As Baylor School gets ready to recognize various alumni during its weekend of activities in connection with the rivalry football game with McCallie, I feel blessed to have worked with two of the honorees.
Former classmate Doug Dyer and my former coach, Bill McMahan, are being inducted into the Baylor Sports Hall of Fame along with former long-distance runner Jamey Gifford and diver Stewart Smith.
I first met Doug when both of us enrolled at Baylor in the fall of 1972 and played seventh-grade football and other sports together. Doug at that time had a burr haircut and glasses to match and was trying to find his place at Baylor and in the world, as all of us young teenagers were.
But by the time we were seniors, he had become an all-state offensive lineman in football on a team that reached the state championship game and also won the state wrestling championship in the heavyweight division.
Although naturally big and strong, Doug no doubt achieved most of his accomplishments simply through desire and hard work. He was an overachiever’s overachiever.
That attitude carried over to a successful wrestling career at UTC and in the insurance business as an adult.
I was a mostly quiet student at Baylor, while Doug was more gregarious, but in recent years we have connected a lot via email and in other ways. And this Friday he will be cooking barbecued meats on his smoker for a special tailgate party that has become an annual tradition for fellow members of the Class of 1978 before the McCallie game.
I also saw Doug one other time recently. After my mother, Velma Shearer, unfortunately died back in June, I was touched that several class members took time to come to the visitation or funeral. One of them was Doug.
My connection to coach McMahan dates to 1974, when he arrived at Baylor, his alma mater, as a teacher and became our ninth-grade football coach.
We had become used to the milder-mannered Bob Polk, who had coached us to undefeated seasons in seventh and eighth grades, so the more intense and more intimidating coach McMahan was a contrast – for me at least.
But his personality rubbed off on us, and we dominated all competitors in finishing undefeated as well.
By the time we were seniors, he had moved up to backfield coach on the varsity, and I worked under him as a running back.
My senior season was a little bit of a disappointment. I had dreamed of being a key contributor as the team enjoyed success, but I was injured much of the year. But the team did just fine without my services, as it reached the state championship game in Memphis before losing a heartbreaker to Christian Brothers High School.
When we had a team banquet at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo a few weeks later, Coach McMahan rose to present the Substitute with the Best Spirit Award, and I was surprised to learn I was the one who would receive it.
And coach McMahan made a comment during the presentation that deeply touched me. He did not have any children at that time, but he said that if he had a son, he would want him to be just like me.
I am sure he has long forgotten those words, but I have not, and I thank him for them, even though I know I was certainly not deserving of them.
I also remember another comment he made to me while an assistant track coach on his way to becoming the head coach and leading Baylor to seven girls’ and two boys’ state titles.
One time while we were getting ready to run the mile relay – the traditional final event – he came up to me or our relay team and shouted something like, “Run as hard as you can for as long as you can.”
I thought about that later and realized that is a wonderful metaphor for life.
Likewise, Coach McMahan has given his all for Baylor and is still going strong, and hundreds of other former students and athletes and I will be forever grateful.