From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

A Coach with Soul

The size of your body is of little account; the size of your brain is of much account; the size of your heart is of the most account of all.

B.C. Forbes

In the late 1940s, in Cincinnati, Ohio, there was a little boy who wanted to be on the “pee wee” football team at his parochial elementary school. The minimum weight requirement was 70 pounds. The little boy struggled to put on the necessary pounds. The coach knew how much the little boy wanted to make the team, so he encouraged him to “bulk up” on weigh-in day by eating lots of bananas and drinking lots of malts. The boy soon tipped the scales at 69½ pounds, was given the benefit of the doubt, and put on the team roster.

Throughout the season, the coach benched the little guy for his own sake. The upper weight limit for the league was 120 pounds and he didn’t want him to get injured. However, in the final game of the season, the team was short a few players and the coach had to play the little boy in order to avoid a forfeit. The coach played him at safety on defense, figuring the little boy would be out of most of the heavy hitting plays. Wouldn't you know it, on the last play of the game, the fullback from the other team broke through the line, eluded the secondary, and was bearing down on the little boy.

As the little boy peered through his helmet, which was too large and kept falling down in front of his eyes, he saw the approaching runner. He crouched down to try to get ready to tackle the big 120-pound bruiser. As the runner got closer, all the little boy could say to himself was, this guy’s got hair on his legs! Here he was, barely 70 pounds, trying to tackle this big hairy guy. At the moment of truth, he reached out for the fullback’s legs, grabbed onto one of them, and held on for dear life as the big bruiser dragged the little tot with him down the field. All the little boy could see was the infield dirt as his helmet banged on the ground all the way into the end zone.

Completely mortified by the experience, the boy fought back tears and the feeling he had let the team down. To his dismay, the coach and the whole team ran onto the field to congratulate him! The coach praised him for never giving up and for not letting the big guy scare him away from making the tackle. His teammates carried him off on their shoulders and then voted him the “gutsiest player of the game.”

The coach’s name is Dan Finley and the little boy was me.

In his youth, Dan, now in his 60s, had been a superb athlete with major league baseball potential. But Dan was stricken with polio, and was only able to walk with leg braces and a cane. He decided to turn his energy to coaching kids. The joy of playing had been taken from him prematurely, and he wanted to help kids make the most of their days on the playing field. He is still doing it.

Darrell J. Burnett, Ph.D.

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