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My full house is complete.
Two fiction novels and three works of nonfiction.
And due to work and graduate school, I may not be publishing another book for quite a while, despite having several ideas in mind. Who knows, though? Maybe I’ll have another published in the near future. It’s something I love doing.
So, in the meantime, why not provide a quick video rundown of Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History, Deep Green, Heart of the Plate, Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South, and Ray of Hope?
In the video, I briefly talk about each book, summarizing the plot and letting you know where you can find each. I even profess my feelings for the Atlanta Braves, a tumultuous relationship that I can’t seem to quit.
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Check out the video below.
He is a young newspaper sports editor, but he gets it. The guy who was once my intern, who covers much of the Birmingham, Alabama, area now, says that establishing relationships is what the job is all about. I wish I could take credit for his genius, but he is a natural all on his own.
The publishing group he works for covers some of the most successful athletic programs in the state of Alabama. There is the football program vying for a state title every year, a basketball program that has been ranked nationally, baseball and soccer dynasties. His absolute favorite team to cover? A softball team.
He notes that the team’s head coach befriended him in a heartbeat, and talked to him as if he had known her for ten years the first time he met her. Soon after covering a few of their games, the players were eager to get to know the young sports editor and were excited any time he came to a game. The head coach even allowed him access to multiple practices before departing for the state softball tournament, and encouraged him to stand in the dugout during games. She was also willing to have dialogue during games. He says it is not uncommon to get a phone call at eleven o’clock at night from the head coach, just to talk about why a certain player is struggling or what her little girl did that day. Why is this?
“With her and many of the other coaches I’ve covered, I’ve been lucky enough to earn their trust quickly, using discernment to not write about certain things I get to see behind the scenes, but also using some of those things to drive home a point and make for a great story,” he says.
He has also assisted a major university’s athletic programs by working in the media relations department. Had he stayed on that path, he would have likely worked with the same people every day. But as a sports editor, he routinely visits many different people.
“Instead of being limited to the handful of employees I was with at a job, now the people I interact with on a daily basis are coaches, administrators and athletes along with my coworkers,” he says. “Most of these people are thankful and appreciative of what I’m doing.”
He says that his philosophy as a community reporter is to establish relationships within the circles of people that he covers. He is learning to also be the guy behind the camera, and he Tweets game-face photos with hilarious captions.
“I’m not just there to write about them, take pictures of them and Tweet about them,” he says. “When you do that, you put off a certain vibe and people associate having to act a certain way around you, guard their tongues, and you are on the outside looking in at all times.”
He dives in to that philosophy a little deeper.
“Establishing a solid foundation with that athletic director and that coach does wonders,” he says. “For one, that player that you’ve never talked that you’re doing a story on? That player has seen you interact with the coach, and has noticed that you’re not just some random guy that shows up needing something. That makes your interview subjects much more comfortable. Secondly, when you have a solid relationship with someone, interviews are allowed to be much more conversational, which ups the quality of your material ten-fold.”
People tell you things when you have developed solid relationships with them, and the sports editor knows that. It opens the door to more stories and allows people to tell things they otherwise would not tell a reporter who covers his or her team every now and then.
“I could go on and on for how establishing relationships with people has created a culture of trust with the people that I interact with every day,” he says.
Another friend of mine, one who was not my intern, has covered major university athletics and football recruiting in Alabama. He has been at the forefront of Alabama football coverage, and the dismantling and resurrection of the UAB football program. All those high-profile stories, but he still routinely finds himself on the sidelines on Friday nights.
“I enjoy high school sports because it’s easier to unearth unique stories,” he says.
He remembers a couple of them. There was the football player who lost his mother unexpectedly, but who couldn’t have been more gracious with his time to talk about it. There was the other blue-chip football recruit who also lost his mother at a young age.
“I think telling stories about kids humanizes them and their team,” he says.
