I was thinking recently of positions I held after I retired from high school football coaching.
I was offered a job as a high school guidance counselor, and I thought that with all the experience I had, maybe this would be something I could do to help young people work through problems and help with serious decisions for their future.
I never had a guidance counselor in high school — only good luck to guide me. So I jumped at the job…
I think as I look back that I did OK for the most part. But a few situations have stayed with me which remind me that maybe I could have done better.
On a quiet day, a curly-haired freshman came into my office and insisted I remove him from a math class. It seems he did not feel he needed fractions. In my effort to prove he needed fractions for most jobs in his life, I said, “Now what if you had a board 6-and-a-half-feet long” — before I could say more he said, “I’d cut a half-foot off!”
Sounded good to me! I had no answer for him…
A girl came into my office day and said she did not need school and planned to quit. I asked her how she planned to earn a living. She said she could go downtown and ask drunks for money.
So I came up with this brilliant reply: “OK, I said, what if you, a high school dropout, and another girl with a high school diploma are asking drunks for money. Who do you think the drunk will give his money too? She stood up and said, “I never thought of it that way…”
She graduated and I often see her. She always thanks me for that brilliant advice. Pure genius!
I got a call from a mother one day telling me her son was going in for some minor surgery and asking if I could go to his teachers for his work so he wouldn’t get behind. I agreed and told her to have him stop by my office first thing in the morning for his work.
The next morning Roy was waiting for me. I said come on in, I have your work for you.
“What work?” he said.
As he followed me into my office I said, “I hope your surgery goes well.”
In a loud voice he yelled, “What the hell is wrong with me?”
I said your mother didn’t say when she called me.
“I didn’t even know I was sick!”
I was surprised, and he said, “I don’t even feel bad. How bad is it?!
At this point I began to realize: I had the wrong kid!
By this time, the boy was sprawled in a chair, sweating profusely. No amount of “I’m sorry” helped.
To this day, when I see him in town, he‘ll cross the street even when I yell, “You’re fine, really in great shape!”
Finally … I walked into my office and saw the principal and a rough-looking youngster wearing tattered clothes. Before he was introduced, he said he was 18 and quitting school. I told him until his records arrived, he had to stay. At that point we would talk.
When his records arrived, I called him to my office.
“Richard you are not 18, you are only 14!” I said.
He jumped up and said in a very loud voice, “Damn that school cost me four years of my life!” He did stop coming to school, but he stopped in to see me often. Once, he visited me and I ask him what he was doing.
“Drivin’ a log truck,” he said. I said, “Dangerous work.”
“Damn right,” he said. “Why, just the other day, my brakes went out on a steep hill!”
I asked, “What in the world did you do”?
I will never forget his comment: “Well, you damn fool — I jumped out!”
I learned a lot from Richard, among other students.
And I hope I helped a few.
Tony Lamke of Wilmington writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.