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John’s Journal: Fear And Joy As Spring Sports Return

A Coach Writes About What It Was Like After 382 Days Away

Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 2:21 PM


On Monday evening I sent a Twitter direct message to Eric Klein, the head boys track and field coach at St. Charles High School. Earlier in the day I had posted a Tweet asking spring sports coaches to share their Day One thoughts and feelings with me; I received some great responses, which are included in the previous John’s Journal story.

I thought of Eric because he is a great proponent of not just track and field, but all high school activities. Three days before practice started, he posted a series of Tweets from his @SCSaintsTrack account, encouraging students to participate in a spring sport. He wrote about kids being disconnected from school and friends, writing, “You may have gotten used to not being involved, because you COULDN'T be involved.

He continued: “Plus: COVID is still around. There are practice restrictions. There are competition restrictions. The season is starting late. It's gonna be a dang-close-to-normal season...but it won't be just like normal. And some of you may just be tired of ‘close-to-normal.’ ”

He then listed several reasons why kids should participate, ending with this…

“The #1 reason is this: FUN. WITH. FRIENDS. It is fun. With your friends. You should do a sport so you can have fun with friends. Friends you've known for years, or just this year, & possibly friends you haven't even made yet. THAT'S why you should do a spring sport.”

Eric has been a guest on my podcast and I think the world of him and what he does for kids. So when I asked him on that direct message if he would be willing to write about how it felt to be back at practice, the result was exactly what I expected. It is terrific.

Here’s what Eric wrote …

“There were a lot of joys today. Just seeing the team together again, the coaches together again, being in the sun (can't stress that one enough), getting to see the kids train, getting to laugh uproariously with kids I love...So many joys. But there was one specific thing that was the biggest joy for me, and it goes hand in hand with the biggest fear I think many of us coaches had coming in.

For us, the biggest fear coming into the season was not that certain kids wouldn't come back out. Because frankly, coaches are constantly faced with that, in part due to graduation -- at a certain point, kids can't come back out -- and because every year, there are kids who, for whatever reason, don't come back. It happens every year, and this year is no different. The thought of some kids not coming back out wasn't the biggest fear because any program must be bigger than the individuals, not just the individual athletes but the individual coaches, too. Athletes come and go, coaches come and go, and the program has to survive that too, you know? So I wasn't afraid of that.

Furthermore, Lord knows, my biggest fear wasn't that our kids would show up out of shape, because even if that did happen -- and it most certainly did not -- then OK, it's our job as coaches to take care of that. So that certainly wasn't the biggest concern either.

I think the thing I was most afraid of was that I'd show up for practice today and find the culture gone. That I'd find the atmosphere gone, that family that we'd built and loved over the last eight years. I was afraid that, because of the missed season, and the general disconnect that has been a year of COVID, I'd show up and that culture would be gone, and what would be left would be something that looked like it was the old program but just...wasn't.

So, in the same way that the biggest fear coming into it was that the culture would be gone, my biggest joy of today was not the performances, or seeing kids grown up, or the laughter, or any of that. My biggest joy was getting out there and finding that the culture that we'd left behind 382 days ago was still there, just like we'd left it, strong and smiling and laughing. My biggest joy was finding that that culture was OK, and as a result, the kids (and coaches!) within that culture were going to be OK, too.

St. Charles track and field lives.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org

My biggest joy was getting out there and finding that the culture that we'd left behind 382 days ago was still there, just like we'd left it, strong and smiling and laughing. My biggest joy was finding that that culture was OK, and as a result, the kids (and coaches!) within that culture were going to be OK, too.
Eric Klein, St. Charles boys track and field head coach

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