Years ago I had a player on my team named Robbie. Robbie came from a very poor 1family, and when I say poor I mean really, really poor. I went to visit him at his house once when he was sick and his room literally had no floor. It was just packed down dirt. I’m being dead serious here. His family of five lived in a tiny house and he shared this room with a younger brother and sister.
I tell you this only to illustrate what kind of background from which Robbie came, and for no other reason. Trust me when I say it’s pertinent to this story.
The season was starting and it was time to buy team shoes. I always required my players from 7th grade and up to wear identical shoes. I’ve always felt that everybody being uniform in their appearance helped foster team unity and develop a cohesiveness within our program. You know, one guy wearing a pair of $260 Nikes and another wearing a pair of $55 Asics was just a bad deal all-around. Plus, dang it, it looks better. To this day it bothers me to see teams wearing a variety of different brands and colors of shoes.
That particular year the shoes we were buying cost $78. You’ll understand why I remember the exact price shortly. Anyway, I told the team about the shoes and when the shoe guy would be coming in for the fittings. As I did every year, I explained to the kids that if anyone was having trouble paying to let me know and we’d work something out.
The next day it came as no surprise when Robbie showed up at the door to the teacher’s lounge looking for me. He told me that he didn’t have the money but if I bought the shoes he’d promise to pay me back. Without hesitation I said sure, that he could pay me back in installments, whatever was easiest. I knew Robbie. He was a good kid. I wasn’t worried about it.
When I walked back into the lounge, one of the teachers (I’ll call her Mrs. Frazier) asked what Robbie had wanted. I explained, and she was incredulous:
“Well, there’s $78 you’ll never get back.”
Listen, I knew this particular teacher was cynical about kids, whined about teaching on a daily basis, and hated her job. But this really ticked me off. I basically told her she was wrong and she shouldn’t pass judgment on kids so quickly. She just shook her head and laughed at my naivety.
After that day, about once every couple weeks, I’d get the same question from Mrs. Frazier:
“Get your money back yet? Nope? Didn’t think so.”
This was always followed by a smirk and a dismissive laugh. She couldn’t believe what a dummy I’d been.
Trust me, this got old, especially since it was a couple months after basketball season and I still hadn’t seen any money from Robbie. Then one day there was a knock at the door of the teacher’s lounge, and again it was Robbie. He was standing there with a shoebox, which he handed to me.
“It’s all there, coach.”
I didn’t doubt it for a second.
After giving Robbie a hug I carried the box back into the lounge and opened it. The inside was full of every denomination possible under a $20 bill, including lots of pennies and nickels. It was obvious this money had been saved with pocket change, over time.
You know what I did? I counted out every penny, nickel, dime, quarter, $1 bill and $5 bill, and I counted it out loudly, right in front of you-know-who.
As expected, it came to $78, right on the dot.
But that wasn’t all that was in the box. At the bottom there was an envelope addressed to me. I opened it up and inside was a little card that read simply:
Thanks for believing in me.
I put the top back on the box, got up, and walked out of the lounge. And as I left, Mrs. Frazier never said a word.
That night I went to Robbie’s house and gave the money back. His family needed it way more than I did, and more importantly he’d learned a valuable lesson in responsibility, honesty and integrity.
Me? I’d learned another valuable lesson about trust and faith.
A lesson that had apparently gone right over Mrs. Frazier’s head.
Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/.