| || |
Today, at our forensics tournament, an alumni of our program and long-time supporter Chris Edmonds was our surprise keynote speaker. His purpose was twofold, let the competitors know that what they are doing really matters in life. Second, he thanks current director Pam McComas for all she has done to inspire and care for students during her long tenure as Director of Debate and Forensics at Topeka High.
Pam is retiring at the end of this year, and the torch is being passed to me. At the end of his speech, Mr. Edmonds throws the gauntlet my direction in saying:
"Dustin, you have big shoes to fill. Probably bigger shoes than the coach who followed John Wooden at UCLA......."
Time to Dissect the Analogy, and chat UCLA Basketball History
This would be a nightmare scenario to follow, and the question I naturally asked when thinking about Chris' analogy, is who followed Wooden.......So I immediately started googling the following UCLA coaches, finding some notable accomplishments (thank's wikipedia):
1975-77: Gene Bartow: National semifinalist, and Sweet 16 participant
1977-79: Gary Cunningham: 50-8 record, highest winning percentage in UCLA history (beating Wooden, even if it is a smaller sample size)
1979-81: HALL OF FAMER LARRY BROWN (Nothing notable, but gets a shout-out for bringing KU to the 88 national championship).
(we'll skip the whole vacated wins, firings, recruiting scandal part of history for a while......)
1988-96: Jim Harrick: Brings UCLA back to the national stage participating in 8 straight tournament years, and winning UCLA their first NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SINCE WOODEN in 1995.
So What? Why does this all matter? Wasn't it some simple nod to a Debate/Forensics Coaching Legend?
In this tossing of the gauntlet, I should note that I am not angry, or offended.....but this is the question I constantly hear as news of Pam's retirement passes. "Are You Scared?" "Are you ready to fill those shoes?" "Do you think you can accomplish all she has?"
These are the questions I am confronted with every day.......so I feel like I should make the following open declaration. I AM NOT PAM MCCOMAS, NOR WILL I EVER BE PAM MCCOMAS. I love Pam, in working with her for the past 7 years, she has helped shape me into the educator and the coach I am and still evolving into. But I think if I walk into this new gig thinking that that I need to have 6 national champions, and several state champions to validate myself, I am setting up myself at the start.
I bet some of the problems that folks like Bartow, Cunningham, and even Larry Brown was thinking that they had to win 7 straight championships to be a good coach........Don Quixote will tell you that chasing windmills is fun, but foolish.
Am I scared to fill McComas' (Wooden's ) shoes? Sure, there is intimidation, but if I were afraid of the challenge, why would I take the job? I believe to be successful, the characteristics of Pam that I will try to emulate are some of the things that Chris talks about early on in his speech, making the THS Speech and Debate squad a safe place for kids, create kids that are hungry to win, but more importantly trying to become a better mentor and advocate for my students so they can be the most successful in their futures.
So here is my challenge to you, dwindling, imaginary audience.....Give me some advice, tell me a story of someone who influenced your life and what I can do to become a good mentor to generations of future Trojans as I carry the torch at Topeka High School?
I believe "Challenge Accepted" is the new motto, or at least a phrase that will stick in my head for a while as I continue my journey to fill shoes bigger than John Wooden's.