Posted: June 1, 2012 by aztecpaulg in Uncategorized
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All eyes in the room fall upon as you begin to tell these young men what they already know; you are taking a position at another high school. You have taught these students to be a family and to depend on each other. And, though, you have done everything to limit the damage, you know many on the team will see this move as a betrayal because you have broken up the family. You cannot blame them because you know it is difficult for 14 – 18 year olds to understand the need to provide better for your own family at the cost of no longer being able to coach them. But you also taught them how to be men, how to face difficult situations, and how to prevail. So, you face them in an emotional meeting that you know will have greater implications for them and for you.

This situation that took place on May 11th at a team meeting where Coach Reggie Morris informed his team of his decision to step down as the head basketball coach at St. Bernard High School for the same position just 20 minutes away at Redondo Union High School. These situations have become common place in the world of high school sports where budget cuts, ambition, and the demands of life make staying loyal to one program virtually impossible. This familiar refrain is usually told from the perspective of the coach who agonizes over leaving these young, impressionable boys and men in order to provide a brighter future for his family. But what about the students the coach leaves behind? Brandon Randolph and Marc Rodgers form one of the best back courts in the nation at St. Bernard. Both will be playing for Division 1 school after this up-coming season, both share a special relationship with their former coach, both have been featured on and both shared their thoughts on the effects Coach Morris’ decision has had on them, personally, and how it has affected their team.
St. Bernard was incredibly successful under Coach Morris. In his 2 years as head coach, he led the Vikings to Division V State Finals in 2011 and to the Southern Section Finals in 2012. “Redondo is getting one of the best coaches there is,” Rodgers said when describing Coach Morris. “They’re getting a guy who loves the game with a passion. A man who studies the game … He’s a great man and Redondo definitely came up big-time.” It is his ability to inspire young men, to push them to accomplish more than they thought possible that makes Coach Morris a good basketball coach. But, it is his ability to connect with his players that make him a great coach. Randolph said, “We always talk. He is like my other father to me.” It was these qualities that gave him the opportunity at Redondo Union.
In this particular case, Coach Morris has done everything possible to be up front with his former players but that has not stopped the negative reactions. Upon learning about Morris’ decision, Rodgers said, “I was extremely angry. My frustration level was at an all-time high.” Randolph added, “I was very angry and just with a lot of emotion.” When asked if he has gotten a new perspective on the situation over the past few weeks, Randolph flatly answered “no.” While Rodgers and Randolph are committed to finishing their senior season at St. Bernard, the same cannot be said for other members of the team. Both Rodgers and Randolph admitted that many of their teammates are looking for other high schools to attend with Randolph estimating that “most of my teammates are going to find other high schools.” These team leaders can sympathize with their teammates who are thinking about leaving. “No I would not have gone.” Randolph said when asked if he would have attended St. Bernard in the first place if he knew Morris would be leaving prior to his senior season. Rodgers also doubts he would have attended adding, “I can’t play the would have/should have game because I can’t predict what could’ve been.

Still, these young men despite the negative emotion and the uncertainty about next year’s team are trying to pick up whatever pieces remain and continue to build on the success they have had over the past 2 seasons. Rodgers situation…(and)not jump the gun, and let everything play out.” While Randolph is taking the initiative to “just talk to everyone and tell them it’s going to be okay.” They are putting into practice what Coach Morris taught them. “He always told us to be a family and stay together as a team and we only have each other to lean on,” Randolph said.

But of all the lessons learned from Coach Morris, perhaps, this last lesson learned through this process will be the one that sticks with these young men the longest. “You can’t always predict the future and you can’t rely on any one person.” Rodgers said when reflecting on what he has learned throughout the process. As for Randolph he learned “You never know what’s going to happen anytime. Don’t ever get too comfortable with anything.” Only time will tell how influential this final lesson will be.

Rodgers and Randolph both said they understand Coach Morris’, decision. They still see their former coach every day; he is still employed at St. Bernard. But conversations with him have not stopped the anger, stress, and drama that uncertainty usually brings. It is probable these emotions will not fully go away until the St. Bernard Vikings are once again chasing the dream of a state title together as a team.

Coach Morris moves onto Rondo Union, a high school with better facilities, better security for his family, and an opportunity to further his career as a teacher. He is leaving behind a team now in transition, reeling from the stress of losing a mentor and coach. These are young men who should be thinking about finals, summer vacation, and for a select few, like Brandon Randolph and Marc Rodgers, where to continue their basketball careers in college. In the competitive world of high school sports where games are routinely shown on ESPN, where high school programs recruit head coaches away from other programs, and where grown men hang on the words of high school recruits on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, it is important for all of us to remember that these are the actual lives of the young men that we read about online. ESPN offered 106 words to announce Coach Morris’ coaching change, but there is always much more going on beneath the words in the lives of the real people barely mentioned in print. St. Bernard is fortunate to have a person like Coach Morris, who has handled this difficult situation as well as anyone could have, but they are even more fortunate to have two, outstanding, young men like Randolph and Rodgers, leading their program through in this transition. As we read about their success next season at St. Bernard and beyond, hopefully, we will appreciate them more, knowing what they went through to earn it.

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