A graduate’s perspective

Dear Editor,

When it comes to Nederland High School, and especially the athletics there, I always felt as though I had a unique perspective. With a mother many will remember as a significant figure in the athletic department for many years, and an older brother who is an amazing coach in his own right, I got more than my fair share of exposure to what makes it all happen. I’ve known a great many coaches, athletic directors and principals. Some of them outstanding, and some less so.

 
The world of sport, especially high school sport, is too often argued over and too scarcely understood. Everyone has a solution. Everyone has a plan to do better than the other guy. Everyone wants to win. It’s what causes so many people to be turned off by sports, and also what causes many people to be so overly fanatic about them, (see any of the many articles about drunken parental brawls at little league games). As with many things though, the sweet spot is right in the middle, where a fiery passion for competition and improvement leads to truly great things, and those on both sides of the extreme are blind to how perfect that spot is. You may have heard the cliché before, “It’s not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game.” I loathe this expression, but I don’t hate it because it is wrong necessarily, rather, because it is far more complex than that.

 
As an athlete, I will be the first to admit that I could have been better, and as many do, I would love to go back and play again. The sense of being on a team, working together, and bettering oneself for the sake of that team is something I think benefits every young individual who partakes in high school athletics. That is of course, if they have the right coach. To be clear, I don’t mean that they need the coach that leads them to the championship every year, or the one that chews them out for losing or doing any little thing wrong. The latter can be considered among the fanatics I mentioned earlier, and while the former is great, it doesn’t always translate to what matters. Whether a team succeeds is on the shoulders of the entire team, and by extension, the school and community they belong to. Whether each individual succeeds, on the field, track, or court, as well as in life? That has much more to do with the Coach.

 
Aaron Jones is one man who I believe understands that concept better than most. He has a fierce drive to win, a competitive spirit, and loyalty that is infectious to his team. This is evident to anyone who’s attended even one of his games. He lives right on that sweet spot. Beyond his competitive spirit however, is something only his athletes, students, and on occasion their parents can see the entirety of. His commitment to each individual is profound. Since receiving word of his contract being rejected for renewal, I have read countless comments from not just his current and former athletes, but parents and students throughout the community recounting how Jones has, in one way or another, positively influenced their lives. I proudly count myself amongst these individuals. His and his wife’s belief in my ability as a student and writer has led to a confidence in my work and capability which has undoubtedly bolstered my performance throughout my collegiate career. He is a prominent figure in a long list of individuals who deserve my gratitude at Nederland High, but he is undoubtedly one without whom I could not have become who I am today. He didn’t always get along with me or all of his other players, but he sure as heck cared about us. In a school that during my time there seemed almost like a revolving door of coaching staff, Jones was someone you could rely on to be there for his team, and I have no qualm with saying that I doubt any replacement could come close to filling his shoes.

 
I’ve been away for a while, and I know I don’t have the full story, but what I know about Coach Jones, and further, what I know about the politics of high school administrative positions, is more than enough to instill a nagging doubt in my mind about the happenings there. If I might be so bold, I’d like to offer my advice to the current administration of the school. As I said, everyone has a solution, and I may very well be yet another just spouting my plan to do it better, but as I touched on above, the success of a team depends on participation before anything else. Getting people playing is always the first step, and it takes work from more than just the coach. It requires work from the athletic department, and it definitely involves work from the AD. The greatest sculptor in the world won’t yield art if he isn’t given clay. If the AD has to go badger each kid to go out and try a sport, then so be it. True athletic success has its beginnings far before the high school coach even gets a chance to lead the kids. Student involvement in athletics at the middle school and even elementary school level is of vast importance to the high school program, especially at a small school like Nederland. The AD should be at the center of every effort to get kids of all ages involved. The buck stops with them.

 
It appears as though this administration is letting a lot of coaches go, and I understand when someone just isn’t the right fit. This situation on the other hand, sounds more like a cutting out the old and instilling what you think will fix things, or what you want, but here’s the problem with doing that: When you let coaches go as part of a plan to improve the program, good coaches, coaches known by a community, you ultimately gut anything the program has going for it. You introduce someone who you have little knowledge of beyond an interview and a resume, or worse, you do know them and are playing favorites. Either way, they come in with no understanding of the students, or the school, and this makes all but the most dedicated kids even less likely to participate. Those that do, are forced to get used to an entirely new coach and style. Which only compounds the issue you’re trying to fix, if you are in fact even trying to fix it. Only great coaches can rebuild a team from the ground up into something great, only the best can do that at such a small school.

 
Like I said, I don’t know the specifics, but if any of that is even close to your motive, if there is nothing more to it then you think you can find someone better, or if it’s in any way personal, stop shooting yourself in the foot and work alongside the established figures in the school, the ones that have been there for a while, even if you personally don’t like them (assuming there are enough of them left). Allow them to help you understand the situation there, and get more students involved in sports. You’ll be surprised how much easier your job will become and how much better off the students will be. Maybe you’ve tried to do all of these things, but from an outside perspective it certainly doesn’t look like you’ve succeeded. It really isn’t all about winning, but it’s not just about how you play either (although, I would say, ending a contract right before the holidays has every appearance of foul play). You need great coaches, win or lose, to help make great athletes, in any sense of the word. With that in mind, I hope you read the outpouring of support for Coach Jones, see the loyalty embodied in each person’s comments, and hopefully you can begin to see what everyone else does; that in a country that spends enough money to pay for 10 missions to Pluto on a year of pro football, having a coach like Aaron Jones on your staff is many times more valuable.

 

Sincerely,
Ashton Smith
NMSHS 2012 Graduate