By Roger Barbee
Today's high school athletic teams travel to away games, meets, or tournaments just as they did when I was on a high school team - on a yellow school bus and just as then, the coach or coaches sit in the front and the seats in the back are sacred seats where the team captain(s) lead the team in preparation for the coming athletic contest. This preparation by today's athletes is similar to what has been done for many years, but different, too. Today, the athletes use music, as did we, but in a different way.
If you ride on a team bus today with a high school athletic team, you will see individual athletes sitting with teammates, but isolated by his or her earphones. Each athlete has a personal player that is packed with favorite tunes, so each is sitting in a crowd, but alone. Sometimes you might see two athletes sharing a set of earphones and the music, but little or no conversation takes place between them, so they too are isolated specks in the crowd. If you ask one of these athletes about this ritual, you likely will be told that it is in this way that he or she "gets psyched" for the coming event. Even upon arrival, as they stream out of the bus, none will remove the earphones unless told to by a coach. In some sports, such as wrestling, you will see the athletes listening to their personal concert as the meet or tournament goes on around them.
Music is an asset in life and sports. We all, in one manner or another, enjoy music. A favorite song, melody, or tune can change any circumstance whether it is sung, listened to, whistled, hummed, or just remembered. Often a song heard will bring a memory back from the past. Trisha Yearwood says it best in "The Song Remembers When," and it was the death of Andy Williams that caused me to recall a famous song of his and for me, life-shaping events from long ago.
It was the winter of 1963, I was a junior in high school, and for the second year I was on the wrestling team, trying to make varsity for the first time. Our young coach, Mr. Bob Mauldin, had been called up for the Cuban missile crises the year before, but we were excited for his return for the coming season. A recent college graduate, he was not much older than our senior captain, David Crawford, or us juniors. Little did I know at the beginning of that season the importance both of them would have in my life.
One day before practice I remember sitting with David in the hallway outside the wrestling room. We had not been practicing long, but I told David how I was going to quit the team so I could get a job and buy a car in order to woo a particular girl that I was madly in love with. He listened to me, letting me know that he understood my feelings. After I had finished, he explained to me how I had a good chance of making varsity, that I would do well, and that the team needed me. He told me how much I was needed more than once, and coming from David Crawford, those words resonated with me. I stayed on the team, forgot about the car, but never the girl.
Coach Mauldin had been the wrestling team manager at Appalachian State, so he knew some things about wrestling. He had several books, and we would use them during practice to copy certain moves. What he could not show us, David did. Coach was not the greatest teacher of the technical aspects of wrestling, but he excelled in motivating boys. He knew exactly how to make a boy believe in his capabilities. He knew how to make a boy reach deep inside himself and find a strength that had not been tapped before. He knew how to prepare a boy for a tough physical and mental contest. And he knew how to make a boy a member of a team who grew to realize that no team was better than its weakest link.
Ours was a cotton mill town, owned and controlled by one man. Most of our parents worked in the mill and if not, their paycheck was in some way related to the mill. So, in one way or another, all of us on the wrestling team had lint in our hair. None of us had many material possessions, even a transistor radio was a luxury seldom seen. So, on our long bus rides to Ashboro, Mooresville, Statesville, Thomasville and the newly merged North Carolina county schools, we sang. After the match on our way home, David Crawford told us to sing "Moon River" and all 15 odd, young male voices would belt out the lyrics. We may not have had the tune, but we knew the meaning of "I'm crossing you in style some day...." or "There's such a lot of world to see...." Like so many youngsters in 1963, even us from the mill hill, the world was waiting, and we were going to it. That bus was filled with dreams that only a 16 year old can have.
So, you see, the athlete today is not that much different than we were. We both use music. We both dream. We both win some and lose some. We both build memories without being aware of the process, and I hope they, like us, have the memory of a Coach Mauldin, a David Crawford, and the lyrics of a song that will cross over the time of years.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.