Thursday, June 25, 2020

My Coaches. My Mentors.

It is not by lack of sin that we will show the world that we are Jesus’s disciples. It is by the way we love each other despite all the reasons not to. 

-Micheal Burns, “All Things to All People. The Power of Cultural Humility”. 

It’s been a while since I have written anything and some of it has to do with not having/making the time to write while part of it is due to just not knowing what to say. This past basketball season was the first time since I was a little boy that I wasn’t either playing or coaching basketball. Although I haven’t been “actively” coaching, I still view myself as a coach. I still keep in touch with a lot of my athletes because the job of a coach doesn’t end when the season is over. It doesn’t end when your players graduate and move on to their next phase of life. 

That is the beauty of being a coach in my mind, it’s not confined to the basketball court, the weight room, the track or the classroom. It’s about life, it’s about the journey and it’s about people. I have had the privilege of playing with, coaching and meeting some incredible individuals because of the game of basketball and I know I will probably come across many more amazing people. Many of which are individuals with a very different color skin than mine....

The past few weeks I have felt a wide range of emotions regarding all that is going on in our nation today. To see the genuine pain, sadness and anger of many individuals regarding the injustice of today really breaks my heart. But what do I know about what it is like to live as a Black man in America?....well...nothing...and I recognize that I will never truly understand what that is like, but regardless of any of that, I can still strive to love every individual I come in contact with and I can still fight against injustice when I see it. 

In my many years of playing travel basketball, high school basketball and coaching at the high school level and even while working at the college level, I have only had one Head coach that was White. Every single one of my head coaches while playing travel basketball, JV and varsity basketball, and while coaching high school basketball as an assistant, have been Black men. As a matter of fact, my senior year of high school, I was the only White basketball player in the entire basketball program at my high school (JV and Varsity). 

I don’t say this for some type of recognition or special attention. I’m not saying this the prove to you or to anyone that I have Black friends and am therefore couldn’t possibly posses prejudices toward others. I say this because I genuinely believe I would not be the athlete and the coach I am today if it weren’t for these Black men in my life. My youth minister and basketball coach/trainer Corrie McClary who played for a Greensboro College Hall of Fame team, took a special interest in this scrawny little white boy who said he wanted to play high school basketball. He taught me the game of basketball and he taught me about what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. Ronneil Herron, who played for the Syracuse University National Championship team in 2003, worked with me on my game during different parts of my playing career. He taught me how to be patient and to play within the flow of the game.  My JV basketball coach Jason Moseley taught me what it meant to play the game of basketball with passion. My varsity basketball coach Ben Laster showed me what it meant to play the game with confidence and discipline. When I had the opportunity to work for the UNCG basketball program I had the opportunity to see guys like Duane Simpkins and Jackie Manuel coach the game with precision and dedication to their craft. The last 6 years (excluding the past season) I had the privilege of working as an assistant for NC A&T Basketball Hall of Famer, Thomas Griffis. I coached high school basketball underneath his leadership at Grimsley High School. These are just some of the coaches I’ve worked with, this isn’t even the list of incredible athletes I’ve had the honor of working with.  I value the impact they have had on me and many of their continued friendship over the years. Coach Griffis and I would talk about how unique our coaching situation was, there just weren’t many (if any) Black head coaches with an associate head coach being a much younger White guy. We talked about how special it was to share this type of bond. We would laugh because he is really old enough to be my dad (he has a son that is my age) but even with that age gap I always felt that he valued my opinion and what I brought to the team. 

As I stated before, ALL of these coaches are Black and I consider all of these men to be my mentors. So many of my teammates were black over the years and I always considered them to be family and I would hope they would feel the same towards me. It breaks my heart that anyone would look at these men and assume things about their character, their life or about them as a person simply based on the color of their skin. I know it happens though, I know people have treated them differently solely because of their looks. Maybe it’s been me at times. While I hope that was never the case, it’s defintely a possibility and I just never recognized it. If that were true, I would want them to tell me. I would beg them to tell me because that is not the type of person I want to be and I value each of their friendships deeply. I’ve had many conversations with some of them regarding this. 

I owe so much of who I am today to these men. My life has been enriched and has been blessed because these men each took care of, guided,  mentored and taught me in their own unique way. They taught me how to play basketball...sure...but these men taught me so much more beyond putting a ball in a hoop. 

I don’t have all the answers to solve all the problems we face today but I know that I would stand by the side of each of these men because they have stood by me and would continue to stand by me in my time of need. A few of these men I still talk to on a regular basis because I need and I want them to be a part of my life. They make me a better man. I couldn’t imagine my life without any of these men.

As I stated before, I know that I could never completely understand what it means to be Black in America but hopefully I can continue to learn, grow and be a part of the solution and not the problem. I don’t want to ignore the pain that is currently going on in our world. It honestly wasn’t until about a few weeks ago that I actually realized how many strong Black mentors/coaches I have had in my life and I just felt the need to express my genuine gratitude for these men. I’m grateful for the role that each of them have played in my life. It pains me to think that people may look at these men as anything less than spectacular. I’m forever thankful for how God has put these men in my life. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

‭‭John‬ ‭13:34-35‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Always love,

Justin Drabot