Coach's Challenge: Faith, Football, and Filling the Father Gap

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Overview

Coach Mike Gottfried's professional life took him from college football coach to TV sports analyst. As you read stories of great moments in football, you'll feel like you're in the press box with Coach. Coach's desires to also score big in his personal life led him to found an organization to help fatherless boys. He encourages you to leave a legacy worthy of scoring those extra points in life.

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Coach's Challenge: Faith, Football, and Filling the Father Gap

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Overview

Coach Mike Gottfried's professional life took him from college football coach to TV sports analyst. As you read stories of great moments in football, you'll feel like you're in the press box with Coach. Coach's desires to also score big in his personal life led him to found an organization to help fatherless boys. He encourages you to leave a legacy worthy of scoring those extra points in life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Coach's Challenge: Faith, Football, and Filling the Father Gap is a story that gets to the heart of the experiences of a life in football and relays life lessons as a coach. I thoroughly enjoyed this honest story that expresses the diversity of issues football coaches face in the game." — Bill Walsh, NFL Hall of Fame

"My friend and former college football coach Mike Gottfried is still coaching now, but in a far more important arena. You'll be greatly inspired to discover how Mike's life journey led him to found a ministry where hundreds of fatherless boys can have someone step into the gap where their fathers should be...A genuinely inspiring story from a very genuine man." — Les Steckel, veteran NFL coach and Fellowship of Christian Athletes president

"In my fifty-four years of coaching, I have tried to be a surrogate dad. I keep asking, 'Where have the biological ones gone?' When I visit prospects' homes, I notice most dads are missing. Read this book and see what Mike Gottfried is doing about this cultural void." — Bobby Bowden, head football coach, Florida State University

"I haven't been able to put this book down since I've started reading it. I love Mike's comment, 'There are no substitutes for a father, but a good sub is better than a bad one any day.' What a great ministry for such a time as this. God bless Team Focus. May God call us all to be a father to the fatherless." — Ricky Skaggs

"Fast, riveting, compelling game plan of a coach who is winning hearts at a record pace." — Bill McCartney

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416543558
  • Publisher: Howard Books
  • Publication date: 9/11/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mike Gottfried is an ESPN college football analyst for Saturday Primetime. Gottfried began his sports career as a high school football coach in his early twenties, then eventually moved to the college level where he served as head coach for twelve seasons with Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas, and Pittsburgh. In 1990, Gottfried left the sidelines with a winning record to take up his new career with ESPN.

But Gottfried's story is not only about football — it's also about filling the "father gap" for fatherless boys. When he and his two brothers lost their father in 1957, Gottfried longed for someone to fi ll a father's role. The men in his life who consistently stepped up to the plate to take an interest in him were coaches. As his own dreams of coaching became reality, he decided to reach out to other young men who were missing fathers.

In 2000, Gottfried founded the Team Focus program for boys age nine to seventeen whose fathers had died, left home, or were in prison. Today, nearly five hundred boys participate in Team Focus, which provides fatherless boys with leadership skills and guidance, through summer camp programs, ongoing relationships with mentors, and guidance counselors who help keep track of their grades.

Gottfried and his family live in Mobile, Alabama.

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Read an Excerpt

What Are You Doing Here?

My heart thumped from excitement and anticipation as I walked into the White House. I could hardly believe it! Here I was, entering the home of the president of the United States of America. The arrangements had all been made, the time for our official appointment had come. It was truly amazing.

So, of course, at precisely that moment, the loud opening fanfare for ESPN sports came jangling from my pocket — the ringtone for my cell phone.

I felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't turned the thing off, but I hardly ever do. I stopped our little procession of guests, took out the phone, and looked at the screen to check the caller ID. If it had been from anyone else — an NCAA coach, a ballplayer, someone from ESPN — I would have flipped the off switch and not taken the call. Whoever it was could wait and call me later.

But it was from one of my boys, Andy.

I looked at the guard at the gate, turned around to my entourage, and said, "Hold on just a minute. I've gotta take this call." And White House security personnel and the people with me waited while I talked to Andy.

"Hey, Andy. How are you doing?"

"Coach! Where you at?" My boys always ask me that question, because I could be anywhere. They like the idea that they can call me anywhere, whether I'm in some big city or in a small town of some state they've never visited. In my work as an ESPN college football commentator, I cover eighteen games a season, so I travel a lot.

