Thanksgiving – a holiday I love. I enjoy the meal, the change of pace, the parade, football, and much of the residual fare which accompanies the fourth Thursday in November.
I have plenty to be thankful for.
This year, I’m extra mindful of some very special people. For fifteen years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching the game of basketball to high schoolers. A game, yes, but a game played by teams. And the best teams are those whose whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Some of my guys are in their thirties. Some have taken difficult life paths. Some easier. Some have families and careers. Some are making their way through college. Others, still, are playing for me now.
These young men represent some of the most cherished relationships I have in life. And every one of them has something unique and meaningful to offer the world.
This morning, I gathered with a number of my former players to play the game we love. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Not only because I still get to run up and down the floor with them – which I do like; but, because I know them. Really know them. The way you get to know someone when you spend nearly every day together for three plus months multiplied by X number of seasons. The way a seemingly inconsequential moment from years past can be recalled and lead to instant uproarious laughter.
Sometimes at my expense. All the better.
I’ve been able to speak into their lives in some small way, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
I’ve coached hundreds of players through the years at four different schools. And while I can’t immediately picture every young man who ever put on a jersey, my gratitude for each player is constant.
So in this season of Thanksgiving, I felt compelled to share….
I’m thankful for Josh Talbott, Austin Schwier, Mikeal Berry, TJ Rivera, Calum Turner, Daniel Schneider, Tanner Smith, Brandon McGath and others who have sacrificed in service to country. Without their selfless contributions, we wouldn’t enjoy the freedom we’ll celebrate this week.
I’m thankful for the louder ones. The intensity and passion Jared Richardson, Nick Marder, Nate Cummings, Westin Pedersen, Steven Genoa, Tommy Shore and many others brought to the court every day was invigorating. You were often the engine that kept our train moving forward. I’m so proud of the men you are becoming.
I’m thankful for Connor Fitzmorris and his level-headed consistency. To this day, the lone “pass only” point guard I’ve ever coached. Shoot, Conner – shoot!
I’m thankful for the quieter ones. Trevon McCullough, Spencer Bryan, Wil Price, Joe Culbreath, Jamie Dillon, Andy Blumenthal, Taylor Heinz and others who were the same guy every single day. They showed up, went to work and were great teammates. They also shared the irritating trait of withholding vital information until I feverishly pried it out of them. Oh, you were accepted to your first choice college two weeks ago? Scholarship too? That’s so great! Thanks for waiting this long to tell me…..Grrrrr.
I’m thankful for Garret Klaus. You’re probably hunting somewhere right now, and I wish we could’ve forced every pre-game announcer to get your last name right rather than pronouncing it to sound like that guy who delivers presents on Christmas Eve. When you got going, you made us a different team. I’m proud of you today.
I’m thankful for Drew Garland, Msebenzi Masondo, Sean Staats, Ryan Edwards, Ryan Marsh, Nate Simmons, Taylor Marsh and others. You were incredibly gifted in other sports, but it didn’t stop you from committing 100% to your teammates in basketball. As Coach Yoast said in Remember The Titans, I hope you learned as much from me as I did from you.
I’m thankful for David Kennedy and his unwavering commitment. Breaking in a new coach as a senior isn’t always easy; especially when it comes with fewer wins than everyone would like. A relationship that began as opponents years before has blossomed into something much more – a friendship. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become.
I’m thankful for the comedic relief provided by Jonathan Cordero, Josh Atz, Teddy Pearl, Brad Armel, Marc Ballatori, JD Leader, Jonkeise Reynolds and others. These dudes always knew how to keep things a little bit on the funny side. Be it a charming smile, clever quip, or well-timed facial expression, you were counted on to bring the juice that kept everyone rolling.
I’m thankful for Spencer Ballantyne. Your father was taken far too soon, but you chose to persevere. Because you knew that’s what he would’ve wanted. You are one of the most thoughtful young men I’ve ever coached. Keep searching, my man. You’re well on your way.
I’m thankful for Terrell Mabins, Dylan Shore, Reed Sages, Eric Burke, Robby De La Espriella and all the other “glue guys” I’ve coached. Teams can’t succeed without these kinds of players. In fact, I’ve seen teams implode without them. You helped keep everybody together and made significant contributions both on and off the court. Thank you for enriching my life.
I’m thankful for Kedric Bostic – a gifted young man with leadership characteristics pouring out of him. You’ve been as good a decision-maker growing up as I’ve ever known. Ladies, he’s a stud. I’m proud of you, Ked.
I’m thankful for Jay Hall, Richard Lardner, Jack Stubblefield, and Crockett McLaughlin. You guys led. Every day. Some used more words. Some less. Whether your name was in the newspaper following a game or not never seemed to matter to you. You were extensions of the coaching staff by the way you carried yourselves and in the way you represented our team. You guys have roster spots on any team I’ll ever coach.
I’m thankful for Kenny Bates, Daniel Harris, Richard Ross, Ray Jones, Denson Lumene, Josh Lytton and those who did some really special things. Whether it was draining three’s, rebounding at an elite level, or defying spacial limitations with your dribbling wizardry, you left a mark. Each of you are in a different stage of life, and each of you has so much to offer. I don’t see you guys as often as I’d like. Let’s change that.
I’m thankful for Stefan Dombrowsky. We met in 2008 when you were even skinnier and lankier than you are now. Who knew things would unfold the way they have? You impress me all the time with your hustle, humility, and friendliness. Keep doing you, Stef. It works.
I’m thankful for Jordan Acker and Matt Brunjes. I coached you both through your entire high school careers and was quick to realize how much the two of you reminded me of myself. There were times you made me crazy. Kind of like little brother to big brother. And while I was allowed to kick your butt, no one else could mess with you on my watch. House rules. As you’ve recently moved into new phases of life, I couldn’t be prouder of who you are and who you’re becoming.
I’m thankful to my Community Christian teams. My love for coaching was cultivated in that tiny gym on Salerno Road. To this day, I still consider our win over RJ Hendley in districts in 2003 (a team who beat us by 48 points just two months earlier) to be the most memorable of my coaching career. District champs and regional-semifinalists in 2004. We won eleven in a row in 2005 and were ready to take on anybody. We were babies back then. I’ll never forget that week in Belle Glade where no one could beat us.
Jupiter Christian has been my longest tenured coaching stop. It’s pretty special to coach at your alma mater. We played and defeated many schools much larger than ours. Teams throughout the Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches knew they had to bring it when they played us. We won Florida Christian’s Christmas Tournament, gave Benjamin all they could handle – sometimes in victory, sometimes in defeat, and sometimes in quadruple overtime – and played an awfully challenging schedule from 2010-2012. We took down Newman, Jensen Beach, Olympic Heights, Viera, Centennial, Westwood and countless others. We stood toe-to-toe with many more. Our home locker room has always been my favorite.
I’m thankful for my one year at Martin County. JV went 14-4 and varsity advanced to state. What a season! I’ll never forget what we did to Bishop Verot on the west coast, double overtime against Treasure Coast, and our run to Lakeland. Without a doubt, the most talented group I’ve ever been around.
I’m thankful for all my guys at Pine. When I took the position, everyone told me there was no way to succeed at TPS. I was too stubborn to listen. When we played Atlantic (Summit) Christian on their homecoming/senior night and blew out a team who had won by 80+ the last time Pine played there, we earned newfound respect. It now meant something when we walked into gyms throughout our area.
In this season, I’m so very grateful for the young men I’ve come to know and the relationships we’ve maintained through the years because of our shared interest in a round orange ball.
Thanks for sticking it out with me, fellas. Find someone you’re thankful for today and tell them why.
I love you guys.