"Success is never final.
Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts."
My junior varsity football coach, Coach Hemmler, told the above words
to me. He also told me in the same breath, "Pynchon, I can’t use you.
You suck at football and you’re no good." Now, despite his lack of
grammar and need for redundancy (I sucked at football AND I was no
good?), Coach Hemmler was the most inspirational mentor I ever had, bar
Straightforward, brutally honest, possibly crazy and at times downright
mean, he taught me many, many life lessons. And most of those life
lessons ended with why I sucked.
I first met Coach Hemmler during the fall of my sophomore year in high
school. At first glance, hedidn’t seem like much. Short, wiry, a little
hunch-backed with a buzz cut and wire rimmed glasses, he looked like he
was about ninety years and would keel over if the wind blew on him
directly. But, very quickly, I learned that Coach Hemmler had an
inner strength. Maybe it was the fact that he could bench-press two
hundred pounds or maybe it was the fact that he cut the worst farts
ever known to man. Whatever the reason, Coach H. was intimidating.
Because at the age of fifteen I was bigger than most guys in my class,
I faked my way on to the JV football squad and actually got some
playing time at defensive end. That playing time lasted for exactly one
game. Then Coach H. realized how truly awful I was and benched me for
what was most of the season. He did put me in on the rare occasion,
particularly when we were losing.
After a horrible down he would look around in frustration, find me
sitting on the aluminum bench and sigh, "Well, you might as well get in
there, Pynchon. You can’t make it any worse." And you know what? He was
right. I didn’t make it any worse!
Coach Hemmler coaching style can be summed up in one word: simple. When
the offensive squad made a good play, he would shout out at the top of
his lungs for all to hear, "Run that exact same play but to the other
side!’ Sure, it never worked twice in a row, but you’ve got to admire
the man for his convictions.
When he needed to motivate our quarterback, Jeff Assini, into playing
better, he’d admonish him during practice by saying, "Assini, I would
bench you but I think your mom’s good looking." Hey, he was just saying
what all of us on the team were thinking.
Now, we weren’t much of a JV football team, and Coach H. made sure we
knew of that: "We are not a great team," he said. "Our team does not
have a lot of great players." (Again, Coach was a big fan of
redundancy.) "All of you on this team have weaknesses," Coach
H.continued, "Nobody’s perfect. You all have flaws."
Coach Hemmler then made us get into a straight line. He then walked
past each and everyone of us to let us know what our exact flaws
"Albright – you’re too slow."
"Myers – you’re uncoordinated."
"Pynchon – you’re not tough enough."
"Gordon – you’re too hyper."
"Raleigh – you’re just plain dumb."
He did this to every kid in line, until he got to poor Jamie Stevenson.
"Stevenson – you can’t run, you can’t hit, you can’t catch, you can’t
throw, you can’t block and you’re too fat."
Jamie was the equipment manager.
This would continue for the rest of the season, with Coach Hemmler
constantly pointing out our flaws. One morning I walked past him in the
hallway on my way to French class:
"Morning, Pynchon. How come you’re so bad at football?"
Thankfully, the football season eventually ended. Unfortunately, the JV
squad ended up with a losing record. Fortunately, none of that was my
fault since I rode the pine for nearly every game. I was done with
football and was looking forward to JV basketball. So imagine my
surprise when at the first day of b-ball tryouts, who bursts through
the gym doors farting up a storm but none other than Coach Hemmler. He
took one look at me and just shook his head as if to say, "I gotta deal
with this donkey again?"
I was determined to show Coach that I was a much better basketball
player than football player. I hustled, I played D, I rebounded, and I
ran the floor like a stallion. I played with such passion that at one
point our center Steve Shomish yelled, "Quit spazzing out, Pynchon.
You’re acting like an ass bag!"
But I didn’t care how ass-baggy I looked. I was on a mission - a
mission to prove to an old-as-dirt man that I had some sort of merit in
the world of junior varsity athletics.
After the last day of tryouts Coach H. pulled me to the side.
"Pynchon, I just wanted to let you know that you’ve impressed me during
"You play with intensity. I like that."
"And I’ve decided that I’m going to start you at forward this season."
"Really? Wow! Thanks, Coach!"
Coach Hemmler smiled, patted me on the back and walked away. He then
suddenly stopped, turned around and walked back to me.
"So how come you can’t play football like you play basketball? I mean
you sucked at football, son. And you were no good!"