He recalls a Christmas basketball tournament in 2005 in Dothan, Alabama, that he covered. One of the teams had a little guard who hit a half-court shot at the end of the third quarter. After the game, someone mentioned to my friend that the player had lost his grandfather in a house fire a few days prior. The following day, the player opened up about it in an interview, and my friend turned the story around for the next day’s newspaper, when the boy’s team played in the third-place game.
“Seemed like he got extra applause when he got the ball,” he says.
The young coach keeps the text message as a reminder.
It was sent to him by a basketball player from his former high school, where the coach was departing from to take a job at another Alabama high school.
The text message, in part, reads, “I just wanted to let you know having you coach me this past season has truly inspired me. Before you I had quit going to church and praising God. I was lost but your enthusiasm for the abilities that God gave us helped lead me back to the path. I’ve been going every day that it is open and I have you to thank. I’m happy that God sent you to to help me see my errors not only in basketball but in life. It has truly been an honor to play for you and I will miss you yelling at us at practice.”
“I keep this message with me to remind me that, yes, I love winning and want to win championships more than anyone, but reaching kids, helping to make them better people, is a higher calling, one I never want to lose sight for,” the coach says.
The coach played at a small school in Walker County, and in one of his seasons, helped his team post a 30-5 record and finish as the state runner-up, the best season in school history. His coach demanded excellence and held his players to a high standard.
“I want to have that same impact on my players that I come in contact with, and help mold them to be successful young men and women, to let them know that anything is possible with God, hard work, dedication and belief,” he says.
After his playing days ended, he coached at his alma mater for two years, one of which included a run to the state Elite Eight and a 29-5 record. He was then the head junior varsity and assistant varsity coach at another Walker County school for three years. In his time there, he also helped with the middle school boys’ and girls’ teams.
“I got into coaching first and foremost because I love the game of basketball, and what it can do for a player both spiritually, academically and athletically,” he says.
He is now the head coach of the varsity girls at a school in Jefferson County, and an assistant for the varsity boys’ team. He says he has been a part of some good teams and some not-so-good teams in his young career, but the one thing that remains his top priority is helping his players become good men and women, which can translate into them becoming good fathers and mothers, employees and citizens.
“Sports can help play a critical role into a young person’s life,” he says. “I tell my players continually that they have to believe in themselves and work relentlessly for their goals and to never give up.”
He translates his point into real-life scenarios. He uses job loss as an example. Are you going to not look for another job and have a pity party while your spouse and children depend on you? Or are you going to fight with everything inside of you to find a way to provide for your family? When circumstances pop up, and they will pop up, don’t give up. That’s the time to dig deep and fight with all that’s inside of you to make a way. He stresses to believe in God and believe in yourself because God has placed greatness in everyone. He tells his players that it’s up to them to tap into that belief.
“I want my players to remember not just how many games we won but that I taught them how to be a good man and woman,” he says. “I want them to come back and have a good career and family. I believe that most kids are afraid to strive for greatness because they are scared that they will fail. I feel that the only way a person can truly fail is not putting every ounce of their being into something.”
At one of Alabama’s best high schools, a new coach took over for the 1998-1999 basketball season. He talked to players and parents, stating that the program would develop into one of the best in the state, and would eventually win a state championship. A freshman on that team remembers people in the room laughing. The school was not exactly a basketball powerhouse. But it would soon become one.
In 2001, the basketball team made the state final four. It made return trips to the state elite eight in 2003 and 2005. But the program never quite got over the hump. That freshman, the one who remembers the laughter, took over in 2009. Under him, the boys won eighteen games, then twenty-five, then twenty-three, then twenty-four. They were repeatedly knocking on the door of excellence.
In 2013, that door was knocked down. The team steamrolled through the season, finishing with a 30-6 record and a state championship that it won by twenty-one points over its opponent. The baby-faced coach describes that team as one of the least likely to win a state championship. They didn’t win much as a junior high team. But the group loved the game, worked hard and loved each other. It was a fearless team. The boys returned to the state championship game a year later, and did the previous season’s team one better. The boys posted a 34-3 record and became a nationally ranked team. They also won another state championship.
