Happy Trails Coach K

I would not trade anything for growing up in Burlington, North Carolina. I was lucky, blessed, fortunate. Burlington was sandwiched between Winston-Salem and Raleigh. 

In that stretch of miles through the Piedmont of the Old North State were the four universities that made up the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference(ACC)—Wake Forest, N.C. State, North Carolina, and Duke. Slowly, this conference would develop into one of America’s hotbeds for men’s college basketball.

Nicknamed Tobacco Row, the stories of the players, coaches, and fans became legendary in the intensity of their rivalries. Perhaps, he didn’t know it on March 18, 1980, but Michael William Krzyzewski, Coach K, in his own unique way was going to add to those stories and rivalries when he was hired to coach the men’s basketball team at Duke University.

It took a while for the young man from Chicago, who played college basketball for Bobby Knight at Army, to find his footing at Duke and the ACC. At the end of his first four years, the impatient Duke alumni wanted Coach K’s head.

Despite the demands of alumni, Athletic Director, Tom Butters, did something remarkable. 

Instead of firing Coach K, Butters tore up his existing contract, and gave him an extension. That brazen decision changed the course of basketball at Duke for forever.

But, we all know that forever, doesn’t last forever. On June 2, 2021, we learned that Coach K planned to retire upon the conclusion of the 2021-22 basketball season.

Since the fourth grade, I have followed Duke basketball. 

That allegiance came courtesy of my fourth grade friend, John Huffman, whose father was a Duke graduate. I remember tagging along with the Huffman family for football and basketball games at Duke.

My parents were Duke fans too. As Methodists, they liked the strong affiliation the denomination had with the Duke Divinity School. Perhaps in their parental dreams, they held out hope that I might find the path to becoming a preacher. They could see me attending graduate school at Duke. Somehow, I sense God is relieved that didn’t happen.

As a young Duke fan, I was a poor sport. I would cry if they lost. I would really cry angrily if they lost to that team based in Chapel Hill. And yet somehow, in those furious tears, my father did teach me about sportsmanship.

Later, my wife, the Commander Supreme, had to revisit those sportsmanship lessons. No doubt this was needed. Especially,  when I attempted to watch a Duke basketball game on television with our children. Our son’s young genes were very similar to his father’s after a tough Duke loss.

In truth over the last several years, I have watched very few Duke games on television—even championship games. I don’t want to put myself through the anguish. I’m still capable of “chastising a the screen of an unresponsive television too vehemently.”

When Coach K’s retirement was officially announced much was written. During this upcoming season, even more words will be put in print. And, I’m sure, win or lose, this last season will be chronicled for a book or even a documentary.

Coach K would not know me from Adam. 

Yet, displayed on our basement wall, where I spend time writing are the following: a piece of hardwood floor from Cameron Indoor Stadium, a picture of Coach K, our son, and me from when our son attended basketball camp at Duke, and two framed letters from the coach. 

I have a third letter from him in my desk drawer. That letter deserves to be framed too.  After all he said: “Your letter was terrific.”

As much as I admire him and respect what he has accomplished, if given the opportunity, I would have told him to retire earlier.

I have no understanding of why he insisted on chasing the one and done players. Personally, I believe his desire to win betrayed his judgment.

Quietly, I thought to myself, why couldn’t he see this? 

From my inexperienced perspective, Coach K’s success had come from his ability to develop players over time. This was because his knowledge of the game and his ability to teach the game were unsurpassed.

Additionally, I also wondered why highly recruited players sometimes ended up transferring after a couple of years? I guess they wanted more playing time. But, were there other reasons?Does loyalty receive any consideration in these decisions?

And, I questioned his stubbornness. It appeared Coach K relied upon the same rotation of players even when that configuration didn’t seem to be working in games.

In truth, I too am loaded with stubborn imperfections. My flaws are questioned. I guess this is part of being human.

And to show you how little I know about basketball, I figured Johnny Dawkins or Tommy Amaker would be announced as the new head coach— not Jon Scheyer.

But, I think this handpicked selection of Scheyer by Coach K is another example of Coach K’s ability to think and analyze deeply.  He has exceptional psychological insights. Coach K contemplates all angles like a puzzle maker analyzing shapes for a precise, perfect fit.  

Personally, I like the selection of Scheyer. To me he holds something special. In 2010, he captained the Duke team that won the national championship. 

At the beginning of that season, not many experts or fans would have given this team much of a chance at winning a championship. But, they did.

 Who knows, someday, tactical historians of the game might conclude— that season, that team was Coach K at his absolute best.  Experience, hard work,  and a cohesive bonding of the player’s personalities had something to do with that team’s run—no one and done mentality was present.

