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Anonymous tribute to four great men

I typically do not publish information or opinions from anonymous sources. It’s been my long-standing practice to verify all sources of information.

I’m making an exception to that rule in this space today. Instead of my usual ramblings, I’m using this space to publish an email I received this past weekend (to our News Tips address) that was marked from anonymous. Its title was “The best ham sandwich I ever had” and their thoughts are as follows:

Some time ago I was listening to a speaker who encouraged the congregation to seek out someone who had gone un-thanked for a past kindness and visit them or send them a note of gratitude.

There are many in my life that I would like to thank; parents, family, teachers, friends, co-workers, strangers. But I’d like to recognize four men, in no particular order, who were a big part of my life and the lives of many others… mostly young men who shared a common interest in football. Those four men are Lee Wilson, Daryl Allen, Richard Murray and Tommy Mitchell.

I would like to thank these men for their love of football and coaching and teaching. I would like to thank them for sharing their lives and their passions with so many who were blessed to have been a part of their lives. Ahoskie was fortunate to have men of such high integrity and devotion to serve the community for so many years.

I’ll always remember Coach Wilson for his sense of humor and his patience. My seventh grade year it seemed like we had at least 100 seventh and eighth graders go out for the team; so many that we had to break the team into a 7th grade team and an 8th grade team. But Coach Wilson equipped us all and ensured that we all got some attention in practice and some game experience. We actually had enough 7th graders for two teams. So Mr. Wilson staged a 7th grade championship game between the mummies and the dummies. I can still see his furrowed brow and his disbelieving expressions at some of our attempts to learn the game, the rules of the game, and football techniques. And his smile.

I’ll always remember Coach Mitchell for his intensity. Sometimes strong, calm and quite. Other times fast paced and exuberant. Yelling ‘That a boy’, ‘Good job’, ‘Way to hit ‘em’. He loved getting on the practice field with us and flying around the field to demonstrate how he wanted something done. His players would claim that Coach Mitchell could run backwards faster than most of us could run forwards. I can also remember his hand on my shoulder pad or arm around my shoulder with his face almost touching my face mask, his calm dark eyes staring straight into mine, emphasizing a point, calmly telling me ‘this is what we’re going to do’ or just sharing an encouraging word. And his smile.

I’ll always remember Coach Murray for his gentle, assuring voice, his devotion and kindness and nervousness. Everything with Coach Murray and Coach Allen was always first class. They believed in doing things the right way. Coach Murray was devoted to his players, fellow coaches, school, and community. He did an extraordinary job as Athletic Director, ensuring that all of his teams had the facilities, equipment and coaches needed to be successful. I remember Coach Murray being interested in how things were going at school and what was in store after high school. I can also remember him squatting along the sidelines or nervously pacing the sidelines, pawing the dirt or chalk line with his hand or foot and chain smoking. I’ll call it anxious confidence. And his smile.

I’ll always remember Coach Allen for his quiet confidence, attention to detail and love of the game. He taught us discipline and the importance of planning and preparation. He taught us sportsmanship, how to compete, how to win humbly and how to behave graciously when we lost. He loved see a play executed to perfection. A well-executed play on the practice field or on game film in our Monday evening previous week review would bring a big smile to his face. I’ll also remember him for ‘The Question’. The dreaded question, the one for which there was no correct answer.

Coach Murray was a first name or nickname guy. I think Coach Wilson may have been responsible for many of our nicknames. Coach Allen was a last name guy. The question goes something like this. In an intense and demanding tone, using your last name. “Jones do you know what to do on Power 5!!!??” If the answer was “Yes sir”, then the response in an equally intense and demanding tone was, “Well do it then!!!”. If the player’s response was “No sir”, then there would be an astonished and equally intense response that might go something like this. “Jones, you mean to tell me you’ve been out here for 3 years and still don’t know what to do!? Run it again!!!” He was a great coach and a good man. I’ll certainly always remember ‘The Question’, but mostly I’ll remember the grin.

I don’t recall ever hearing any of these men use profanity. They were all intense competitors. They all attempted to instill the desire to succeed and win, but never to the point of losing their self-control. I am grateful for all that we learned from them. It was much more than football. It was life’s lessons through football. I hope the community is grateful to have had these men as representatives and mentors over the past 50 years. When you see Mr. Mitchell or Mr. Wilson or the coaches and teachers leading the community today, tell them ‘Thank you’.

Oh yeah. And by the way, the best ham sandwich and coldest, best tasting soft drink I ever had was on the road somewhere between Williamston or Windsor or Elizabeth City or Plymouth or Roanoke Rapids or Edenton and Ahoskie on a bus after a hard fought victory or possibly a bitter loss. The ham sandwich and soft drink were shared with those coaches and my teammates who also shared the love of the game and who had love and respect for one another.

Thank you Coach Wilson. Thank you Coach Mitchell. Thank you Coach Murray. Thank you Coach Allen. God bless you and your families.

Sincerely,

Former Student and Teammate

Thanks, Mr. Anonymous, for sharing this…you accurately summed up the exact feelings of many like you.

 Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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