Thursday, April 3, 2014
Tribute to Coach Tyra
For me, coaches had a tremendous influence.
My dad died when I was 10 years old and just a few years later I entered junior high basketball. I had shot a lot of basketball at my rural home – on a goal attached to a wooden backboard and nailed to a pine tree. And I had even suited up in the “for fun” peewee league.
But now it was time to hit the “big leagues.”
That’s when I came under the tutelage of Neal Childers and L.E. Tyra. I’d heard about the two from some of those players passing through the junior high years before me.
I was scared but confident. As it turned out, my eighth and ninth grade years were two of the toughest but also two of the best of my life.
I learned a tremendous amount about basketball, but more importantly, I learned team unity, hard work, sweat, tears, grit and determination.
I learned to win with class and lose with dignity. Fortunately, we won a whole lot more than we lost.
Coach Childers (in eighth grade) and Coach Tyra (in ninth) pushed me to be my best – at everything. Their teachings, on the court and in the classroom from 38 years ago, still live with me today.
My ninth grade year, I believe, is when I really made the greatest strides on the basketball court.
I will never forget Coach Tyra’s practices, particularly the conditioning. We’d go to the nearby recreation center after school, because the varsity squads had the school gym, and he’d push us and push us some more. I’d played quite a bit my eighth grade year. But I had higher goals for myself – improve, get more playing time.
Coach Childers and Coach Tyra taught us the importance of team, but they also urged us to improve, to battle for positions, to hone our skills.
It was in ninth grade that Coach Tyra gave me that chance that any basketball player desires. He put me in the starting five. I will never forget him for that, for rewarding my work on the court.
I wasn’t a great basketball player by any means – just mediocre. I was blessed with talented teammates. But Coach Tyra built my confidence and because of that, I became a better player and a better person.
Last Thursday, I drove “home” to Hamilton, Ala., for Coach Tyra’s funeral. He had bravely battled cancer for about eight years and died at the age of 71.
You know when you have that feeling deep in your gut that you just have to go to a funeral service. This was one of those; I would not have missed it.
Prior to the service, I visited with Coach Tyra’s family and told them how much he meant to me – how he helped shape me into the person I am today.
Then I turned to walk back up the aisle. Best friend Les Walters tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There’s Coach Childers.”
I walked over to him. We shared a hug, a few words and then he told me, “Barry, I love you.”
“Coach, I love you, too,” I replied.
I only wish I could have told Coach Tyra those same words. But at the same time, I know he knew it.
Barbara Weeks, my favorite teacher of all time, sat in front of me for the service. After we hugged, she told me Coach Tyra would be so happy and honored that I was there.
More than ever, I was thankful for the privilege of calling him Coach.
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