I guess the Duke haters in the world are momentarily satisfied. Their venom will be resupplied once the new season begins in November. 

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas are probably already contemplating this team chances of winning the national championship.

But, in a blink, a layer of pressure was instantly installed over this team. I’m sure Coach K is already thinking about how to deflect this distraction. My hunch is he will tell them to go out and play and have fun. We all know that will be easier said than done.

But, at the end of the day, I think that is what Coach K did during his career as a player and coach. 

He played. 

He coached.

He had fun. 

He led with his heart. 

And most importantly in all his success, his heart had the capacity to build relationships.

Hard fought and heartfelt victories come from the building of relationships.

Coach K, thanks for sharing your heart with basketball.

But, I also think your heart gave us lessons beyond basketball. 

And, at the end of the trail that might be worth more than you will ever know. 

Author’s note:  This piece is dedicated to my father William Avery Pike, Sr. He was a good son, brother, husband, father, son-in-law, brother-in-law, grandfather, father-in-law, cousin, friend, and neighbor. His goodness came from his big, gentle, caring heart. I was lucky to have that heart for my father.

My father always there for me.

Bears, the Bible, Bullets

My wife’s brother-in-law, Art, is a patient man. 

Art is tolerant because he still allows me to fly fish with him. 

With great instructional insight, Art has attempted to make me comfortable with a fly rod. 

My clunkiness with a fly rod is based upon years of surf fishing in the Atlantic. I can heave the line of a surf rod for many yards. But, the fly rod, I have yet to master letting the rod do the casting.

A few years ago, I was fishing with Art in the Eastern Sierras just outside Mammoth Lakes. We were up early to fish a section of the San Joaquin River. 

In an old pickup truck, Art drove us off the main road into a section where the morning sun was just starting to angle in some light. Art spent a bit of time rechecking the fly rods, and then we walked toward the still sleeping San Joaquin.

Now, I don’t remember if either one of us caught any trout, but that’s ok. Sometimes fishing is more about the scenery than what decides to bite a fly.

But, I have thought about that excursion a few times. I have always wondered— if a bear had stopped by to chat, how would I have responded.

“Hey, Bill, I heard you’re visiting from the East Coast. Thought, I’d stop by and see how the trout were biting. If you caught any, I would like them for my breakfast. And by the way, if you have not caught any trout, I’ll give you a head start, you’ll need it since you are wearing those waders with the special boots to keep your toes dry. But, I’m going to have you for breakfast. If you’re planning to poke me with that flimsy fly rod, that won’t work. They are like tooth picks to me. And, I apologize, I forgot my manners. My name isn’t Booboo. Here in the Sierras, they call me the Mauler Hauler. I maul the fisherman and haul their carcass back to my den. Bill, you know that head start, I was talking about? If I were you, I’d get moving, I have a powerful appetite this morning.”

Now, luckily for me that daydream in the Sierras never happened. 

However, I did via a colleague at work stumble upon a bear story in of all places the Bible. Yes, that’s right. There is a bear story in the Bible. 

Now, before we go any further, I want to give you a warning. This isn’t one of those Bible stories that will fill your heart with joy.  Remember, I referenced bears. 

Anyway in 2 Kings Chapter 2, the prophet Elisha was out for a walk near the town of Bethel. According to the scripture, some boys came out of the town, and they picked at Elisha over his appearance. 

Elisha was bald, so the boys shouted out at him multiple times: “Get out of here baldy.”

For whatever reason, Elisha didn’t appreciate this taunting. In fact, Elisha was a bit peeved with their behavior.

Of course, these young fellows had no idea, they were provoking, a prophet. Elisha turned to glare at them, and at the same time he called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord.

In an instant, two bears came out of the woods. According to Biblical sources that day, the bears mauled forty-two of the boys.

Knowing that the bears had things under control, Elisha went on about his trek to Mount Carmel, and later he returned to Samaria.

Don’t you just love the Bible.

Two bears maul forty-two boys, and in Mark Chapter 10, we read:  People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

Now, unfortunately, when the forty-two boys were mauled, Jesus had not been born. So, during the encounter with the bears for the mauled boys, I wonder who was on guardian angel duty? Or furthermore, who would have granted Elisha’s request for a curse to be implemented?

Seems like management up in heaven might have had some rules of engagement before issuing a curse that would allow two bears to maul forty-two boys.

It’s been a long, long time since Elisha was called “baldy.” Not always by bears, but people all over the world are mauled every day. Quite often, this is mostly done by other human beings who out of the blue snap and usually harm an innocent person.