"I'm getting ready to walk into the White House," I said.

"No. You're kidding me! Where you at, really?" I had a hard time convincing Andy of the truth.

"I'm at the White House," I insisted. "I'm gonna talk to Laura Bush's people."

"Really? Laura Bush? You really there?" He still sounded skeptical.

"That's right. I'm right here at the gate, ready to go in."

"What are you doing there?"

His question caught me up short. Without knowing it, Andy had asked me exactly the right question. What am I doing here? I began thinking. How did I end up at the White House with an invitation to speak with staffers for Laura Bush? How did all of this happen?

One thing was for sure: I wasn't there because of sports. I love sports — I always have — and I've been both a player and a coach. I get to talk about college football on ESPN every Saturday during the season, and I make good money for doing so. You could say I live sports. But that's not what drives me. It's not my passion — at least, not anymore. I had not come to the White House because of my connection to sports.

I was there for the boys.

Through my work with Team Focus, I take personal responsibility for more than six hundred boys who share one thing in common: they lack a functional father. I know them all by name and they know me. They live all over the country, from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, from Detroit to Mobile. They all have my cell phone number and my toll-free office number, and they all know they can call me, any time of the day or night, and I'll be there. I will answer.

Today I got eleven calls, all of them from boys ranging in age from ten to seventeen. Eleven calls is about average for me in one day. I always take their calls, because if they had dads, their dads would answer. But since they don't, I answer.

Visualize with me for a moment. Take a picture of your family, an old-fashioned family portrait. You have your grandmother, looking a little serious. Your grandfather is there, with that stiff, little smile of his. Your mom is standing in front of you because just last year you got an inch of height on her. Your brothers and sisters are there, some down in front, some behind you. And your father is in there, standing just to your left. He has his big, firm hand on your shoulder and a big smile on his face, brimming with satisfied, wholesome pride.

As you visualize that family portrait — watch as your grandmother fades away, out of the picture, leaving behind a light gray space in her shape. That's only natural; it happens that way. People die. Imagine the same thing with your grandpa. He was pretty old, so you expect it.

But now imagine that your dad — young and vigorous, his hands touching you with affection and affirmation — just fades away, too. In his place stands a gap, a hole, in the exact shape of your dad. It's the only thing left behind when he disappears from the picture. He leaves is an open and vulnerable spot.

You simply can't replace a father. No substitute can completely fill in that faded place in the picture — it's impossible. It's too broad a gap, too immense an absence. Still, those of us who have lost our dads have a great thirst to fill that hole with something or someone. That thirst drives us, whether or not we realize it. It compels us to make a decision. It is that decision — what to use to fill the gap — that makes all the difference in the life of a fatherless boy. While no living human being can take the place of a father, a good sub is better than a bad one any day.

I wrote this book because I want to tell you the story of how God prepared me ahead of time for the plans he has worked out in my life. I want to tell you about my experiences and about our work with Team Focus and how we try to fill the gap for some fatherless boys.

But do you want to know my real purpose in telling my story? It's to coach you off your couch and into God's plans for you. In other words, I want to ask you Andy's question:

What are you doing here?

If the hole left by your father still sits empty in your own heart, I want you to know that someone understands exactly how you feel. Whether you're reading this book because you are interested in my story, or because you are interested in the needs of fatherless boys, I want you to know that you, too, can help fill the gap in the life of some young man. And it all begins with asking yourself a question:

What am I doing here? Coach's Challenge ©; 2007 by Mike Gottfried

Growing Up in Crestline

As a boy growing up in Crestline, Ohio, the furthest thing from my mind was visiting the White House. My little hometown provided me with a happy and peaceful life. I had the childhood every kid should enjoy.

Crestline was home, and it always will be. Whenever I go back there, even though today I live in Mobile, Alabama, I always say, "I'm going home." In a lot of small towns you hear people say, "I can't wait to get out of this place." Not in Crestline! Most of the time, people from my hometown say, "I can't wait to get back home." When I was young, neighborhood friends might travel on vacation to Chicago or New York or other places, but the kids couldn't wait to get back to Crestline.

My own family sometimes went out of town, too. Maybe we'd travel to West Virginia or to a nearby lake. My brothers and I enjoyed all those trips — but not for long. We soon became impatient to hurry back to Crestline. As fun and adventurous as some of those places might have seemed, we all thought Crestline offered even more fun and adventure. It was always great.