You may believe that the team was made up of superstars who were taller than the rest of their competition. You may believe the team had one player on its roster who was a standout, who was going on to play at Duke or North Carolina or Kansas. You may believe competition in Alabama high school basketball was not up to par. You would be wrong.
That team was made up of seniors who never quit. There was a senior guard who had come to his coach as a sophomore and told him he wanted to quit, that he didn’t believe he was good enough, that he let everybody down. The coach asked him if he were to play basketball on an island, would he enjoy it more. Of course, the boy said, because no one else was there. The boy was so unselfish that he feared he would let people down around him. His coach encouraged him to play and live fearless. He became the winningest player in school history.
One senior was cut during tryouts for his seventh and eighth grade basketball teams. He made the varsity team as “a project” as a freshman and played sparingly as a sophomore. The same happened during his junior year. But as a senior, he blossomed into one of the best big men in the state and earned a basketball scholarship. Another senior had not made the team until his sophomore year, and as a junior was put on the junior varsity team. He became a deadly three-point shooter and went on to play college basketball.
Another boy didn’t make the varsity team as a junior but came back and made it as a senior. Early in his prep basketball career, he had been one of the first twenty boys cut during tryouts. Another senior was the ninth-best player on his team up until his sophomore year, and during the run to the 2014 state title, his three-point percentage was the highest in the state.
Those seniors struggled before they finally made it. They were humble. There was no ego. Their team will go down as one of the best ever in Alabama high school basketball.
“They were hungry to make it,” the coach says.
Many people would not have thought back-to-back state championships were possible for this basketball program. The coach sees it as inspiration for other people in their own lives.
“They see things that have been accomplished and they say, ‘Well, this was accomplished. No one thought this was possible. This is an inspiration to me that I can achieve things in my own life that I didn’t think were possible,’” the coach says.
He attributes the success of those two teams not to high three-point percentages or a suffocating man-to-man defense. He credits mind-sight over eyesight. He provides a hypothetical example: Two players trying out for the basketball team don’t see their names on the list of boys who made the cut. One player rants about how hard he has worked since second grade, how he can’t believe he didn’t make it and will never make it. That’s eyesight. The second player, also hurting inside, doesn’t see his name on the list but can see himself getting better and coming back the next year because he knows he can do it. That’s mind-sight. That’s what his teams had.
“They didn’t fear adversity,” he says.
There is not much adversity in this town, at least socially. It is one of the most affluent cities in Alabama. The coach, having grown up there, knows this. Stories you hear about coaches providing players with places to live, food to eat and more are not often heard from this city. So he creates adversity. He creates it with times players must make running the track in the offseason. If they don’t make the time, they try again. He creates it in practice with how fast they go. The boys will reach a point of not believing they can make it, but when they finally do, their beliefs change.
“That’s where I think we help the most,” the coach says. “Everything is serious adversity. Everything is a mental game that day in and day out they harden themselves to be like, ‘Well, I can overcome anything.’”
For this young coach, it has always been a process-driven philosophy. It is not about wins and losses. Most seasons, he doesn’t know what his team’s record is. Most times when the boys practice after a game due to a poor performance, it’s actually after a victory. The goal isn’t to win. The goal is to be the hardest-working team around, to be unselfish and to be fearless.
“If you do that, you’re going to have incredible results,” says the coach, who I believe could coach at the collegiate level any time he pleases. “It’s the way it should be.”
It has certainly worked for this program. In 2015, the team had the opportunity to go for the three-peat, to win its third consecutive state championship in basketball. It came up short, losing by seven points.
The coach remembers someone not long after that loss saying that it was a down year for the program, to have lost the state championship. He thinks back to when those parents and his own teammates laughed at his high school coach, and now he laughs.