In the wake of a tragedy, coaching deserves another look

Those who have coached a sport, any sport, know the emotional connection that occurs with athletes.

From my own experience, I guess I would tell the story about a kid at El Cerrito High School in California, Vince Wallace.

Vince, a physically strong and intimidating presence, was a junior who was just kind of hanging out on the playground, a tough guy who could handle himself and wasn’t afraid to show it. We challenged him to join the wrestling team if he was so tough.

He showed up.

After working with him for two years, and having him plow me over time after time in practice when he would explode into me with his terrific strength, he won the league championship. I had tears in my eyes as the seconds ticked off to the end of the match.

It’s hard not to get emotionally attached to these kids, or should it be.

I’ve been fortunate that through more than 10 years of coaching, I’ve never had a kid seriously injured or ill. To me, the pain would be unimaginable.

So my heart goes out to Columbus North basketball coach Jason Speer when I think about Josh Speidel and his efforts to recover from a horrific Feb. 1 auto accident.

Somehow, Speer was able to hold it together, to keep getting the best out of his players while providing them guidance during a difficult and trying time. I guarantee you that he had times where he just wanted to cancel the rest of practice or the season. But he had to consider what was best for his group of young men.

Last week at Select Specialty Hospital in Indianapolis, I sat with Lisa and Dave Speidel, and they talked about how awesome it has been to be involved with Speer.

Before their son ever was involved in that two-car accident, Dave talked about Speer forcing his son to play out of position, such as making him handle the ball at point guard. The whole family thought it was kind of strange at first and not very smart, but over time, they began to understand that Speer had Josh’s best interests at heart.

The coach knew that Josh Speidel had a career in front of him in college basketball; and besides doing what was best for the team, he wanted to help this very special player prepare for the next level.

Then on Feb. 1, tragedy struck, and the Speidels saw another side of Speer. Jason and Julie Speer became so close to the Speidels as Josh battled for his life that they are considered part of the family.

Lisa Speidel proclaimed, “They are part of this journey.”

Dave Speidel might not understand why his family has been forced to endure such pain and hardship, and yet, he chooses to remain optimistic at a time when he could withdraw altogether.

He talked about how tragedy can bring about good that he never would have been imagined. How the outpouring of love and support from a community can open eyes. How relationships long since disconnected by time or geography can be reborn.

It can even make us take a different look at coaches … these people who are more often than not criticized for having bad strategy or playing the wrong people at the wrong time.

Perhaps, just perhaps, they are something more.