When my wife, Mickey, and I drive by my boyhood home today, I'll say to her, "That was a time where everything was good. There was no sadness, no pain, no anything — just great." We drive by the old house or the elementary school or the baseball field, and the pleasant memories fill my head. When I remember my life up through the age of ten, just one phrase comes to mind: it was all good.

U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway, runs through my hometown on its long way from California to New York. Crestline used to be a big stop on the way east or west, but that's not the reason I consider it such a remarkable place. No, it's the memories of a hometown that make it special. Good memories of Crestline come back to me again and again, because God continues to use that town and the people in it to shape my destiny.

My hometown provided the training ground for what was to come in my life, preparing me for the future. It's amazing to look back and see how so many of the things that made Crestline so great are now sewn into the fabric of my life. In God's plans for me, Crestline was the first stop along the tracks. The people of my small town were God's tools for growing me, training me, preparing me. Crestline was like a practice field, God was the coach, and solid moral values were the lesson of the day.

Those values included hard work, respect and caring for people, discipline and independence, playing as a team and playing fair, and the importance of family. In all of the varied activities of life in our small town, I learned those lessons continually.

We were South Side people. From the day I knew anything, I knew I was on the South Side team. The railroad lines intersected at the center of town, and informal teams of boys formed in the four sections. When we'd go to the park to play ball, we played against the West Enders, the North End, and the East End. We were the South Siders.

We South Siders were the kids from the poor side of town, and that meant we were the perpetual underdogs. So naturally we earned a tough-kid reputation. Our song said it all about us:

We are the gang from Southside you hear so much about.

Most people laugh and stare at us whenever we go out.

We're not stuck-up at all about the stupid things we do.

Most all the people hate our guts; we hope that you do, too.

Life was about being on a team. What I know about teams — the way they function and the way God can use them — started in Crestline.

The Little South Siders team got its recruits from elementary-age kids. Older boys made up the Big South Siders team. While I was on the Little team, my brother Joe was on the Big team. His group went around to the local merchants and got them to spring for nice gray jerseys with red trim. The jerseys gave the boys an identity, and having that kind of identity is important to any kid.

As a team, we did everything on our own; no adults were involved — at least, not much. Most of our dads traveled with the railroads, so we'd coach ourselves and ump ourselves. We did it all. When he wasn't working, my dad would help put some games together or referee from behind the pitcher's mound. But he didn't do it so much because we needed him as that he wanted to be there. Coach Hutson, the unofficial "town coach" (you'll hear more about him later), also helped us a lot with every sport we played. But we did most of it on our own.

Hamilton Park was our turf, the park on our side of town, the South Side. That's where the football stadium was, just a few yards down the road from our house. An old archway marked the entrance into the park. Up the hill there was a goldfish pond and beyond that, the ball fields. A large stone monument sat on top of the hill — a big rock, with a circle of smaller rocks. Every time I went up to the park, I tried to climb it, but I could never get up there. That all the other kids could do it just made me try harder.

The football stadium sat on the flats at the top of the park. I loved it there. I'd sit and look at the grass and the bleachers and dream, Someday I'm gonna play football for a college team. The smell of grass still makes me smile.

The tennis courts were a new addition back then, although we didn't play much tennis. Instead, we used the courts for Wiffle ball. We had big competitions to knock the ball out of the fences surrounding the court, pretending we were hitting them out of Cleveland Stadium.

The South Siders sometimes got a trip together to travel to Cleveland for Batboy Night with the Indians. On that night, kids came from all around to try out for a batboy position. We would write to the Indians ahead of time for free tickets, then we'd get a bunch of boys together and take the train to the big city. It cost us $4.02 for everything, something we'd have to save up for, but it was worth it. After the game we'd move over to the arcade and play pinball, or make a record, or get our pictures taken in the little booth. Being there gave us a certain amount of independence, and it gave me confidence.

No adult accompanied us to the games. That may sound strange today, but back then it was okay, even a normal thing. It was just us and about seventy thousand fans at that huge stadium. I loved being in a stadium like that with all the people cheering the home team and enjoying the game. It remains one of the greatest thrills in the world to me.