At least, that’s how I would describe Aiden Leos, the six year old who was riding in the back seat of his mother’s car near Orange, California back on May 21. 

Aiden was in his booster seat, when he and his mother were victims of road rage. A person fired a gun into the back of his mother’s car. The bullet struck Aiden. He died from the wound.

People mauling people. Of course, this makes a lot of sense.

Five days later on May 26 in San Jose, California a mass shooting took place in a light rail yard. Ten people died including the perpetrator. 

More people mauling people, again this makes lots of sense.

According to police investigations, and reported by assorted media outlets, the perpetrator in San Jose used three semi-automatic handguns and fired 39 rounds. In a search of his home, officers found twelve more firearms, and another 25,000 rounds of ammunition. 

Deputy Barney Fife on the fictional Andy Griffith Show was allowed to carry one bullet in his buttoned shirt pocket. He was permitted to put the bullet in his firearm only during extreme emergencies. 

In America, it is sadly ridiculous what we have allowed ourselves to become. We are so far removed from Barney Fife’s single bullet. 

We don’t want to admit it, but no individual needs 25,000 rounds of ammunition in his/her home. This is mindless. I am not against freedom. But, I’m really struggling with how we continue down this disturbing path of senseless mauling of life with firearms.

Check this out if you need confirmation that we are on the wrong path— according to an April 16, 2021 article in Forbes Magazine, writer Jack Brewster, wrote:  In 2021, the U.S. is currently on pace for about as many Americans to die from gun violence as last year, with 5,415 killed so far

Think about that, so far in 2021, 5,415 people have been killed by a person using a firearm—what is wrong with us? We know this isn’t acceptable.

 Why are we so paralyzed? Why are we so numb to this senseless, senseless mauling of life toward each other? 

How have we become so far removed from kindness, respect, dignity?

Why is our mental health so unstable and unpredictable?

 Too frequently, our only solution to solve problems and our differences is a firearm—why?

What kind of person can lose control and purposely fire blindly into a vehicle and kill a six year old? 

I wonder if ancient words from James 1:19 were ever a part of that person’s life —My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this— everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

In our impatient America, what might we be like if were better listeners, if we more carefully thought about our responses when angry, and if we didn’t snap in a nanosecond by pulling a trigger?

Sorry, this isn’t just 2021.  I sense in my old brain that we human beings have always been maulers—we don’t value human life. 

Initially, whatever kindness and love that might have been placed in our hearts for lots of different reasons gets pushed aside—mauled by a dark evilness.

If we want to stop this firearm violence in America, then we need to understand those reasons that make a heart go bad.

And one of those reasons that hearts go bad is related to all of the divides present in America. We need to remove our blinders—we are still divided. 

These divides are not shrinking. Talk about a mauling, our division, is potentially the worse mauling America has ever faced.

Why are we so far removed from these castoff words: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

When I read about the senseless death of Aiden Leos, my heart is pierced.

And I’ll take that anguished piercing a few steps further, as I think about these words from Hebrews 13:5-6“For he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper;I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

What a question—“What can anyone do to me?” 

Ask that question to the family of Aiden Leos, the ten families in San Jose, and the family who will be notified today that a loved one is dead from a bullet—what can anyone do to me?

 This is a mess— a vicious, repetitive, destructive mess.

In a mess like this, I must blame someone, so I’ll blame God for this trouble.

God is always an easy target.

But, who knows, maybe God has thrown up his hands and shouted out in frustration—“I’m done, I can’t get through, I’m not being heard, they don’t listen— I’m finished with these people.”

God isn’t responsible for this mess.

I, you, me, we, us are responsible.

How much longer can we allow the timid chambers in our hearts to be silently mauled by this unacceptable violence and division?

We know the answer—no longer.

In a scene from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding appears before the parole board. The words Red speaks to the board are painfully honest as he responds to a question about being rehabilitated, and whether he is sorry for his crime. 

Red states: “There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him—tell him the way things are. But, I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that is left. I gotta live with that.” (Frank Darabont, screenwriter The Shawshank Redemption)

I hope we can find a way to talk some sense into our country. 

Deep in our hearts, we know that the way things are—are not right. 

Not coming to our senses will only add to our list of regrets. A list that is already too long.

If we aren’t careful, it’s going to be too late.

And I hope and pray that our hearts will talk some sense into us before it is too late. 

Because everyone of our hearts knows this— Aiden Leos and everyone like him who died from the senseless pull of a trigger deserve better.

At peace in a car seat, a far cry from Aiden Leos. Photo by Bill Pike