January 2014
Through the Fence

Coach’s Dilemma

Deciding which crisis to attack first is always a dilemma. Do you look for the fire extinguisher or call 911? Do you shoot the skunk off the porch first or go warn the children? Once the proverbial fork in the road is taken, there’s usually no way to go back. Thankfully, life’s crises are seldom life threatening, but they can sure look that way on the front end. The other day, one of our young coaches was faced with a difficult choice his life had not prepared him for.

Besides teaching high school history and geography, besides coaching high school and junior high girls in cross country, basketball, track, tennis and golf, he also supervises the physical education classes for the elementary students, grades third through fifth. At our tiny rural school that number is less than 20 kids. In addition to calisthenics, running laps around the gym, dodgeball and other indoor games, the coach likes to take the kids outside to run. After being cooped up inside classrooms all day that is usually a welcome break.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a track at the school, at least not a conventional one. We have a worn-down trail roughly in the shape of an oval in the back of a pasture. It’s owned by a local rancher who is also the father of a student and a school board member. The kids have to work around the livestock kept there. Recently, the coach loaded his herd of rambunctious elementary students into a short bus and made the trek down the dirt road to where the "track" is located.

There was a horse at the fence eyeing the rowdy kids as they filed off the bus. The coach opened the gate to let the kids begin their workout. When that horse saw an escape route, he bolted out of the gate. The coach watched the horse trot across the open pasture and then looked back at the group of young’uns wandering aimlessly. He wondered to himself as he looked back and forth between the horse and the kids, "Which one should I tend to?" Not having his own children or a horse, he wasn’t sure which would be easier to corral. After a few seconds of deliberation, he went to round up the children.

He then explained the situation to them and that they would have to help bring the horse back. They listened wide-eyed. They adore him like lots of kids do their coaches; they would do just about anything he asks of them.

"Here’s what we’re going to do," he began. "We are all going to hold hands and spread out as far as our arms will allow. Next, we are going to walk slowly towards the horse and get around behind him. Then we will begin walking him slowly back towards the gate he escaped from."

There were the usual protests from kids not wanting to hold hands with "so-and-so" because they had "cooties" or whatever. But soon they all grabbed hands and formed a human chain. They didn’t have to get too close to the horse before he got antsy. Unlike the coach, he didn’t need even a minute to ponder his choices. He galloped towards the gate, kicking up clods of mud as he went. He went right back in there, relieved to be away from the excited kids.

They were so proud of the accomplishment that they cheered and gave one another high-fives. Maybe the kids thought their moment of "cowboying" earned them a reprieve from their normal workout. But no interruption, no matter how novel, ever deters the coach from his goals. He is so methodical and focused he rarely gets sidetracked. He just smiled and uttered his signature phrase, "Back to work."

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..