At the very center of Crestline, two rail lines come together and cross. In my boyhood days, the Pennsylvania Railroad came through town roughly east/west, dividing the town north and south. The north/south line of the New York Central Railroad, nicknamed the Big Four, divided the town east and west. In those days the roads took a backseat in importance to the trains.

Things are different today. Now, two tracks meet unnoticed under a highway overpass. But back in 1954, at the intersection of those lines, Crestline moved day and night like a living thing, a beehive of activity. People came and went, traveling in all directions. At least thirty passenger trains rumbled through town every day, about one every fifteen minutes during peak hours. Freight trains came through even more frequently. The Crestline Roundhouse became famous for the volume of trains that got serviced there. Crestline was a railroad town through and through.

Nearly everyone in town either worked for the railroad or in some way made a living by the railroad. A person could make more on the railroad than teaching, so some teachers quit their jobs and found work on the tracks. A sheriff in Bucyrus, a neighboring town, quit his job to work for the railroad. And why not? The railroad was a pretty good place to work. If a man worked hard, he could make good money and get some good benefits for his family. No one growing up in Crestline could avoid learning about a good work ethic, since it was on display every day.

Businesses sprouted up all over the city to feed, house, and entertain both passengers and workers on the trains. Frequent trains meant people could get off one train, do some business or shopping, and catch another one a short while later. Crestline made a living because of the trains, and we used the railroad to our advantage any way we could.

Some entrepreneurial boys found a way to make a few dollars from the train passengers. Except for engines going to the yard, the trains didn't stay in Crestline for more than five or ten minutes, just enough time for passengers to gather their things and get on or off. My buddies made sandwiches — usually bologna or ham wrapped in paper — and went into the trains, selling sandwiches for a dime. They'd walk through the train and ask, "You want to buy a sandwich?" They'd get off the train just before it left for the next stop.

The boy businessmen soon discovered that, since they weren't on the train for long, they could leave off the meat. So they'd ask, "Do you want ketchup or mustard on your sandwich?" If a customer said, "Ketchup," that's what he'd get: a ketchup sandwich. Same with mustard.

Every once in a while the boys would get stuck on the train until the next station, and then they'd either hide or try to talk their way out of trouble. That worked fine until a group of servicemen came by in a troop train. The sandwich sales were good — so good that one guy, Jimmy, stayed on the train too late to hop off. He had to go on to the next station, and that meant he was traveling with a bunch of angry servicemen who didn't much care for meatless sandwiches. They caught up to him and worked him over pretty good. Eventually the police caught wind of the goings-on and put an end to the ketchup-sandwich operation. So in the end, everyone got a lesson in the value of honest labor — yet another lesson from the trains.

Since my house and the houses of all my friends were on the other side of the tracks from the school, we had to cross the tracks at least twice a day, ten or twelve of them lined up together. We'd leave early in the morning to allow for long trains that sometimes got stalled. If trains from both lines were waiting to move through, it would be a long time before we could cross.

A manned and heated switching shanty stood right where the tracks crossed. On cold days we ducked into it. Tom, one of my uncles, worked as a guard there, and he'd let us in. But since you could fit only Uncle Tom and one other person in the shanty, sometimes we took turns.

Across the tracks stood the old station, with businesses and restaurants and apartments hanging over the corner and going down the street. A big clock on the front of the building gave engineers the exact time. Our whole town set time by that clock — but it was the comings and goings of the railroad that determined the life rhythms of our whole town. As I look back, I know God used the trains to mold my life.

Railroad schedules even played a part in the church we attended. In Crestline, there was a church on every other corner (of course, the bars were as plentiful as the churches; one or the other could be found on every corner, but the bars were busier). Just up from the train depot along the Lincoln Highway, St. Joe's sat on one end of the street, with First Presbyterian just a couple blocks away. My mom was Catholic, Dad was Presbyterian, so we had the pick of the two. It wasn't a hard choice to make. My dad wasn't home much on Sunday, since he was usually working as an engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad. And since Mom was the parent taking us to church, we went to St. Joe's.

On the inside, St. Joe's was (and still is) beautiful, with its stainedglass windows, high ceilings, and beautiful arches. We went there for mass on Sundays and throughout the week for school. The building seemed even bigger and more beautiful when I was in fifth grade. I remember good times at school.

