Behind the lines: Solace and good company

What do doctors, lawyers, IT professionals, and coaches have in common? No, they’re not all former members of the Village People, but they do all shy away from public appearances at times.

The problem with these professions is that in social settings, they are often approached by someone who has an opinion, needs advice, or tries to pry a little information out of them.

As a former IT guy, I avoided the cafeteria at lunch and dreaded district-wide staff meetings. While other people enjoyed themselves, I was often corralled by someone who had printer problems, including one day when a woman complained she couldn’t print on t-shirts (true story), and in one spectacularly ridiculous encounter, I had a clueless guy blame me for not keeping the Internet up to date. Not the school “Intranet” the big dog, “THE” Internet. He thought it was my job to update the tens of millions of websites and was quick to threaten to tell the superintendent about it.

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Yes, they’re out there, and they have the same vote that you do.

It’s worse for physicians as people constantly try to get free medical advice from them. Attorneys get the same treatment, albeit to a lesser extent.

Coaches don’t get asked for advice, they just get the crowbar treatment as one of their player’s parents tries to coerce the coach into more playing time for little Jimmy or Nancy. They often do this by badmouthing another kid on the team and trying to get the coach to join in. When the coach doesn’t, many snowplow-style “adults,” tell other parents that they did, effectively undermining everything the coaching staff is trying to achieve.

It does get wearisome.

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That’s why professionals need a place to get away from the less than adoring public that follows them.

Coaches have it doubly bad these days with the wide swing to the political right that holds them to double-standards of behavior, behavior accepted for other people, but not for “role model.”

A physician can have a few cold ones, and no one complains, an attorney is expected to socialize, it’s part of their practice, and IT guys don’t socialize much at all, preferring quiet time away from the noise of work, and the confusion of their clients.

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But coaches are a more gregarious type.

In my first position at Niobrara County as a football and track coach, socializing at the establishments in beautiful downtown Lusk wasn’t frowned upon, it was encouraged.

I was told during my first week of preseason practice that attending Wednesday men’s night at the Niobrara County Country Club was an unwritten requirement of my contract. To my credit, I don’t think I missed a single Wednesday night session in the clubhouse just a half-mile west of the city limits during my three years at Lusk.

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For five bucks, you got two beers and a T-bone or ribeye. The price of admission included limitless rounds of “Ship, Captain, Crew” dice throwing and as many hands of gin as you could play and still make it to work the next morning.

The high school kids on Thursday mornings were angels. They knew the coaches probably had headaches and didn’t get much sleep because their dads were with them the night before.

It was life in a small town before the avenging “Social Justice Warriors” of the modern world with their incessant indignation changed it all. Now that we live in a time of perpetual offense, there isn’t much room for the most public of all education professionals, the football, basketball, or wrestling coach to let loose.

There are ways around this though.

In the late 1980s, my friend Gary Glenn was the head coach of the Riverton Wolverines, and our mutual friend Harold Bailey had the same position for the Shoshoni Wranglers. In those days we often played afternoon games in Shoshoni.

One Friday Harold and his Wranglers won a late afternoon game. Harold and I decided to go watch Gary’s team play.

Harold had a tiny, white pickup truck. He picked me up at home and we drove to Tonkin Stadium to watch the Wolverines.

Riverton won that night, and we waited for Gary to get in with us. Gary is a big guy, and even before he got into the cab, Harold and I were touching shoulders. We squeezed into the cab, and Harold drove to what I had always considered a less-than-savory establishment.

I couldn’t believe these guys were heading into this place.

As we opened the door I looked inside from the darkness and saw a line of smoke floating four feet off the floor.

My eyes adjusted to the dim light in the bar and there was the biggest Native American biker I’d ever seen. Imagine a guy at least 6-8 with a long single braid, wearing a Harley Davidson jacket with the sleeves ripped off shooting pool.

“What are we doing here?” I whispered to Harold and Gary. “These guys are going to kill us and eat us.”

Just as I finished my question the bartender pulled out a can of Bud-Light and another can of Keystone. He had some tomato juice already poured into a glass and started to add the Keystone to it.

“Harold, Gary,” the bartender yelled across the room. “You guys both won today, congratulations, these are on the house.” He handed them their beer and we turned to find a table.

The big biker put down his cue stick, walked over to us, and shook Harold and Gary’s hands.

“Nice work guys,” he said. “The next round is on me.”

The rest of the people clapped and congratulated both guys.

We sat down at a table, and I asked them again, “Why here?”

In unison, they both said, “There will never be a single parent of any kid we coach in this place.”

They were right. We frequented the establishment after games a few more times and no one came up to ask us why we played this kid over that one, why we switched from man coverage to cover three, or why I ran that inbound play to the inside instead of attempting a 3-point shot.

Yep, in basketball, Harold was my assistant, and Gary often officiated our games.

We sometimes tried the Left Tackle after games, and always enjoyed owner Nick Bebout’s company, but there were too many parents there waiting for us.

The trip to Riverton was worth the wait, and the dive bar as many would call the place was perfect for us.

Solace and good company are where you find them.

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