their ability. That’s the toughest thing about coaching. You have kids at practice who are working hard, and parents want their opportunity to come in a game. They don’t understand that I watch them at practice all the time. Their opportunity to prove themselves is at practice; it’s not in a 0-0 game in the eighth inning of a district playoff game. That’s not the time for you to show me something. You’d have already had to show me something to be in that situation, and parents just don’t understand that.”
Some parents never will. This is a generation where so many adults bemoan handing little kids a “participation trophy” because “they haven’t accomplished anything,” then whine and complain when their precious little boys and girls haven’t yet earned the chance to participate.
This is a generation in which everybody is a damn expert on what should be done, but only the best step forward to make it better.
Jamie Higgins is firmly in that category, and that’s the message the area needs to know.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.