One day my friend John DiPietro was sitting next to Ronnie Ball in church. Ronnie wasn't a Catholic; he went to public school, but that day he had off, so he came with us to mass. Confessional booths lined either side of the sanctuary, open for the spiritual business of students. In the middle of the mass, Ronnie turned to John and said, "I gotta go to the bathroom. Where are they?"

Without a blink, John said, "They're right over there," pointing to the wooden structure with the maroon drapery over the door. Ronnie got up, walked over to the booth, and went inside. You could hear him fumbling around inside. Finally he peeked out with a funny look on his face, then went back in. John and the boys with him in the pew all began giggling. On the other side of the screen, Father Fralick soon figured out what was up. "Son," he said, "who told you to come in here?" Then, louder; "Would somebody come get this child out of here?" Ronnie exited the booth, and before he took off for the bathroom, his smoldering eyes turned on John with the wordless threat Just wait till church is over!

A big altar at the front of the sanctuary held a wonderful crucifix. I still touch it when I visit there. I was an altar boy, helping the priest into his vestments in a little room on the side of the altar, helping with the candles, carrying the Bible. Sometimes I would sing. And whenever that happened, Dad always made sure he was in town for it.

When Dad was home on Sunday, we would walk down the street a little way from St. Joe's for the movie matinee at The Crest. In the first week of April 1956, The Crest was playing The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues along with The Day the World Ended, an ominous double feature.

For other recreation, Crestline offered a bowling alley with lanes, billiards, and a snack bar. My dad frequented the establishment. It offered dozens of leagues to join, so a person could bowl nearly every night of the week. Some people did.

Playing games was a big deal in Crestline. Maybe it's because the men worked so hard on the trains and the women worked so hard at home, but nearly everybody played games of some sort. On Sunday evenings, twenty or more people would gather in our little house to play canasta. The men and boys eventually tired of cards and went outside for sports.

Crestline was a big sports town. Every kid grew up around sports, and every father in Crestline wanted his boy to play ball. They talked about it everywhere.

Our little town supported as many as twenty-five bars, and in every bar, sports was the conversation. Paul, who still lives there, owned a bar called Andy's, on the South Side. He'll tell you that arguments broke out all the time about sports scores and records and rules. To settle fights, Paul kept record and rule books behind the counter. Whenever a couple of guys started a heated discussion about scores or records or rules, Paul told them to place their bets on the argument — five dollars — in an envelope, then Paul would seal it up and put it under the counter. Then he'd check the books, find out the answer, read it out loud, and give the envelope to the winner. This procedure avoided a ton of brawls.

In addition to bars and churches, trains and games, Crestline was blessed with two huge junkyards. A different Moyer brother owned each. Shorty Moyer ran the yard on the South Side, while Toad Moyer owned the westside business. With cars stacked four or five high and parts and other junk stretched over acre upon acre, they attracted customers from all over the Midwest.

For a cold pop, some of us kids would work for them. They paid us ten cents to find steel in the yards. We'd bring it back and Toad or Shorty would weigh it out and give each of us a dime to buy a pop from the machine. None of us were allergic to work, and we learned early that good things can come from working hard. And working hard together, as a town or a team or a family, was even better.

We lived just a little way from the South Side junkyard. My cousins, the Harbaughs — Judy, Janet, Jerry, Jack, and Jim — lived close by. Down the street, Gabe Hoke, an old black man, normally sat outside in a lawn chair on his porch, waving to everybody. Next to the Hokes lived the DiPietros, Jo-Jo and Johnny. We were all good friends. If we could have, we'd have spent every waking moment playing together.

All of us kids met up each morning as we walked along the street — the Gottfrieds, the Harbaughs, the DiPietros, along with a bunch of other kids, merging and streaming on our way to Catholic school. Some of them would wait for us in the swings across the street from our house. We'd all go down the street together, cross the tracks, and head for school.

Grandma Fisher lived at the end of our block. Often I would come up the street toward Grandma's on my way to school and sneak in for a treat — she made the best sugar cookies. My mother's aunt, Aunt Emmie, lived down the block on the other side of our house. Families stayed close to each other in those days.

After school, we'd get together and play ball. We had no trouble finding a spot because no one had fences. One yard just spilled into the next, through the whole block. Our backyards were like parks — and great places to play ball.

