Never Cut a Boy

I take great pride in my work ethic, and although much of that work ethic came from observing how hard my parents and grandparents worked, the tipping point was when I was in 8th grade. On a fateful autumn day, the coach of the 8th grade boys basketball team was speaking to a group of us who just finished looking at a list taped to the wall of the gymnasium. I can't remember all that he said because I had tears rolling down my eyes, but I remember the last words he said like it was yesterday, "For those of you that didn't make the team, come back next year and prove me wrong."

Those words rang in my head for years, and still remind me to this day that you need to work hard to prove all the doubters wrong. That coach was new to the area, and was also the High School football coach. I loved flag football, but never played football because of this guy. He wound up only winning a couple of high school football games before the school (much to my chagrin) removed him of his duties. But I'd like to think I proved the guy wrong:

  • MVP, 1st Team all League, and Captain - proudly wearing #44 for the Blue Aces.

  • Ken Marshall Memorial Student Athlete Award. Ken died in a car crash two years after graduating high school. He was an outstanding young man who went beyond his ability and was a dedicated, hard working team member. This mirrored my work ethic, and as I walked across the stage on graduation day, the Principal congratulated me and whispered to me, "that was for all those early hours in the weight room." The assistant coach always unlocked the weight room for me before school, and the true measure of success is how hard you are working when nobody is watching.

  • Four Year College Basketball player and Captain - proudly wearing #44 for the Blue Streaks.

We've heard the famous stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his middle school basketball team and Alex Rodriguez cut from his 9th grade baseball team, but armed with my own experience there have been many times when I have reached out to people that went through the same experience I did. My words of encouragment center around working hard and proving people wrong. I wasn't the best athlete, I wasn't the best student, and I wasn't the best job candidate, but one thing was guaranteed - I was going to work harder than everybody else!

Below is one of my favorite stories. Hal Lebovitz was sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for many years and he passed away in 2005. I grew up in Central Ohio and didn't have the privelage of reading his columns as a boy. But I enjoyed reading his work later in his career and hearing stories about him when I moved to Greater Cleveland after college. Below is his most often requested column, and the Plain Dealer ran it again the day Hal died.

Never Cut A Boy by Hal Lebovitz

Consider this an open letter to every high school football coach, principal and superintendent:

Football practice is now under way. The boys have reported; they have been issued uniforms. This is what happened here to one boy not too many years ago:

The boy had just entered high school. All summer he looked forward to the opening of football practice. He enjoyed contact. He had tossed a football around almost from the day he left his crib. His dream was to play on the high school varsity.

On August 20 he reported for the first day of practice. "You'll have to furnish your own shoes and you'll need $7.50 for insurance," the junior varsity coach told him. The boy rushed out to buy a pair of shoes. Cost $20.

He returned the next day carrying them proudly, paid his $7.50 insurance fee, did calisthenics with the squad and at the end of the session he was cut. So were several other boys - all dropped from the squad after one session of calisthenics.

The boy rushed to a telephone and called his dad's office. Unable to withhold the tears, he sobbed, "I was cut."

"Go back tomorrow," the father suggested gently. "Maybe there was a mistake."

The boy returned, finally summoned sufficient courage to ask the coach for another chance. "Come back in two weeks," said the coach.

Two weeks later the boy carried his new shoes back to practice. "Sorry," said the coach, "we haven't time to look at you now. Come back after school starts."

The boy did. This time the coach apparently had no alternative. He gave the boy a uniform. Within a week, he cut the boy once more.

The boy was crushed, completely. The father advised, "Try next year, son."

"No," said the boy. "I don't want to be humiliated again."

The boy never did try out again. He never followed the team. His interest in the school was never the same. The cleats on his $20 shoes are slightly worn - from football on the neighborhood lot. They remain the heartbroken memento of his brief high school football experience.

Later, the father checked with the coach. "We can't handle sixty boys," he offered lamely. "We didn't want your son to get hurt."

If you are such a coach, I strongly urge you to quit. Mr. Principal and Mr. Superintendent, if your school has such a coach, get rid of him fast. Either that, or drop football; a game in which anybody's son can get hurt.

I speak as a former football coach who never cut a boy. I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned on the football field that have valuable carryovers in life.

Football takes some stomach. A boy who doesn't have it will quit of his own accord. The fields are big. They can accommodate large squads. Let the boy hang around. Let him do calisthenics. Let him run until he's out of breath. Let him scrimmage with the fourth and fifth teams after the regulars are finished.

But don't cut him. If he hasn't got it, he'll cut himself. If he has it, he'll stick it out. He'll be a better man for the experience and, by the time he's a senior, he'll surprise you. He'll help make you a winner.

So, coach, hold that knife. Why plunge it into a boy's heart.