I had a t-shirt that said just that when I was about 4 years old. I remember it so distinctly, it had a little cheerleader, with a rainbow behind the big black bold lettering. I saved it and wore it for many years after I should have, but when it finally became a belly shirt Lisa decided it was time for it to hit the trash can. But when I went home this summer she pulled out the t-shirts she's going to have a big quilt made out of ... and I had it saved. I tell you I loved that shirt.
My dad is a high school football coach, and is in his 40th year (I believe) as the head coach at Hampton High School in Virginia. Before that he was an assistant coach for the same team for over 5 years. Yes indeed, he is old enough to have coached for that long. When some of you, and even some of your parents, were mere ideas. BUT, 16 years after he had been a head coach I was born on November 26th. Last night he told me he would never forget that day "in his whole entire life" (which if he hasn't forgotten this after his 68 year life, we're on a good roll, even though it's only been 23 years since I arrived... *I have no idea what that sentence means. But you get the idea). This was the conversation we had:
Me: "Who's coming home for Thanksgiving? Who's going to be eating with us?"
Dad: "Well, it looks like it will be me, you, your mother, Piper, and Star."
Me: "Well what are we doing this Thanksgiving other than being grateful?"
Dad: "have good company with Leigh-Taylor"
Dad: "eat good"
Dad: "I don't what else is going on?"
Dad: "OH, Your birthday! ... I'll never forget that day" (wait for it) ...
"You looked like a little something that had been dipped down in a tub of lard."
After they bathed me and took me home for a little over 24 hours I attended my first Hampton High School football game. At four days old. We won the state championship 2 weeks later. My dad has garnered about 13 of those in his years at Hampton High School. And, he is also the winningest coach in Virginia High School Football History. And he is in the Top 5 winningest coaches in the US. But, you know what? While all of that stuff is pretty cool, I believe the coolest thing is the number of lives he has changed.
When I was getting ready for Miss America I tried to think back on why exactly I am the way I am. Why I feel compelled to help people I see suffering. Why I want to change our society so that our kids have a better future. And while my mom was an obvious influence on me by taking me to Meals on Wheels trips when I was a wee thing, and encouraging me to give back to the community in more overt ways I watched my dad from afar and looking back I realize he had a huge impact on my vision of our world. You see, my dad never drew the line at just being a coach. He has been a mentor, and often a father figure to those students that are playing for him. When you're working in a school similar to his you have the ability to keep kids off the street through sports. Talk about changing a life trajectory.
I so distinctly remember hanging around with my family on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was definitely late December/early January ... the time of year that is AMAZING. Because you don't have school or work, but you also don't really want to go out and it's perfect because ... there are so many amazing college bowl games on. SO MANY. ALLL DAY. EVERY DAY. We were all sitting around when we heard our cabinets opening and closing, and at first we were so confused. Finally my dad walked into the kitchen to see what in the heck was going on and 4 of his football players had walked into our home, into our kitchen, and started making themselves plates from Christmas leftovers and cookies. They were and are a part of our family.
He's bought them contact lenses to see the black boards in class and they've joined us at our Thanksgiving table, and really, the list could last for pages. Football has been my dad's life and it's been an amazing thing to be a part of. I learned what it took to get a 1st down, pass interference, holding, delay of game, off-sides, that 11 men should be on the field, and what a 4 3 4 defense is pretty early on in my life. I also played field hockey in high school so I could garner the attention of my father with broken hands, bloody noses, and busted lips.
Either way, the Phoebus - Hampton game has been a big one for the last, eh, 12 years or so. Like there are thousands and thousands of people that go and some don't get in big (even with the extra bleachers they install just for the game). I haven't been home for a game since my third year of college. So I'm going down to see my pops bust a move on Phoebus and I absolutely cannot wait. It's going to be just like old times ... no dinner before games because my mom gets too nervous (she can't eat until well after or her tummy gets a littttle rumbly), so Paul and I will eat a hot dog and scream and scream and scream until the clock hits 0:00. And that's when I'll give my dad a big, proud hug.
(About the screaming part; my mom sits in the top of the stands so she can't hear what people in the stands say about my dad ... whenever something bad happens he's always the bad guy and good, he is the good guy... Lisa can't handle hearing bad things about her man so she sits above it ... Either way, she is always one row beneath the camera that records the film my dad watches every Sunday. She is so obnoxiously loud, my father has not been able to listen to the ball games with sound for 26 years. Twenty - six years.)
When I was a little girl I used to complain about going to the store with my dad because people would always stop him and say "COACH ..." and only goodness knew what they would say, but it always seemed to take us longer to get stuff done. Looking back I realize that's because my dad and I both have no sense of time, and I also remember giggling every time someone would walk away because this would be the exchange: "dad, who was that?" "darlin', I have no idea." ... What I'm trying to say is I was always Coach Smith's daughter. And for so long I wanted to break free from that and make my own name. But you know what? I am so proud and even moreso humbled to say:
"That's My Dad, The COACH!"