We were always hitting baseballs into Mr. Hart's yard. It didn't seem to matter where we played, we'd manage to hit them in there. His yard was like a baseball magnet. He lived on the corner and had the best-looking lawn on the South Side. You never wanted to hit a ball into the Hart yard because you never knew if he was home or not — and you never dared to go onto his lawn to get a stray ball. When he wasn't around, his lawn could be covered with baseballs. And when he arrived home, he'd gather them all up and take them into his garage. What he did with them, I'll never know.

While Mr. Hart could be grumpy about stray baseballs, everybody else in our neighborhood was friendly and kind. Right behind our house sat a small church, attended by black families who lived on the South Side. We kids never thought much about race. I suppose the adults talked about it, but if bad things were said, we didn't hear it, and if bad things were done, we didn't know about it. Some of my good neighborhood friends were black, and it didn't make any difference to me what color skin they had. All of us were friends with everybody else.

Relationships between blacks and whites were casual and friendly. We took care of each other. The black kids played with us and we played with them. We played sports together and we went to school together.

In only one place in town did race seem to matter much. At the swimming pool, blacks could swim on only one day, Tuesday, the day before the pool was cleaned. When we were swimming, black kids stood outside, looking in and waiting for Tuesday. I was often outside with them, holding on to the fence. It would be hot and my good friend Gates Brown would lean his head against that chain-link fence; he'd have gridmarks on his face when he looked up. Gates used to say to me, "Mike, you gotta get in there and swim." But I told him, "I'm okay right here with you." I liked standing there with him, and something inside me felt bothered that we couldn't swim together.

Other than the business of the pool, I remember a kind of color blindness in Crestline. Everybody just seemed to get along. I'm sure that in a different town or in a bigger city, people acted differently. But I grew up not knowing what a racial slur was. I don't recall a single time I ever heard such a thing. Everybody spent time with each other and enjoyed each other, adults and kids alike, and they treated each other with respect.

Years later, respect and color blindness would come back to serve me well — yet another lesson God taught me in Crestline.

That's not to say that everyone in Crestline was perfect, of course! We had our little troublemakers.

Ray Scheiber ran a small store, no bigger than a living room, a couple of doors down from my house. We could go in there and say, "I'm gonna charge a candy bar," and from his wheelchair he'd get out a tablet and write down five cents. You couldn't charge a lot, but your mom would send you down to Scheiber's store to get milk and a loaf of bread, staples and treats. Sometimes the kids would say, "Mr. Scheiber, we want to get some salt," or something like that — anything just so he'd turn around with his back to them — and then they'd grab something off the counter, maybe a piece of candy or gum. I always wondered if Mr. Scheiber knew all along that they were grabbing things. I think he probably figured out exactly what they were doing and just added it to their bill.

Those were the days when we could leave empty glass milk bottles out at night on the front porch and the milkman would come by early in the morning to give us new ones. Everybody left the money for the milk out there, too. One morning the neighbors called my mother to tell her that their milk money had vanished. They had seen my brother Joe and his cousin Judy going around to every porch and collecting the cash. The milk money on the porches had proved too much of a temptation, and Joe and Judy were too young to understand what they'd done. But they never did it again!

Sometimes we played "ditch" in the public schoolyard across the street from our house. My cousin Jerry Harbaugh would climb out on the ledges under the third-story windows of the schoolhouse, about twenty-five feet up. The ledges provided a space not more than two or three inches wide, but he'd climb out there to play ditch. We were supposed to get him and tap him out. But nobody other than Jerry wanted to climb out on those ledges. If he ever fell, he could have killed himself. But as it was, he won the game every time.

While not everything in Crestline was perfect, my family came pretty close. Just as he did with Crestline, God put me into my family on purpose, according to his plans. The Gottfried family is where I belonged.

My early memories of my family center on one house, located on the other side of the street from the public school and next to an empty lot. Scheiber's store sat next to the lot. In the early spring, the lot would fill with dandelions, covering the ground with yellow. I loved that! I'd always say, "We have flowers!" And Mom would say, "No, you don't want those flowers. Those are weeds!" But it was beautiful.

So was my mom. Her name was Julia, but everybody called her Curly because of her brown, curly hair. In my mind I can still see her standing by the dandelions, the flowers drawing attention to her own simple beauty. She worked hard washing the clothes and hanging them on the line in the low field behind the house. She was always working, cooking and cleaning for us. Mom stayed home while Dad worked the trains, and he was usually gone for two or three days at a stretch. It was normal back then for a mom to stay at home.

