Teachers and coaches help shape our lives
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night thinking about one of your favorite high school teachers?
Perhaps you wake up thinking about a teacher who was not your favorite, the one that stayed on your case and made you study.
Teachers, whether we like it or not, have a great influence on the lives of their students. I can think of several who taught at Anding High School who somehow penetrated the density of my brain and gave me academic skills that I still use today.
Mrs. Crisler, for example, taught typing. Throughout college and graduate school, I used this skill almost every day. The good thing about it was that I didn’t have to pay someone to type my papers.
Coaches have enormous influence on the individuals they coach, especially young men. High school is when a young man comes of age, and a coach is usually the authority figure who makes the most difference.
When I was younger, I doubted the value of high school sports, but as I have matured and as the years have passed, I have changed my mind. Sports are important to all students, but they are especially important to young men.
I learned at Christmas that one of my former coaches had died, Coach Wendell McDowell. Coach McDowell was the assistant football coach and the head basketball coach at Anding High School in Bentonia. He also taught chemistry.
One day in chemistry lab, the assignment was to produce hydrogen. Coach McDowell lectured us on how to accomplish this task before he issued the lab equipment. He emphasized that hydrogen, when mixed with oxygen, produced water, but it did this when it exploded.
Soon, Watson “Bo” Warren, Pricilla O’Neal Martin, Kenneth “Poochie” Ketchum, and I were at our stations blending the proper chemicals to produce a small amount of hydrogen. In a few minutes, we could demonstrate that we had produced hydrogen by lighting a match and holding it to the end of the test tube. There would be an abrupt “puff” as the hydrogen exploded, and there would be a drop or two of water remaining in the test tube.
This was fun. What would happen if I collected a lot of hydrogen?
I soon had a five gallon glass jar in hand, and I was determined to find out. None of my lab partners, Warren, Martin, and Ketchum bothered to tell me that I should run this by Coach McDowell before I proceeded.
Soon I began collecting hydrogen in this enormous jar. About the time I thought the jar was full, Coach appeared at our station. “What are you doing, Patterson?” was his question. “Collecting hydrogen, Coach. I want to hear a big bang.”
With that statement, Coach McDowell cleared the lab. I don’t recall him ever scolding me or pointing out how dangerous this idea was perhaps because he concluded that I was too “mentally challenged” to benefit from a scolding. I never heard that “big bang” that I thought I wanted to hear, and that’s a good thing, thanks to an alert Coach McDowell.
We played a basketball game on Friday night, and if memory serves me, we won. When we showed up for practice on Monday, Coach told us to hit the football field. We ran, rolled on the ground, sprinted 40-yard dashes, ran backwards on the balls of our feet, and did all kinds of weird things for about two hours. We had a large squad, and for the life of all of us, we could not figure what we had done wrong.
Years later I learned why he had worked us so hard. We had too many players on the team. He wanted to run some off so that he could spend more time with his talented players.
Well, he tried, but failed. Not a single player quit. Country boys are like that.
Coach McDowell passed away on October 22, 2012. Three years ago, he visited Jerry and Lynda Burton’s home near Dover, and I had the opportunity to renew old acquaintances.
Time had taken its toll, but still, his mind was as active and as sharp as it was 50 years earlier. We had a great time recalling our time together and the fond memories we shared.
Then he left as quickly as he had come. He had made his mark. His work was finished.
But I had learned one important final lesson: he appreciated us as much as we appreciated him. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.