We had a small house. The front room blended into the kitchen down a little hall. We had two bedrooms upstairs, and all of us kids slept in the same room and in the same bed: Joe was four years older than I, Johnny was four years younger, and all of us slept in the same bed. Our parents had the other bedroom.

Johnny was a firecracker. Of all of us, he acted the most like Dad; at least, that's what Grandma always said. He liked to tag along wherever the rest of us were going. Sometimes Mom wouldn't let him come along, but most of the time he was around.

My brother Joe was the best. He was a great ballplayer and a good student. He loved sports of all kinds and played any chance he got. He kept box scores with Dad when they listened to games on the radio. Joe and I would take baseball cards and spread them across the living room floor, organizing the teams and putting them in games, moving the cards around the carpet as if we were the coach or manager. Joe wanted to be a coach someday. A lot of kids in town wanted to be a coach — including me.

From the time I was able to play, I wanted to be a coach. My dad had always dreamed of being a coach, but he took a job on the trains instead so he could earn a good living and support his family. Working on the railroad appealed to me, but more than anything, I wanted to be a coach. When I grew up, I just knew I was going to coach football.

On the side of our house Dad made a basketball court, the hoop mounted on the garage. We played football in the low yard behind the house, or we played baseball anywhere we could. There was always some game going on. And Dad was always a part of it when he was home.

If we played against the other teams from the East Side or North Side, we met at Kelly Park, the other park in town. Kelly Park attracted teams and kids and adults from all corners. Coach Hutson ran a little concession next to the pool where you could get a pop or some candy.

A little spit of a stream crossed under a footbridge in a gully that ran into the park. Because Crestline was a railroad town, the stream always had a slimy covering of diesel oil and tar and other unknown substances. We called it Stink Crick because it smelled like gasoline. Today it would be a cleanup site. When someone hit a grounder to right field and the ball rolled toward Stink Crick, we'd all be yelling, "Get the ball! Get it quick!" Once the ball got into Stink Crick, it never played the same; it would weigh a lot more and smell like tar. And pity the poor kid who had to go into the crick after the baseball!

Remember my friend Gates Brown, who used to encourage me to go swimming? We never worried about him hitting a ball into the crick. Even when he was eight or nine, he could hit the ball higher and farther than anybody else. He'd rear back, bend his knees, and let the bat fly, and the ball would go over the trees around the perimeter of the park and into somebody's yard. He played for the Big South Siders, and one day he would play for the Detroit Tigers, helping them win the 1968 World Series. Twice he led the American League in pinch hits.

We played until dark, until we could hardly see the ball, until one of us heard our mom calling us to come home.

The South Siders never wanted to quit; we never wanted to stop playing. It would be time for dinner, the sun almost gone. We'd barely be able to see and we knew it was time to head home. I can still hear my mom — when we wouldn't stop and go home — her voice calling out all over the South Side like a song: "Jo-oe! Mi-ike! John-ny!" And we'd be up in the park playing kick-the-can or baseball or something, dragging it on and on and on. I was the worst.

The other kids would say, "We gotta stop and go home."

And I'd say, "No! Let's keep playing."

"But I heard your mom. She's calling for you to come home." They would gather their gloves and bats and turn to go. I'd hold on to the ball, ready for the next pitch.

"C'mon, guys! Let's keep going. Who's up to bat?"

I just never wanted to stop playing. I never wanted to quit. I wanted to stay out at the park or on the field as long as I could. I wanted to stretch each day, each game. I wanted the game to go on forever.

That's the way with kids, and that is the way with life. We think it should last forever.

Of course, it doesn't. Coach's Challenge © 2007 by Mike Gottfried

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: What Are You Doing Here?

1. Growing Up in Crestline

- Fill the Gap

2. A Dad to Remember

- Fill the Gap

3. A Hole in the Exact Shape of My Father

- Fill the Gap

4. Looking for Role Models

- Fill the Gap

5. Men of Influence

- Fill the Gap

6. Trying My Coaching Wings

- Fill the Gap

7. Realizing the Dream

- Fill the Gap

8. Highs and Lows in the Pitt

- Fill the Gap

9. Landing at ESPN

- Fill the Gap

10. The Work of Team Focus

- Fill the Gap

Postscript: A Father's Blessing

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